Save the city’s soul


Please correct your characterization of the death of Raymond Zack off Crown Beach on Memorial Day 2011 ("2014 Year in Review," Dec. 25).

Zack did not drown. He died of hypothermia, a much longer and, one would think, a more painful process. This was the Alameda fire and police departments’ version of a botched execution of a helpless victim who had not been accused of any crime, had not been represented by an attorney, had not been bound over for trial following a preliminary hearing, had not been indicted and had not been tried by a jury of his peers.

He was, however, sentenced to death by an incredibly callous group of public safety officers. His death was viewed by several, if not dozens, of horrified observers, who, unlike the usual witnesses to the infliction of capital punishment, did not request to view his killing.

You also state that the episode demonstrated the need for a fire boat. It is more likely that no watercraft whatsoever was required on that occasion. Press accounts stated that the first U. S. Coast Guard boat sent to rescue Zack could not navigate the shallow waters in which Zack found himself.

Has it ever occurred to those who defend or even explain the conduct of our paid servants that the Coast Guard, being — almost by definition — intimately familiar with the depths and other conditions of San Francisco Bay, anticipated that land-based, non-Coast Guard personnel would have been able to effect a rescue so close to the shore?

It is reasonable to anticipate that the new City Council will again consider the city’s response to the Zack’s death? At his "Town Hall" meeting last Sept. 15, then-candidate Frank Matarrese stated honestly and firmly that "there is not a culture known on earth" which would find the conduct of the Alameda public safety officers to be acceptable. Matarrese indicated that he would consider a request to the Alameda County Superior Court to set aside the dismissal of the Zack lawsuit.

In my opinion, however, the city’s soul can be saved without a reopening of litigation. The new City Council can very easily enact a resolution which would not imply that its public safety officers were either morally obligated or legally obligated to try to save Zack. It would, however, recognize that, in all likelihood, the conduct of the public safety officers helped to cause Zack’s death.

The resolution would state very simply that the public safety officers were able to try to rescue Zack; that it is likely that, if the public safety officers had attempted to save Zack, they would have been successful; that the city regrets that the city’s public safety officers did not attempt to rescue Zack; that the city regrets that its public safety officers prohibited bystanders from attempting to save Zack; and that the city regrets that Zack suffered a needless, undeserved and very painful death.

John Zugnoni

Editor’s note: The Alameda County Coroner attributed the cause of Zack’s death to drowning. The incident called attention to the city’s need for a boat and the personnel needed to handle the boat.