23 Years After The Death Of Brother, Family Files Claim

By Carlos Avalos
Lurline Davis, Alice Davis, and Rochella Edwards, the surviving family members of Jimmy Earl Burelson, have filed a claim for damages against the County of San Bernardino, the San Bernardino County Coroner’s Office, the City of Fontana and the Fontana Police Department with regard to the desecration of Jimmy Earl Burelson’s body that occurred in the aftermath of his death on July 6, 1994.
The claim, made more than a quarter of a century after Burelson’s death, comes after what Monrow A. Mabon, the attorney representing Davis, Davis and Edwards, says suffices as a “verification” of what had occurred to Burelson was received between March 9 and March 15, 2019 by Mabon & Associates.
According to the claim, “The circumstances giving rise to this claim are as follows: On or about July 6, 1994, Jimmy Earl Burelson was in the custody of the Fontana Police Department. According to the Fontana Police Department, Jimmy Earl Burelson bailed out of their custody and approximately 30 minutes later Jimmy Earl Burleson was found murdered at the rear of the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant located at 16931 Foothill Blvd. Fontana, CA. 92335. Claimants allege that after the murder of Jimmy Earl Burelson, members of the Fontana Police Department and [a] member of the San Bernardino coroner’s office for their amusement desecrated the body of Jimmy Earl Burleson.”
This, Mabon alleges in the complaint, violated “the sanctity of Jimmy Earl Burleson. Claimants allege members of the Fontana Police Department and [a] member of the San Bernardino Coroner’s Office, from July 6, 1994 to the present have engaged in a conspiracy by a cover-up of the true circumstances surrounding the murder of Jimmy Earl Burleson, their desecration of Jimmy Earl Burleson’s body and their failure to investigate and disclose the true circumstances of Jimmy Earl Burleson’s murder.”
As previously reported in the Sentinel in February 2017, on July 6, 1994 Burelson, an African American male murder victim, was discovered behind the Kentucky Fried Chicken eatery at Sierra Avenue and Foothill Boulevard in Fontana. A police officer at the scene thought it would be funny to place a piece of chicken in Burelson’s hand, to make it look like he was stealing chicken from the restaurant before he was killed. A photograph was taken and this photo was circulated around the department for years.
On June 30, 2016, David J. Moore Sr. & Andrew Anderson, represented by attorneys Bradley C. Gage and Milad Sadr, filed a lawsuit in San Bernardino Superior Court against the City of Fontana, alleging discrimination, retaliation and failure to take corrective action. In that suit, Moore, an African-American, and Anderson, who is of mixed background but self-identifies as a Latino, alleged that the 189-member Fontana Police Department is comprised of sworn officers who are predominantly white, such that as of the date of the suit it never had more than four African American officers on the force at any given time, despite African Americans comprising more than 10 percent of the city’s population, while employing fewer than thirty Latino officers – roughly 15 percent – even though Hispanics comprise nearly 70 percent of the city’s population. According to the suit, the police department’s administration is even more lopsidedly out of step with the city’s demographics, which has perpetuated an atmosphere in which the department has condoned the mistreatment of minorities, and the officers employed by it have felt free to engage in a litany of both insensitive and socially unacceptable behaviors, including referring to both African Americans and Latinos in racist and derogatory terms. Among the manifestations of unacceptable behavior by the officers with the police department, according to the suit, was the treatment accorded to Burleson’s corpse.
Marshaled as evidence in support of the suit was a photograph of Burleson on a table at the coroner’s office with the chicken leg clutched in his hand.
Mabon told the Sentinel that he considered the allegation contained in the Anderson/Moore suit insufficient in itself for the claim he was contemplating filing on behalf of Davis, Davis and Edwards, and it was only upon interviewing former officers with the Fontana Police Department and receiving additional documents that he was ready to proceed.
On August 28, 2019 Mabon & Associates filed with San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson a complaint against the Fontana Police Department and the San Bernardino County Coroner’s office. The complaint was filed on behalf of Burelson’s family for violation of crimes against public justice: conspiracy under California Penal Code §§182-185, falsifying evidence under California Penal Code §§132-141, a violation of the Health and Safety Code §§7050.5-7055, a violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act §51, another violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act §51.7 and Title 16 U.S, Code § 242. The formal complaint alleges that the Fontana Police Department led the public to believe that Jimmy Earl Burleson bailed out of jail and thirty minutes later was found murdered, behind the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant located at 16931 Foothill Boulevard in Fontana. The complaint alleges the Fontana Police Department in conjunction with the San Bernardino County Coroner’s office worked in unison to desecrate Mr. Burelson’s body. These facts, according to the complaint, were verified and delivered to Luraline Davis and her family by a former Fontana Police Department officer on March 12, 2019.
This complaint requests that an investigation be initiated by the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office into the death of Jimmy Earl Burleson and crimes committed against public justice by the Fontana Police Department and the San Bernardino Coroner’s Office.
Mabon told the Sentinel that he originally was apprehensive about filing a complaint with the San Bernardino District Attorney’s office because that agency works with the coroner’s office, creating a potential conflict of interest. For that reason, Mabon & Associates looked at filing a claim with the California Department of Justice, the California Attorney General, and the Federal Department of Justice. The California Code of Civil Procedure, however, requires that a potential litigant must exhaust all local remedies. Thus, despite the conflict potential, Mabon said, he filed a complaint with the district attorney’s office as well as the City of Fontana, the Fontana Police Department and San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in order to preserve the right to litigation, pursuant to the California Tort Claims Act.
Mabon indicated his hope that Jason Anderson, who displaced the former district attorney in the 2018 election, “has the potential to be non-biased and do the right thing.”
Mabon & Associates is waiting for a response. If no response is forthcoming, Mabon said he will file a claim with the California Attorney General, and he intends to file and pursue a formal lawsuit on behalf of Burelson’s survivors.
Mabon is asserting “There was an orchestrated and calculated cover up of the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Burelson.” According to Mabon, “Based off of the history of the Fontana Police Department, it is very suspicious that Mr. Burelson was killed allegedly 30 minutes after he bailed out of jail; there is no certainty that Mr. Burelson actually bailed out of jail.” Mabon further stated “There is the possibility that he was killed in custody and planted at the crime scene.”
In the words of a former Fontana Police Department officer, “The case of Mr. Burleson has never been looked at twice, audited, or referred to a cold case investigation team.”
Mabon noted that Burleson’s death was “a murder case that has sit dormant for decades” and that the events leading up to it and around it had deliberately gone unexplored because of collusion between the police department and the coroner’s office, furthered by a blue code of silence he likened to being “no different than the American Italian Mafia’s Omerta, or gang members not snitching or squealing on each other.” Mabon said the department’s handling of the matter suggested Burleson’s case was not the first time officers with the Fontana Police Department had done something like this. He said the coroner’s office’s efforts to avoid addressing the desecration issue lent support to the conclusion that there were similar occurrences with other police agencies in San Bernardino County. Mabon, a 30-plus year law enforcement officer, told the Sentinel that “Law enforcement people or organizations who break the law should be treated the same, maybe even harsher than a normal civilian who breaks the law.”
Mabon’s advocacy on behalf of Davis, Davis and Edwards faces a critical challenge based upon the sheer amount of time that has elapsed since the incident in question. An event from twenty-five years ago falls well beyond the statute of limitations in all civil matters in California. Since 1994, there has been substantial turnover in the Fontana Police Department, with only a small minority of the officers who were working there at that time still employed by the agency. The precise identities of the officers involved in the alleged incident have not been established, and it is unknown whether they remain employed with the department.
Moreover, the coroner’s office has itself undergone an administrative transformation. Brian McCormick was the San Bernardino County coroner in 1994. At that time, the coroner’s office in San Bernardino County was a stand alone office. On January 9, 2005, following McCormick’s retirement as the county’s last independently elected coroner, the coroner’s department was merged with the sheriff’s department in San Bernardino County and the sheriff became the titular coroner. There has been a complete changeover in the personnel in the coroner’s division of the sheriff’s department since that time.
For most criminal matters in California, the statute of limitations is three years, with some crimes carrying a four-year statute. There is no statute of limitations on murder. With regard to civil matters, a citizen pursuing a lawsuit against another member of the public has two years from the time of the act in question, or the last act in a series of acts in question, to initiate the suit against the perpetrator. When the potential defendant is a governmental entity, a prospective plaintiff seeking remedy in state court must first lodge a claim against the governmental entity within six months, giving it an opportunity to satisfy the claim or reject it. Upon rejection, the prospective plaintiff has one year to file a suit in a California court of competent jurisdiction. A plaintiff contemplating a suit against any entity, private or governmental, in federal court has two years to lodge suit, and needs not file a claim beforehand.
Mabon told the Sentinel that the clock on the statute of limitations does not begin running until “the point of time a person discovers a wrong or suffered an injury.” In the case of Davis, Davis, and Edwards, Mabon said, “They didn’t realize what was going on, or they had no knowledge that there had not been any investigation or anything of that sort until, from my discussion with them, sometime around January or February of this year. I received information, and in some cases, I even thought the story was so outlandish because I had experience on LAPD of going down to the morgue and knew the conditions of the LA County Morgue and I was just trying to figure out how police and coroner personnel would do something like that. Eventually, David Moore sent me a photograph of it and then I read a newspaper article. So then I began making inquiries, using all the contacts I had, police personnel and so forth, and I was able to find out there had been an incident. I interviewed people  and found documents. Somewhere between March 9 and March 15, at that particular point in time I said, ‘Yes, we’re talking about a conspiracy and an ongoing cover-up. My contention is, for arguments sake, the statute has not been tolled and the fact is that our complaint has been validly and timely filed. I think the date was August 14 for our complaint and we can see that there is no statute violation.”
Adam Claybaugh, currently a lieutenant with the Fontana Police Department, told the Sentinel he had no knowledge about and had never heard of the chicken bone incident involving Jimmy Burleson. He referred questions to the department’s internal affairs division, Sergeant Mark Gonzales in particular. Gonzales had not responded to the Sentinel’s inquiries by press time.

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