Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Tag: Oakland Police Department

Death in San Leandro

Steven Taylor, Killed by Police  in San Leandro
Steven Taylor Killed by San Leandro Police, April 18, 2020
Photo Courtesy of S. Lee Merritt

Death in San Leandro

I live in Oakland California about 3 miles from San Leandro California. San Leandro is what some call a “bedroom community” to Oakland. It’s a City where restrictive covenants and land use permits were used to stop Black people from moving from Oakland to San Leandro. Local celebrity Brian Copeland tells the story of how he grew up in San Leandro when it was 94% white. Copeland wrote a play and a book about it.

Most folks in the East Bay know San Leandro’s history. So when San Leandro police shot and killed Steven Taylor in a Walmart store on a Saturday afternoon, it was not a surprise. Steven Taylor was allegedly mentally ill, with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He appears to be in a mental health crisis when 2 San Leandro police officers approach him. He refused to put down a bat and pulled away as the officers tased him. They then shot and killed him in front of dozens of shoppers. The video shows that an officer actually tased Steven Taylor as he lay on the floor bleeding to death.

This is the second recent police killing in San Leandro. On June 11, 2019, San Leandro police shot Anthony Gomez, an unarmed allegedly intoxicated Latino man. An officer shot him from the street as he stood alone on his mother’s front porch. Officers claimed he had a block of wood in his hand that looked like a gun.

Mental Illness Should Not Be A Death Sentence with Police

There is an increasing recognition that mental illness is a reason to spare people not from responsibility for their crimes but from the ultimate sanction of death. Simply put, a mental health crisis should not be a death sentence.

Gwen Woods and her son, Mario Woods
Courtesy: ABC News

Steven Taylor’s murder in San Leandro is so so reminiscent of the murder of Mario Woods by police in San Francisco.

The same month that San Leandro police shot and killed Anthony Gomez, Walnut Creek police shot and killed 23-year-old Miles Hall. Walnut Creek is another almost all-white enclave in Contra Costa County. Hall’s family members reportedly sought mental health assistance from police in the days before he was shot by two officers who came to his home. Miles Hall was Black.

California’s New Law

In California, a new law changed the standard for use of deadly force, effective January 1, 2020. The law is based in part, on the recognition that “individuals with physical, mental health, developmental, or intellectual disabilities are significantly more likely to experience greater levels of physical force during police interactions, as their disability may affect their ability to understand or comply with commands from peace officers. It is estimated that individuals with disabilities are involved in between one-third and one-half of all fatal encounters with law enforcement.”

The new law allows the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer only when the officer reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person. The impetus for the Legislature to pass the law was the murder of 22-year-old Stephon Clark. Clark was an unarmed Black man shot dead in Sacramento after officers mistakenly thought they saw a gun. He was shot 8 times, including 3 times in the back, in his grandmother’s backyard. Assemblywoman Shirley Weber wrote and pushed for AB392 in response to the murder of Stephon Clark.

Steven Taylor’s murder in my Assembly District 18 provides an early test for the new law. Regrettably, the person in my district who will interpret the new law is District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. DA O’Malley has never prosecuted a cop in Alameda County for murder.

Death in Alameda County

Between 2010 and 2015, at least 6 people died at the hands of police in Alameda County: Hernan Jaramillo, Roy Nelson, James Greer, Kayla Moore, Mark Bennett and Martin Harrison.

Hernan Jaramillo was allegedly having a mental health crisis and begged officers for his life. Video footage was not released by police until 2 years after his death. It shows Mr. Jaramillo pinned to the ground by officers who ignored his cries of “I can’t breathe.” (Sound familiar??) DA O’Malley did not even investigate Mr. Jaramillo’s death because she did not have a policy to investigate in-custody deaths that don’t involve shootings.

In March 2017, Fremont police officers shot and killed Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon, a 16-year-old passenger in a botched police attempt to arrest the driver of the car. Ebbie was shot 5 times with AR-15 styled rifles when plainclothes officers fired into the moving vehicle.

While the DA’s investigation was pending, O’Malley accepted a $10,000 donation from the Fremont police union to her re-election campaign. Shortly thereafter, she cleared the shooters – the Fremont police union president and another officer – of any wrongdoing in Ebbie’s death. She ruled that the shooting was “justified.”

2018 Police Killings in Oakland

In January 2018, a BART police officer ran from the West Oakland BART station onto the street and shot Sahleem Tindle in the back. Tindle was unarmed at the time. O’Malley declined to bring any charges. In March 2020, however, a jury found BART liable for wrongful death and awarded Sahleem Tindle’s family $6.34 million dollars.

In March 2018, Oakland police shot and killed Joshua Pawlik. A federal court monitor ruled that the police essentially executed Mr. Pawlik, when they woke him up and shot him as soon as he moved. Again, O’Malley’s investigation exonerated the officers and she released her report a year later in conjunction with OPD. She released her report on the same day that OPD released theirs with the same conclusion – no fault. The fallout from Mr. Pawlik’s murder ultimately led to the firing of former OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick. The settlement of the lawsuit by Mr. Pawlik’s family for $1.4 million is pending.**

The Conflict of Interest

Our experience with DA O’Malley in Alameda County is a clear example of the conflict of interest that district attorneys experience when asked to hold police officers accountable. O’Malley’s investigation of Mr. Gomez’ death is not yet finished almost 9 months after police shot him on his mother’s front porch. Clearly, Mr. Gomez’ death and determining whether police acted justifiably or wrongly is not a priority for DA O’Malley.

Maybe if DA O’Malley had taken the San Leandro police shooting of Anthony Gomez seriously, Steven Taylor would still be alive?

Fortunately, there is a solution. I have introduced a resolution to the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee to support Steven Taylor’s family’s call for an independent investigation into his murder. The resolution calls upon the California Attorney General to “investigate, manage, prosecute or inquire about any incidents of use of deadly force by law enforcement officers to ensure that the laws of the State are being adequately enforced and in particular, to ensure compliance with AB392 codified as Penal Code Section 835a.”

The Oakland East Bay Democratic Club, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, John George Democratic Club and the Coalition for Police Accountability also support the resolution. It is based on Article V, Section 13 of the California Constitution which allows the Attorney General to supervise and supercede the powers of every District Attorney. The resolution was passed unanimously by the Alameda County Central Committee.**

A Test for California Law

Steven Taylor’s murder will be one of the first cases to “test” the enforcement of California’s new law for use of deadly force. If the Attorney General accepts the call, he could create a statewide standard for police accountability when deadly force is used.

The murder of Steven Taylor happened in our Assembly District 18. Therefore, I called upon the leaders of our Assembly District to support the resolution at the Central Committee. Both Assemblymember Rob Bonta and his former District Director and Alameda City Councilmember, Jim Oddie have a vote. Central Committee member and San Leandro City Councilmember Corina Lopez has already pledged her support of the resolution.

I am hopeful that the leaders of our community and Attorney General Xavier Becerra will be found standing on the right side of justice. Hopefully, accountability for police use of deadly force will be established before another person is killed unnecessarily.

** This piece was updated to reflect that the Alameda County Democratic Party unanimously passed the resolution on May 6, 2020 and that a settlement payment of $1.4 million by the City of Oakland to the Pawlik family is pending.

Attorney Larry White Opinion: OPD Reform Was Not Possible Under Chief Kirkpatrick

Coalition for Police Accountability Logo
Coalition for Police Accountability

The following editorial by Larry White, Attorney for the Coalition for Police Accountability was originally published in the Mercury News on March 13, 2020.

Larry points out how former OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick’s actions after she was fired confirm that police reform was not possible under her leadership. 

Anne Kirkpatrick was fired from her job as Oakland Police Chief last month by Mayor Libby Schaaf, on recommendation of the independent Oakland Police Commission. The Coalition for Police Accountability called for her dismissal a year ago and the Police Commission had been considering it for months.

Kirkpatrick is not happy; it’s not my fault, she says, it was that greedy Robert Warshaw, the Monitor appointed by the federal judge who oversees the Negotiated Settlement Agreement. He held us back, just so he could make more money.

Essential Background

Some background is essential. The City of Oakland gave to a federal judge ultimate oversight over the city’s police department when it agreed to the NSA in 2003. The arrangement was to last no more than five years and result in real reform of the Oakland Police Department. It’s still going on but the OPD under Kirkpatrick actually went backward in compliance and is doing worse than it did three years ago.

None of it is my fault, Kirkpatrick says. What we really need, is the (Bill Barr and Donald Trump) U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Warshaw, she asserts, because it’s all his fault.

So many things are wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, in any well governed city, a police chief, even a former chief, does not involve herself in politics. That’s a dangerous road for a city’s chief law enforcement officer to go down.

And then there’s the fact that the Monitor is not in charge of the NSA, he’s not even a party to the NSA; he’s just an employee of the federal court. But even more alarming is that Kirkpatrick (who has a law degree) doesn’t seem to understand that the judiciary is a separate and independent branch of government.

Calling on the Department of Justice, part of the executive branch, to “oversee the overseer” and to investigate a federal court is directly out of some extreme right wing playbook, something that perhaps Trump might do in the terrifying event that he gets reelected. The Department of Justice cannot “oversee” a federal court–at least not while we still have a democracy.

The parties to the NSA are the City of Oakland, a group of plaintiffs represented by two civil rights attorneys, Jim Chanin and John Burris. They have called for the firing of Warshaw and the City has not tried to end the NSA. At this point the only way it can be ended is if the parties agree that the OPD has complied with the NSA requirements. In order to do that, we need an effective police chief who is actually committed to reform.

Oakland Police Department Chief of Police Anne Kirkpatrick is sworn in by Mayor Libby Schaaf at City Hall in Oakland, Calif. on Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

Oh and one more bit of demagoguery that needs to be called out. Kirkpatrick says that Warshaw had been accused of sexual harassment “yet he was allowed to keep his job.” These charges were investigated and Warshaw was fully exonerated.

Reform Wasn’t Possible Under Chief Kirkpatrick

The NSA process is far from perfect and the sooner it is history the better. But first its goal -reform of the Oakland Police Department – must be met. That could never have happened under Anne Kirkpatrick.

Time to Connect the Dots

Oakland Dodges A Bullet

This week, Oakland dodged a bullet.  On July 12, 2017, Judge Thelton Henderson decided not to place a receiver in charge of the Oakland Police Department. 

In 2003, OPD agreed to a Consent Decree known as the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA). It was only supposed to last 5 years. In 2012, receivership was threatened because OPD failed to hold officers accountable for using excessive force against Occupy Oakland demonstrators. Instead, in December 2012, the Court appointed a Compliance Director to ensure successful compliance with the NSA.

A 2013 comprehensive study of U.S. Justice Department Oversight of Local Police since 1994 does not mention any police department that has ever been placed under receivership.

Credit: Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

This time, again, the lack of accountability goes to the highest levels. Now we know why former Chief Sean Whent really resigned.  The Swanson-Barron Court report issued on June 21, 2017 exposes the cover-up from the initial investigators all the way to the Mayor’s office.

Let’s Connect the Dots

Here’s a brief timeline of how we got here:

  • 9/25/15 – Officer Brendan O’Brien is found dead with a “suicide note” disclosing OPD’s sex trafficking activities
  • 9/26/15 – O’Brien’ suicide note is circulated to OPD Command Staff, including Chief Sean Whent
  • 9/30/15 – Criminal Investigations Division (CID) Homicide investigators interview Jasmine and blame her for O’Brien’s suicide
  • 10/1/15  – Internal Affairs Division (IAD) opens an investigation
  • 10/7/15 –  CID Lieutenant reports that the CID investigation is closed
  • 10/30/15 – IAD does a single interview with Jasmine by telephone
  • 2/10/16 – IAD investigator provides a draft report to OPD supervisors
  • 3/8/16 – Court Monitor learns of sexual misconduct allegations
  • 3/23/16 – Judge Henderson issues Order re: potential violations of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA)
  • 6/10/16 – Chief Whent resigns as reports of a cover-up explode
  • 1/4/17 – Anne Kirkpatrick is hired as new OPD Chief
  • 5/1/17  – Kirkpatrick promotes Lois, Coleman & Holmgren
  • 6/21/17 – Swanson-Barron report released
  • 7/10/17  – Kirkpatrick defends her decision to promote Lois, Coleman & Holmgren

Who Made the Decisions?

According to the East Bay Express, Deputy Chief John Lois was the head of OPD’s Bureau of Investigations. In October 2015, he approved the closure of two criminal investigations of police misconduct within a week, despite obvious evidence of wrongdoing. He has just been promoted to Assistant Chief of Police, the second-highest position in the department.

 

Capt. Kirk Coleman was in charge of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) in October 2015. Task 28 of the NSA requires the CID Commander to notify and coordinate promptly with the DA’s Office regarding possible officer criminal misconduct. OPD failed to notify the DA. Coleman is being promoted to run Internal Affairs, putting him in charge of all police-misconduct cases.

 

Lt. Roland Holmgren was the head of OPD’s homicide unit in October 2015. Two homicide investigators, Sgts. Bradley Baker and Jason Andersen, blamed Jasmine for O’Brien’s suicide in their interview, and watched her destroy evidence to protect other officers. Holmgren watched this interview. Holmgren then closed the homicide investigation within a week. He is being promoted to Captain and will be in charge of the CID.

Who Was Kept In The Dark?

When Kirkpatrick came to Oakland in January 2017, she had to rely on someone to tell her what was really going on inside OPD. Presumably that person was the Mayor who hired her. Perhaps the task was delegated to City Administrator Sabrina Landreth who oversaw OPD for 6 months. When Kirkpatrick proposed to promote these 3 men in May, you think someone would warn her that they were implicated in covering up sex trafficking by police officers. Instead, it appears that Kirkpatrick was kept in the dark. Worse case scenario, she was told and promoted them anyway.

According to the East Bay Express, Kirkpatrick defends and still intends to move forward with her promotions.

At the same time, according to the Court’s report, police and City officials kept the District Attorney in the dark. The Mayor claims she told District Attorney O’Malley about the investigation in May 2016. The earliest news of a DA investigator implicated in the misconduct, former OPD Capt. Rick Orozco, broke in June 2016. According to the East Bay Times, Orozco, a 20-year OPD veteran, was let go a month later. According to other reports, Orozco was the second DA employee implicated in the misconduct.

Not surprisingly, the first 2 recommendations in the Swanson-Barron report are designed to improve the reporting of potential officer criminal misconduct to the DA’s Office.

Who Will Hold OPD Accountable?

In September 2016, DA O’Malley was asked and said she did not intend to investigate anyone for obstruction of justice. This week, Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan called the question again.  She is not alone. Oakland City Councilmember Noel Gallo also says that the everyone responsible for mishandling the Guap case, including the top leadership, should “face the music.”

The challenge to holding anyone accountable may be the statute of limitations. The statute for misdemeanor crimes is generally 1 year. Possible misdemeanors in this case include destroying or concealing evidence, preventing a witness from testifying or interfering with a police officer which is considered obstruction of justice. Conspiracy to obstruct justice can be charged as a felony. The statute of limitations for the felony charge is 3 years. The alleged cover-up began in October 2015. So, the DA is either out of time or time is running out.

The new Chief faces a similar problem. The time to complete an investigation of police misconduct is 1 year. So, the question is whether anything done so far constitutes an investigation of the top OPD brass. If so, when did it begin. The Chief is also either out of time or running out of time.

Judge Henderson left the matter in the City’s hands for now. The City has until September 25th to file a report in response to the Swanson-Barron report.

Credit: East Bay Express

If you agree that Chief Kirkpatrick should either postpone or rescind the promotions of Chief Lois, Capt. Coleman or Lt. Holmgren, you should call her at 510-238-8865, or hit her on twitter at @oaklandpoliceca. You can tell her for me if she really wants to “transform” OPD, she needs to start at the top. You can also tell Mayor Libby Schaaf at @theOaklandMayor.

 

 

 

A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to Justice

A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to Justice

I’m sitting in a small crowded courtroom in the Hayward Hall of Justice.  Lots of reporters and cameras on tripods, court personnel and a few civilians.  I’m thinking about my next blog, “the Politics of Trust.”  Then, a funny thing happened on the way to justice.

An elderly Caucasian man stands on the side of the courtroom looking over the scene.  Most don’t notice him – I realize that he is the judge waiting to take the bench.  Soon he does.  The Judge very quickly goes through the steps of arraignment for former Contra Costa Deputy Sheriff Ricardo Perez.

perez-court-v2Ricardo Perez is charged with felony oral copulation with my client, Jasmine.  It is apparently well known that he was “one of her regulars.”  Since she was still a minor, he was actively engaged in the commercial sexual exploitation of a child (CSEC).  He reportedly worked as a Contra Costa Sheriff’s Deputy for several years.

Who Is the Judge?

Judge Joseph J. Carson was first appointed as a judge by Governor Ronald Reagan in June 1972.  In  April 1984  Governor George Deukmejian elevated him to serve as a Superior Court judge.  Judge Carson was a Deputy District Attorney for Alameda County between 1966 and 1972 before he became a judge.

The district attorney asks Judge Carson to set Perez’ bail at $60,000.  After reading Perez’s probable cause statement, Carson smiles and says, “Fish Ranch Road?  I haven’t been there since high school.”  Carson then let Perez remain out of custody on his own recognizance.

Judge Carson’s decision to let defendant Perez out on his own recognizance (OR) is in stark contrast to the $300,000 bail Jasmine was held on in Florida a month ago.  Judge Carson’s OR  decision was obviously based on his own world view about CSEC and perhaps, his own fond memories of hanging out on Fish Ranch Road.  When he made the comment, he seemed to snicker at the thought of whatever happened to him the last time he was on Fish Ranch Road.

What A Difference Race Makes

Judge Carson’s decision to OR defendant Perez on a felony charge is very different from bail decisions issued for most Black and Brown defendants in our criminal justice system in Alameda County.  The experience of racism is still channeled through the bail system in America. Study after study has documented the disparity by race in bail decisions across the country. 

In her 2013 analysis of bail practices, Washington College of Law Professor Cynthia E. Jones describes how judges “exercise virtually unbridled discretion in making bail determinations, which are too frequently corrupted by the random amount of money bond imposed, the defendant’s lack of financial resources, the implicit bias of the bail official, and the race of the defendant.  These factors combine to create an extreme dysfunction in the bail determination process” resulting in severe over-crowding of jails and racial disparities in bail outcomes between African-Americans and whites.  (Jones, C. E. (2013). “Give Us Free”: Addressing Racial Disparities in Bail Determinations.” New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy, 16(4), 919–62.)

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 2008 and 2011, Alameda County was one of the largest jail jurisdictions in the United States, (in the top 15) with an average daily population of more than 4000 inmates.  Between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of our average daily jail population that was un-sentenced but remained detained was consistently much higher than the state average.  Typical reasons for staying in jail before sentencing are the inability to post bail, public safety or flight risk, or slow criminal justice processing.  The population of detainees “presumed innocent until proven guilty” is overwhelmingly Black and Brown.

The Racial Divide in Alameda County

Justice in Alameda County has historically been racially imbalanced.   In 2002, the rate of felony arrests in California for African Americans was 4.4 times higher than for whites.  Our rate of incarceration in Alameda County was 7.5 times higher; the rate of incarceration for second strikes was 10 times higher.   African Americans were incarcerated at a rate almost 13 times higher than whites under the three-strikes program.

In 2004, in Alameda County, African-Americans were only 14.61% of the population; we were 52.85 of all felony arrests.  In contrast, 41% of the population was White and only represented 22% of all felony arrests.

In 2008, 55.0% of the inmates in Santa Rita Jail were African American, while only 18.1% were White.  At that time, 12.2% of adult residents in the County were African American and 40.5% were White.

There is clearly a legacy of racial injustice in Alameda County.  Yet, we can count the number of police officers criminally charged for criminal misconduct in Alameda County on one hand.  When an officer who clearly abused his position and power and exploited a young girl is actually charged, no bail is his reward.  Judge Carson’s decision adds “insult to injury.”

How do you feel about that?  Feel free to post your comment here or at my Facebook page.

Obstruction of Justice-Does It Matter?

Obstruction of Justice-Does It Matter?

bunion-v2On Friday, September 23, 2016, the first Oakland police officer in our “crisis of corruption” goes to Court.  Brian J. Bunton, who allegedly abused his power as an officer of the law will be arraigned on several charges, including felony obstruction of justice. As we finally move forward in the continuing saga of abuse of power by police officials, the question looms, does obstruction of justice really matter?  Is obstruction of justice a “victimless crime?”

What is Obstruction of Justice?

“Obstruction may consist of any attempt to hinder the discovery, apprehension, conviction or punishment of anyone who has committed a crime. The acts by which justice is obstructed may include bribery, murder, intimidation, and the use of physical force against witnesses, law enforcement officers or court officials.”

For anyone who is tempted to think that obstruction of justice is a “victimless crime,” I offer the story of prosecutorial misconduct in Bakersfield, California.  There, Kern County Deputy District Attorney Robert Murray admits to falsifying a confession transcript that he provided to a defense attorney.  Murray gave it to the defense attorney during plea negotiations when Murray knew defense counsel was trying to persuade the defendant to take a deal.  Murray claims he was joking, but only after he was caught.  Murray still works for the Kern County District Attorney.

The trial judge threw out the charges when the faked confession was exposed.  The case involved alleged sexual abuse of a ten year-old girl.  The defendant could have been sent away for life if convicted.  As a result of Murray’s misconduct and the dismissal of the charges, the defendant, a sexual predator, is freed.  He is later arrested and charged with having sex with a minor under fourteen.  Prosecutors believe he impregnated the girl when she was thirteen.  In effect, because the prosecutor decided to “obstruct justice,” a sexual predator got away with sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl and went free to victimize another 13-year-old girl.  So I ask, the parents of which one of these girls thinks that obstruction of justice is “a victimless crime?”

Closer to Home

Closer to home, in July 2010, the Oakland City Council approved a $6.5 million settlement in a case which exposed the routine use of false or misleading information for search warrants.  There, OPD’s own records allegedly showed that more than 57% of all search warrants in drug cases involving a confidential informant between 2001 and 2008 were based on false information.  Eleven officers are fired.  Most are later reinstated.  None of the officers accused of creating false police reports are ever prosecuted.  Some of them still work for Oakland police.  The number of people sent to jail based on false information remains unknown.

In October 2011, Oakland agreed to pay $1.7 million to the family of Jerry Amaro. Oakland police beat Mr. Amaro while arresting him on suspicion of trying to buy drugs from undercover police officers.  They broke five of his ribs and lacerated one of his lungs.  He died a month later of pneumonia caused by his fractured ribs. None of the officers involved documented the use of force.  OPD told his heartbroken mother that her son “died in the street” following a gang dispute over drugs.  None of the officers accused of filing false police reports to conceal Amaro’s beating were ever prosecuted.  Some of them still work for Oakland police.

The Tip of the Iceberg?

Officer Brian Bunton, facing felony charges for obstruction of justice, appears to be the tip of the iceberg in Oakland.  In our case, it appears that many people went to great lengths to conceal ongoing widespread criminal activity.  We know that OPD investigators received a suicide note from Officer Brendan O’Brien in September 2015.  We know that OPD investigators looked into Jasmine’s cell phone with all of its incriminating text messages and recorded calls.  We also know that access and information to Jasmine’s Facebook page was publicly available.

whent-resignsPolice chiefs in both Richmond and Oakland were allegedly her Facebook friends.  And yet, every one of the local District Attorneys staunchly maintains that she or he did not even know about the suicide note or the OPD investigation until she or he read about it in the East Bay Express Newspaper.

Clearly, higher officials than Brian Bunton obstructed justice in this case.  We are all victims of the obstruction of justice because we have to live with the fallout.  Public safety requires public trust!  Who can we believe – the Mayors, the DAs, the Chiefs?  I’m not sure that any of them has any credibility left.  Where were they for nine months?  Who else should be charged with obstruction of justice?  What do you think? Feel free to post your comment here or at my Facebook page.

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