NOTEBOOK: Belanger’s luha ng buwaya (Translation: Belanger’s crocodile tears)
I WASN’T THERE when Detective Constable Dan Belanger started his testimony Friday (June 23) at the Jeffrey Reodica inquest when he reportedly shed tears or was so teary-eyed and almost choking that his lawyer had to ask for a recess. Poor guy, he must have had nightmares throughout these two years since May 21, 2004 when he fatally shot then 17-year old Jeffrey Reodica. reliving that story in its gory detail on the witness stand must have been a crushing experience for him that he almost broke down.
That’s the picture that partially emerged from some news stories in the mainstream media the day after his first day of testimony.
When I attended his second day of testimony, on Tuesday, June 27, I saw a tiger on the witness stand, clawing at a perceived adversary, the legal counsel for the Community Alliance for Social Justice (CASJ), Kike`lola Roach. So his reported tears (or near tears) could only have been crocodile tears. Or in Tagalog, luha ng buwaya. Or, in the language of my apos or grandkids, they’re only pretend tears. Like in the movies.
Belanger on that Tuesday morning replied to Roach’s questions with a curt yes, no, or sure. Or he would cockily though laboriously elaborate on his version of how it all happened. All the while throwing dagger looks at Roach who patiently and methodically dissected and scrutinized Belanger’s story.
At one time he said to Roach: “So you’re now twisting my words?”
Barry Swadron, the Reodica family’s legal counsel with mild-manners and a booming voice, described Belanger during the recess as an aggresive man on the stand.
When the police officer was asked by Swadron if he would have been happier now had he used a pepper spray or a baton and not a gun, he said that if he had not used a gun, he or his partner could have been killed by Jeffrey. Does this mean he’s happier now that he had killed Jeffrey? The capacity for remorse is certainly not one of the virtues of this guy.
The most shocking of all, so far, was when he said that if Jeffrey did not go down after the third shot, he could have fired some more.
Were three bullets piercing Jeffrey’s body not enough to immobilize him? It sounded like there was really an intent to finish off Jeffrey.
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It was a dream story come true for a journalist with passion for real life dramas. A police officer who had killed a youth of color, on the witness stand being cross-examined by a black lawyer of an anti-racist organization committed to social justice.
But as an ordinary mortal like me with an editorial job to do and a paper to run, I couldn’t consistently attend the inquest on a daily basis to be able to do a round-by-round report. (Thanks to Marlene Mogado for her story on page 6 and to Tess and Ruben Cusipag for graciously allowing me to use Marlene’s story.)
I was there at the inquest too when a few youth and other witnesses and Constable Detective Allen Love took the witness stand.
The picture that has emerged is there are two versions of the story that are substantially opposite each other.
On the one hand, from the white youth and the driver of the van, and the two police officers, the story with slightly different embellishments, is that the cops identified themselves to Jeffrey’s group, that Jeffrey resisted arrest, swore at Belanger, struggled with him and Love, swung a knife at them after freeing himself from being pinned down on the ground with the 275-pound weight of six-foot plus Belanger on his back, and with Love helping pin him down. Belanger, as per this version, was hit on his inner right thigh by Jeffrey’s left hand that was holding a knife.
Jeffrey, not seen by the officers with a knife before this moment, might have opened the knife with his left hand, which was pinned down by his body on the ground. The youth allegedly swung the knife with a round house motion, but only hit Belanger with his hand that held the knife. This was Belanger’s explanation why he was not injured nor his pants cut. Belanger said he shouted “Knife, knife!” when he backed away from Jeffrey who turned to Love and swung the knife at him. Love said the left side of his body was within the range of Jeffrey’s swing, about six inches away, when the three shots were fired, saving his life.
Belanger said he drew his gun after something hit him on his inner right thigh and fired only when he saw Jeffrey’s actions threatened Love’s life. He said he did not warn either Jeffrey or Love that he was about to discharge his firearm and knew that Love was out of his line of fire. Love testified, though, that he was within the range of Jeffrey’s swing.
Now the version of the Filipino kids who were a few feet away from Jeffrey and the two cops during the confrontation. And this was corroborated by a resident of the neighborhood, Brian LaFrance, who said he witnessed the shooting from across the street.
Mark (the Filipino youth involved in the fight with the white kids the previous day) said when Belanger got off the unmarked car, he had his gun drawn. Belanger demanded Jeffrey to drop the rock from his hand and Jeffrey complied. Belanger yelled to Jeffrey, “You think you’re tough, mother f—er!”
At this time, Love was beside Mark and the latter asked him, “Who are you?” to which Love replied, “We’ll talk about that later.” (Love later testified that when he reached for his police badge in his pocket, his gun was exposed to Mark and therefore didn’t see the need to identify himself.)
LaFrance testified that Belanger approached Jeffrey, hit Jeffrey several times on the head using the hand holding a black object.
The neighbor said he heard the sound of wacks and that sound would never leave his head for the rest of his life. Jeffrey fell on the ground and a struggle with Belanger ensued. Jeffrey got up and started to flee. His back was turned and he was running away when the shots were heard, according to the neighbor.
The other youths who were with Jeffrey were brought to the police headquarters, not allowed to talk to each other immediately after the shooting. Their parents were not informed where they were. They were made to give statements and released after long hours of “unfriendly” treatment. No weapons were seen in their possession. Their statements were not used in the SIU investigation.
The white kids who had baseball bats in the van were were allowed to go home. Some gave statements while accompanied by their parents.
The kids with Jeffrey all said they didn’t know Belanger and Love were police officers before the shooting. They thought the two were uncles or relatives of the white kids.
Belanger and Love made their notes days after the incident and their interviews with the SIU were made in the office of their lawyers. This after they freely talked with each other, with their family, friends and lawyer.
Talk about fairness and equal treatment. It’s only now that the truth about what really happened is slowly coming out. Thanks to the brilliant cross-examination of the witnesses by Swadron, Roach and Mike Leitold, also a counsel of CASJ.
An example is the contrast between Belanger’s SIU statement and his testimony at the inquest. Roach read his statement about not knowing where Love was when he fired his gun and contrasted it with his current testimony that he saw Love being attacked by Jeffrey at that same moment. Which lie is the true lie?
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After June 30, the inquest will resume on Sept. 11. A long wait.
A community townhall meeting is being planned by CASJ in July or August. This will be a comprehensive update about the inquest. The family and the legal counsels will be invited. Details to be announced.