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Raymond Zack: An Inside Look at the Failures of Alameda Police and Fire Personnel

By Erica Madison

“He was kind, gentle and considerate, but never violent. I don’t understand why that was an issue,” Raymond Zack’s foster mother Dolores Berry told Alameda City Council on October 11, 2011.

Mrs. Berry and others who knew Zack attended a special City Council meeting investigating how and why Raymond Zach died five months ago on Memorial Day at Robert Crown Beach. Berry and friends gave Alameda City council a glimpse as to who the man was.

“He was a private person…he didn’t talk much and he was very religious”, said Berry. “He would never take his life, the thought of suicide was against everything he believed in.

Others said he was a “gentle giant” who frequently took his mother to church and wore a rosary around his neck.

This testimony is in stark contrast to the report investigator Rueben Grijalva gave to Alameda City Council regarding his death.

At the meeting Grijalva, repeatedly called Raymond a dangerous individual and brought in a hostage negotiator Dr. Anthony Hare, to talk about the dangers of dealing with suicidal individuals and how they are a “danger” to emergency respondents.

However, Mrs. Berry told City Council, Zack was in the water with his hands in the air praying.

To further emphasize Grijavla’s disconnectedness to the man who died, the report refers to Zack as “the subject” and “this huge man”.

Councilmember Doug DeHaan was concerned with the fact that Grijalva never interviewed Mrs. Berry or the people who knew Zack. When asked, Grijalva responded this was not his “task.”

Rueben Grijalva was hired by City Manager John Russo to investigate the failures of fire and police officers, who didn’t try to save Raymond Zack from drowning. For a $19,500 paycheck, Grijalva produced a twenty-seven page report in which he interviewed police and fire personnel who were on the scene, examined city and county records and reviewed Los Angeles, Oakland, and Riverside policies regarding suicide prevention and water rescue.

“This was a rare incident in which fire and police were inexperienced,” said Grijalva.

The report also included fourteen recommendations. All fourteen recommendations essentially asked for one thing – more funding for fire and police personnel.

Grijalva concluded that Raymond Zack lost his life because fire and police personnel were not trained to work together and were also not trained to offer help to suicidal individuals.

Grijalva told Alameda City Council the very first thing that should have happened was for someone to initiate a conversation with Raymond Zack. This did not happen; instead the incident commander on the scene relied on information from a surfer, to determine Zack was ok.

“Someone needed to make contact with Zack to offer help,” said Grijalva. “It should have been the primary concern of the chief officers and emergency responders to get someone out there as soon as possible, and a water rescue should have been performed once the person was incapacitated.”

Another issue that contributed to Zack’s death was fire and police communication during the emergency.

Grijalva said firefighters withheld information from the incident commander, such as the mysterious disappearance of surface rescue capability. When firefighters arrived at the scene, they didn’t tell the Alameda police that they hadn’t been certified for water rescue in two years.

“The fire department could have played a larger role. They had information about policies they had in place that they didn’t give to the incident commander,” said Grijalva.

They also didn’t share information such as which neighboring cities were available to help them rescue Zack. Instead, the incident commander was told that the firefighters were there only to provide EMS support if Zack decided to come ashore.

To remedy the situation, Grijalva recommends suicide prevention training for firefighters and police officers, as well as hands-on cross training between firefighters and police officers and crisis communication training for supervisors and commanders.

Both Chief of Police Mike Noonan and Interim Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi spoke with Alameda City Council about the changes they have already made based on Grijalva’s recommendations.

“I apologize to the community, you expect better and you deserve better and from the police department you will get better,” said Alameda Chief of Police Mike Noonan.

Noonan said the police department was hard at work training their officers and working on building a better relationship with the fire department by having quarterly commander and supervisor meetings. There is a joint exercise this week in cross training of fire and police officers.

D’Orazi also offered an apology and said training is the Fire Department’s number one priority.

“We are moving forward to take the steps we need to take to provide the best service to the city of Alameda,” he said.

So far, twenty-one firefighters have been trained in water rescue and all new hires will be trained in water rescue. Thirty-eight firefighters have been trained as boat operators and two new boats have been purchased; one has already been used four times. The second one will be ready for service this week.

The meeting ended with Mayor Marie Gilmore requesting a 90 day review, in which every 90 days fire and police personnel will have to report on the progress their making in implementing Grijalva’s recommendations.

16 comments to Raymond Zack: An Inside Look at the Failures of Alameda Police and Fire Personnel

  • Barb

    “This was a rare incident in which fire and police were inexperienced,” said Grijalva.

    Huh??? Alameda has been an island for all of my life. The citizens paid for water rescure staffing and training. Only a seriously derelict Fire Department would put their union imperative of “full staffing according to firefighter standards” above the welfare of the City. What did they do with the money for the rescues and training? Spend it while shopping for their breakfast, lunch or supper at Safeway and Lucky stores?

    Time to put a stop to such lazy employees. Multi-task like in Sunnyvale. Teach the firefighters how to clean up parks and maiintain streets in the non-rescue time. Like the rest of the world. But first and foremost, regionalize Fire and Police and relieve the citizens from paying for re-inventing the circle time after time. Get some competent fire and police who are capable of going were they are needed when they are needed. Alameda County does a fine job and has all the equipment. And since it is all under one command, no problems in communicating. They already know the phone numbers.

  • hobnob

    “Someone needed to make contact with Zack to offer help,” said Grijalva. “It should have been the primary concern of the chief officers and emergency responders to get someone out there as soon as possible, and a water rescue should have been performed once the person was incapacitated.”

    – unless I didn’t read carefully enough, there was no where in the report that Grijalva wrote about in his report, except at the meeting.

    – sure you’re not trained for water rescue, we’ve heard that EXCUSE countless times, it’s valid…
    but I still want to know why nobody tried to just talk to Raymond Zack.

    Also CROCK of an investigation, $19500 for 1/2 a report. I’m going to investigate just the side the city wants me to investigate, I’ll interview the APD and AFD and make my determination based on that. Who cares about everyone else that was involved, from dispatchers, to witnesses, to the person that pulled him out of the water. But of course we knew that was coming.

    The Zack’s have a right to sue the city for dereliction of duty from the rescue personnel, I’m sure they will win. Ultimately, the city is responsible for the breakdown in APD, AFD, and city.

  • DHL

    Don’t forget, I’ll compare the AFD to other FDs in SoCAL—comparing apples to oranges—rather than comparing AFD to another city with SF baylands,e.g., the most obvious, SFFD, but comparing the AFD to the SFFD would make the AFD look worse than they already look, if that’s possible!).

    The AFD knows who to call. What they also know is that they can get away with not calling anyone bc we apparently don’t need no stinkin’ mutual aid! Listen to Tam at the meeting, and D’Orazi too, touting the important of the need to be self-sufficient when the report clearly states that that was the primary problem to being with: not playing well (engagin other agencies) with others!

  • alameda vigilante

    As was said during Public Comment, there aren’t many Bays in LA or Riverside County. Hence, perhaps, Grijalva’s use of the word “ocean” in the report when referring to the waters Zack was standing in. Errors like that indicate Grijalva didn’t visit Crown Beach at all [maybe he didn’t want to get wet, either]& throw much of the conclusions into question. Also strange:Grijalva begins his HISTORY of Alameda’s Water Rescue program @1993. I’m sure Alameda became surrounded by water before 1993. I have an old Times-Star front page article from 1973 illustrating the disappearing South Shore Beach. Who was running the water rescue program BEFORE 1993-Ron Cowan??? [he did create much of the landfill surrounding Alameda]

  • I was at that meeting, and I don’t recall D’Orazi offering any sort of apology, just Domenick Weaver talking about how much angst this had caused the firefighters. Only Noonan showed any grace in apologizing to the community for the APD’s shortcomings, while the AFD showed yet again it is more concerned with itself.

  • I was at that meetng also and D’Orazi did not apologize. Grijalva tried to walk a fine line between honestly laying out the criminal failures of both APD and AFD in this matter-but he did a bad job. Grijalva would be chewed up any decent attorney re his “investigation”. Every police patrol car is outfitted with a public address sysytem-why didn’t any officer or APD supervisor on-scene attempt to contact Mr Zack in this matter? Grijalva’s report has so many holes in it. It was clear at that meeting that the majority of the City Council were in the current “look forward” mode. Alameda is going to give the Zack Family a LOT of money. I really hope Kamala Harris does the right thing.

  • Clarification-Grijalva attempted to place blame but then would excuse away the lack of proper rescue by APD and AFD. Grijalva soaked the City of Alameda pretty good.

  • Matt Duckworth

    1. If the criticism that the safety officials failed to assess Raymond Zack was in Griljalva’s original “report,” it certainly wasn’t emphasized in the final recommendations for practical steps forward. And, it should have been.

    2. Wouldn’t all these newly-trained fire fighters refuse to approach someone allegedly suicidal? Isn’t that a police task? (Or, so I think I’ve read in that report or in the coverage of Raymond’s Zack’s death.) So, what’s the story from the APD on being ready for a comparable scenario? And, in the face of APD unreadiness, what will the AFD then do?

  • vigi

    Per Incident Report: APD declared the 5150. Therefore, APD had the first duty to approach him; having declared him a danger to self, they had the duty to protect him from himself. Which they made no attempt to do.

  • Barb

    Let’s get to the real truth that remains unanswered but is glaring for all to see: HOW MUCH MONEY IS GRIVALJA GOING TO KICK BACK TO THE FIREFIGHTER’S, TAM GILMORE, BONTA and RUSSO for their next campaigns?
    He did about 8 hours of work – at a rate of $500 per hour, that leaves $16,000 for payoffs. He probably already deducted parking (free) and lunches.

  • Vigi-You are quite correct re the failed duty of APD in determining Mr Zack’s mental health. Cowards..criminal actions..If APD and AFD were advising citizens on the shore NOT to go into the water themselves to assist Zack-the public safety personnel are really in a bad place legally. Plus morally, ethically…

  • Dr Poodlesmurf

    I was at the council meeting also and I am still wondering why the mayor didn’t call for a moment of silence considering the reason we were there … acknowledging failure and death. The clapping at the end of the meeting was in poor taste.
    A moment of silence would have been a nice touch, maybe a park bench with a memorial plaque? The plaque would be far cheaper than the 42K we gave to lena for her questionable behavior

  • Dr Poodlesmurf

    Oh by the way … where was Bev Johnson, too busy

  • Betty

    one word….disgusting

  • 94502

    So was this Grijalva’s first gig as an investigator? He’s off to a bad start.

  • carol

    Today is the 20th anniversary of the 1991 Oakland Firestorm. I just got back from the 10:30 am Memorial. Were any of U here then? I was. I lived on Buckingham Blvd, in a home that was built after the 1970 fire & disappeared in Oct. 1991 . I pored over my album of photos I took of the burned area in 1991, sitting with a woman who survived by staying in the Hiller Highlands pool for 3 hours while the fire raged around her.
    Watch the film footage of the Oakland-Berkeley 1st responders in the Firestorm. They had no respirators or other special equipment, just rags for their faces. Their helmets kept blowing off in the fury. But they went in & DID THEIR JOBS! A policeman & a fireman did die trying to lead people to safety. But what more noble way to die is there than while trying to save others?

    “Greater love than this hath no man, than that he lay down his life for his friends”

    I know a few folks living in Alameda now who lost everything they had Oct 20, 1991. They must really find the behavior & excuses of Alameda Fire & Police perplexing.
    This may be about money for some, but for me its about how we can get our fire & police to realize OUR LIVES are their most important responsibilty. Not equipment, not policy. You do the best with whatever you have at the time.
    There’s public memorials U can attend on Saturday, 10/22/2011. Just go to: