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Gregory D. Totten

Gregory D. Totten (R)
District Attorney – Ventura County
800 S. Victoria Ave.
Ventura, CA  93009
805-654-2500
fax: 805-654-3850
da.criminal@mail.co.ventura.ca.us
http://www.ventura.org/vcda/index.htm

On May 5, 2002, Anna Guo was attempting to commit suicide using a steak knife when five Ventura, CA police officers arrived at the home of her foster parents.

Anna had been in the U.S. for less than three years.  Her English was lousy at best.

Instead of calming, firing warning shots, disarming or attempting to physically subdue the distraught girl, rookie officer Kristin Rupp shot 14-year-old, 5 foot tall, Anna three times in the stomach while Anna was standing over twenty feet away.  The last shot struck Anna when she had already crumpled to the floor.  This was unjustified use of deadly force.

Officer Rupp’s colleagues did not feel a need to shoot.  Officer Knupp testified that he never saw Anna raise her hand.

    Gregory D. Totten, Ventura County District Attorney, charged Anna with felony assault with a deadly weapon on an officer – a charge that many civil rights groups contended was brought only to cover-up the mistake of rookie officer Rupp.

Totten could have charged her with the lesser crime of resisting a peace officer, but this lesser charge would not have shielded Ventura County from a civil lawsuit concerning the officer Rupp’s negligent shooting.

Anna was convicted and sentenced to five years in a group home.  The 14 year old had lost her mother.  Now that Anna has been convicted of a felony, she could be deported after serving her sentence, thus losing her father as well.  Assuming she stays in the U.S., she will not, under California Proposition 21, be able to seal her criminal record when she turns 18.

(facts from 11/24/02 story by Kasie Lee, http://anna.yellowworld.org and 1/5/03 letter by Sacramento attorney Guy M Wong).

1/1/03 Ventura County Star: “Spare the Charges, Save the 14-year-old Child” by Paul J. Loh and Peter K. Stris

Re: your Dec. 31 article, “Judge finds foster girl guilty in assault on officer”:

Anna Guo, who goes by the nickname “Baby,” is 14 years old. She should be looking forward to four years in high school. Instead, she is nursing three bullet wounds and facing four years of incarceration.

Anna’s story is Dickensian. She was abandoned by her mother in China and severely beaten by her father in America. Although her father was convicted for his abuse, she was soon returned to his “care.” Anna was ultimately forced to call a social worker to arrange a second separation. Anna was 12.

Like many young women with similar histories, Anna thought herself unworthy of love. She began to mutilate herself with knives. Placed in a group home, Anna never received a proper psychiatric diagnosis. Instead, she received sedatives.

Eventually, Anna was transferred to the home of Robert and Zaida Worthley. The Worthleys, who have successfully raised over a dozen foster children, were never apprised of the seriousness of Anna’s psychological condition.

Anna bonded immediately with the Worthleys, calling Zaida “Mommy” after a matter of days. But on the fateful night of May 5 — after one of the Worthleys’ other foster children falsely accused Anna of misbehaving — Anna became terrified that she would be removed from the Worthleys’ home. Anna became visibly upset, prompting Robert to call the Ventura County Behavioral Health Department Crisis Team. The crisis team exists to prevent unsettled people from becoming dangerous ones.

When Robert called the crisis team, Anna was merely upset, posing no immediate danger to herself or anyone else. Sadly, the crisis team failed to act quickly, arguing with Robert for an extended period before agreeing to act.

During that unnecessarily long phone call, Anna’s condition had worsened. Unable to cope with the prospect of being returned to a group home, Anna seized a kitchen knife intending to kill herself. Zaida saw Anna with the knife and had Robert summon the police. Zaida never feared for herself or her family — she feared only for Anna.

Five officers arrived on the scene before the crisis team. The senior officer, John Rodriguez, never entered the house. The other officers were Anthony Wells; Chris Landavazos, a trainee; Greg Knupp, another trainee; and Kristin Rupp, a rookie.

Failing to wait for the crisis team, the officers converted a manageable situation into a chaotic one. Landavazos charged solo into a dark room to conduct a search, violating police procedure and, according to Wells, “endangering himself.” Rupp entered the kitchen, alone, to conduct a protective sweep. At this point, Anna appeared on the stairs near the kitchen holding the suicide knife.

Because Rupp encountered Anna without the cover of another officer, there was no opportunity to engage in what the police call “crisis intervention.” Rupp’s mistake left no opportunity for an unarmed officer to speak with Anna in a nonconfrontational matter; it left no opportunity to employ nondeadly force. With Wells, Landavazos, and Knupp out of position, Rupp felt compelled to draw her gun.

The three officer-witnesses offer three directly conflicting accounts as to what happened next, but all admit that no one instructed Anna to stop walking down the stairs. When Anna refused to drop the suicide knife, the inexperienced and frightened Rupp shot the 14-year-old three times.

Incredibly, Ventura County elected to press felony charges against Anna for “assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon.” The county’s decision to waste taxpayer money and court time on prosecuting this “Baby” is hard to understand.

Anna has no history of violence toward others and was the only person hurt during this incident.

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese-American community has rallied behind Anna. Thousands signed a petition asking the county to end its prosecution. Numerous community organizations and leaders –including state Assemblywoman Judy Chu — wrote letters to District Attorney Greg Totten expressing grave concerns about the criminal charges.

One would think that the county would be eager to improve relations with a minority community convinced that an affluent Caucasian girl would have been spared the charges (and perhaps the bullets). Why then did the county inflame racial passions with the felony charge?

Immediately after the shooting, the county met with a “civil litigation consultant.” As any seasoned “litigation consultant” knows, a civil lawsuit in these circumstances would be virtually impossible to win if the plaintiff were convicted of assault with a deadly weapon.

It is not hard to imagine what the county was told to do.

— Paul J. Loh and Peter K. Stris represented Anna Guo at her trial. Mr. Loh and Mr. Stris, both graduates of the Harvard Law School, are partners at Willenken Loh Stris Lee & Tran, LLP, a Los Angeles-based litigation boutique.

12/31/02 Ventura County Star: “Judge Finds Foster Girl Guilty in Assault on Officer,”

Dismissing defense claims of a police cover-up, a judge ruled Monday that 14-year-old Anna Guo assaulted a peace officer and that the officer was justified in shooting the girl.

Superior Court Judge Herbert Curtis III found that Anna, though troubled, intentionally rushed at Ventura Police Officer Kristin Rupp with a large kitchen knife raised threateningly and screaming profanities. Rupp reasonably believed her life was in danger and had little choice but to fire her gun, the judge said.

“Even if the minor was killed in this scenario, it would have been a justified shooting,” Curtis said.

Anna faces up to five years in the California Youth Authority, but prosecutor Miles Weiss said he will seek treatment, not incarceration. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 13. Until then, Anna will remain in juvenile hall.

Curtis said Rupp violated police policy, but only by aiming low to avoid killing the girl and by backing into a kitchen that had no escape route. Rupp fired three shots at Anna, with two puncturing the girl’s pelvis and thigh.

“I find it very ironic that because Officer Rupp violated these policies, she actually saved the minor’s life,” Curtis said.

The ruling came after a two-week trial that included testimony from Rupp, other police officers who responded to the call that night in May, Anna’s foster parents and psychologists.

Defense attorney Paul Loh argued that Anna was the victim of a rookie cop who panicked and a police department that had circled the wagons to justify the shooting. Loh argued Rupp and the other officers violated their department’s policy on the use of less-than-lethal force and crisis intervention by leaving their beanbag guns in their patrol cars.

Loh also questioned whether the four officers had concocted some of the evidence, such as substituting a larger knife for a small fruit knife to “make this look more threatening than it was,” Loh said.

The testimony at times appeared to be conflicting, such as how police officers described the way Anna held the knife. Rupp said the knife was raised over Anna’s shoulder, another officer testified the girl held it straight out in front, and another said she was waving it around as she flailed her arms. The girl’s foster father, Robert Worthley, testified he never saw a knife in the girl’s hand as she approached the officer.

“If I were a cynical man, I would say there was some nefarious conduct here,” he said.

But Curtis rejected the implication of wrongdoing by police, and said he would be more concerned about a cover-up if “every officer came in here with the exact same story. People under stress remember things differently.”

As for Worthley’s assertion that he did not see Anna carrying a knife, the judge ruled that the foster father’s testimony was unreliable at this point seven months later. Curtis based his conclusion on a tape-recorded police interview made shortly after the shooting. On the tape, Worthley said he saw the knife raised high in Anna’s hand as she charged down a flight of stairs toward Rupp.

After Monday’s ruling, Loh said he believes Anna and her father will get a second chance at becoming a family. Anna was removed from her father’s custody two years ago after he was convicted of injuring her with a belt. The crime is recorded as a felony in the court computer system, but Curtis said the actual file reflects a misdemeanor conviction.

Meanwhile, it is unclear whether civil claims against the county and city of Ventura will go forward. Anna’s previous defense attorneys, David Brockway and Steven Sugars, filed claims in November saying Ventura Police used excessive force, did not follow police policy and that the county foster-care system did not provide enough help to Anna.

Brockway said he and Sugars are no longer handling the case.

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