District Attorney Summer Stephan appears at the US Grant Hotel on the night of the June 2018 primary election. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

It’s a familiar scene by now.

The DA makes big pronouncements about transparency, process and … announces no one will be held responsible for the death of a black man after an encounter with police. (The press conference on Friday, by the way, the one in which they played body camera video in the name of transparency – was not announced publicly and was only open to a select handful of media outlets.)

This time, in announcing that no law enforcement officers will be held criminally liable in the death of Earl McNeil in National City, District Attorney Summer Stephan casually brushed off a finding by the medical examiner that the manner of death was homicide.

“The homicide label is used for anything that involves human hands in a situation like this,” Stephan said, dispensing with the information like a used tissue. That’s that.

It’s not that the facts in the McNeil case overwhelmingly support taking action against the officers involved. (Though they certainly don’t overwhelmingly suggest blamelessness, either.) There’s no reason to believe Stephan did anything but act on what the evidence showed.

And yet when you step back from individual cases, you see how familiar the outcome really is.

In 155 officer-involved shooting cases between 2005 and 2015, the DA did not find a single instance in which a police officer should be charged, according to a database compiled by inewsource.

No officers were found criminally liable in 2016, or in the 2017 cases that have been reviewed so far.

It presents a haunting question whose answer remains out of reach: Police seem to acknowledge that killing unarmed people is not an ideal outcome, and yet no one is ever held responsible for those deaths, so how will we ever do better? We’re stuck on the same merry-go-round of deaths, followed by community protests, followed by press conferences and announcements that no one will be held responsible.

San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber attempted this year to change the standards by which police officers could be held responsible for killing people. It was watered down dramatically to please law enforcement groups. That version died too.

What VOSD Learned This Week

One way schools handle employees they’ve found harassed others or committed misconduct: transferring them to new positions or schools, a move that often leaves students and parents unaware of the employee’s history.

As part of her ongoing investigation into sexual misconduct in local public schools, Ashly McGlone has found that districts often opt to pay former employees to leave rather than firing them. This week she highlighted a case in which an employee from the Grossmont Union High School District admits he made lewd comments about students received $80,000 to leave.


The new community plan for the Midway-Pacific Highway area more than doubles the homes that can be built in the coming decades.

When it comes to new building in a very specific area near a planned trolley stop on Tecolote Drive, the city decided against raising the height limit to allow taller, denser housing. The City Council could still decide to raise it. But it’s the second time the city has capitulated on a height limit increase near new trolley stops along the Mid-Coast Trolley corridor.

Meanwhile, progressives are pushing the city to re-examine its inclusionary housing policy. Lisa Halverstadt has analyzed data from the city and found the policy is only responsible for a small amount of affordable housing construction.


Jesse Marx has revived the North County Report, and in his first installment he explains why Del Mar’s battle with the Coastal Commission over short-term vacation rentals could make waves far beyond the tiny coastal town.

Farther to the east, many backcountry developments are suddenly in limbo thanks to a judge’s ruling this week.


The outgoing head of the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board talked with Kelly Davis about how he thinks the group could be more transparent moving forward.


San Diego is at the heart of California’s boardroom diversity problem.


On the podcast this week, we ran down how the SDSU-SoccerCity partnership fell apart. One of the people who’s endorsed the SDSU West plan is Myrtle Cole, who also gave an interview this week that was astoundingly substance-free.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“There are some stupid mistakes that only very smart people make, and one of them is the notion that a sensible argument seriously presented can compete with a really good piece of theatre.” – Why hearing out and debating Nazis doesn’t work, and why the left is losing the PR war in the marketplace of ideas.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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