In August of 2015, Officer Colin Governski of the San Diego Police Department was in the process of harassing some homeless people who were camping near a beach. Shortly after, Governski saw another homeless man, Tony Diaz, come out of a nearby bathroom.
He then began accusing Diaz of living out of his truck and after initially indicating that he was warning him about doing so, he quickly decided instead to give him a citation. That citation was based on a San Diego law that prohibits people from living within a vehicle that is parked on public property.
In court, Officer Governski testified that he had caught Diaz sleeping inside the back of his truck. However, Diaz maintained that he was just using the bathroom prior to going fishing at the beach. He also stated that a friend allows him to park on their privately owned property overnight. In spite of his insistence that he had not been sleeping in his truck at the time, based on Governski’s testimony, Diaz was found guilty of “vehicle habitation” and fined $280.
Later, the lawyer representing Diaz filed an appeal of that conviction in order to challenge the constitutionality of the ordinance against living in a car. A similar law in Los Angeles had already been struck down as unconstitutional by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014.
During the appeal process, it was discovered that Officer Governski had been wearing a body camera that day. (See video embedded below.) The unnecessary arrogance and mean spirited nature of the harassment shown on that video is appalling by itself. More importantly though, the body cam footage clearly showed Diaz was walking out of the bathroom and not sleeping in the back of his truck when Ofc. Governski first encountered him.
As a result of the contradiction between Governski’s testimony and what’s shown on the video, the conviction was reversed. However, Governski has yet to be charged with perjury. And it’s not because he doesn’t warrant such a charge. During the original trial, Governski had lied directly to the judge while under oath when he was specifically asked several times if Diaz was sleeping in the back of the truck when he found him. For anyone without one of those Magic Uniforms, that’s a felony.
This wasn’t even the first time he was caught lying and filing false charges to harass someone, either. In 2014, the taxpayers of San Diego were forced to pay $15,000 to another homeless person Governski had falsely arrested. On top of that, he had also violated SDPD policy by not noting on the citation that there was body camera footage available, which is why it wasn’t presented at the trial.
Nobody should hold their breath waiting for Officer Governski (or any other cop) to be charged with or in any meaningful way punished for perjury, regardless of how obvious and outrageous the lies they tell are. In fact, the San Diego City Attorney’s Office indicated that they had not even reported Governski’s conduct to internal affairs or his supervisor when asked by his attorney.
Of course, as Tony Diaz’ attorney, Coleen Cusack, pointed out, if they will lie about such a minor citation what won’t they lie about? For the sake of yourself and anyone else you see being harassed or abused by the police, film the police.