A Dozen Oxnard Officers to Testify About Jaywalking Tickets Given to Vocal Critic of Police Brutality
(re-posted with permission of author, photos and video added by Colectivo)
BY RAUL HERNANDEZ
American Justice Notebook Reporter
VENTURA, CALIFORNIA — A defense lawyer wants a judge to dismiss the year-old jaywalking case - the People vs. Francisco Romero – because, he says, Oxnard police targeted Romero who is a vocal critic on police brutality.
Prosecutors, however, argue that Romero was identified and video-recorded jaywalking five times, failing to yield to vehicles during a protest march held in October 2013 against police brutality and abuse. A week later, he received a certified letter stating that he had been given five citations, which have fines totaling as much as $1,000.
Tuesday, Romero’s lawyer Jaime Segall Gutierrez, of Whittier, and Deputy District Attorney Susan Park were in a court hearing in Commissioner Anthony Sabo’s court at Ventura County Superior Court. Gutierrez filed a motion to toss out Romero’s five jaywalking citations, citing constitutional issues.
Defense witnesses subpoenaed for this hearing which began Tuesday include a dozen Oxnard police officers and some family members of victims fatally shot by Oxnard police or who have died while under police custody in Oxnard.
Only one witness testified Tuesday, Oxnard’s Police Department’s Operations Chief Eric Sonstegard, who put together a plan on how law enforcement would handle the October 13, 2013 march.
The hearing was postponed until Oct. 29 because of Commissioner Sabo’s conflicting court schedule.
The trial has been tentatively set for Nov. 5.
After months of legal haggling, a handful of judges making rulings on the matter and several prosecutors assigned to handle the legal proceeding, the case is now being prosecuted by the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office after Oxnard city attorneys turned it over to them.
The defense’s case file that includes court documents and police reports is nearly six-inches wide.
In an interview, Park said she didn’t know whether this was the first jaywalking case that has taken a year to prosecute or whether other jaywalking prosecutions have included police surveillance video recordings as evidence. Park said if she had this information, she probably couldn’t release it while Romero’s case is pending.
Gutierrez claims they had to go to court three times to get video tapes from the city of Oxnard after judges ordered prosecutors to turn them over to the defense as part of the discovery process, which is when both sides exchange information. Gutierrez blames the police department for “dragging their feet” to give them the surveillance videos.
“This is all that we have,” Gutierrez said prosecutors told him, accusing the Oxnard Police Department of hiding evidence from him and prosecutors.
Gutierrez maintains that police targeted his client to simply silence Romero who often goes to city council meetings to speak about police abuse and brutality. Gutierrez noted that Romero ran for the Oxnard City Council in 2006 and got 7,000 votes.
The 1975 Murgia vs. Municipal Court Case
Gutierrez told Sabo that “selective enforcement” violates Romero’s constitutional rights of equal protection under the law, citing the 1975 Murgia vs. Municipal Court case to support the defense’s motion to dismiss.
The California Supreme Court ruled in the Murgia case that a defendant may be entitled to a dismissal of criminal charges if they can prove that there was selective prosecution for improper purposes.
Gutierrez said Romero was the only person to be cited for jaywalking during the peaceful protest, saying that his client was helping others cross the street in a safe manner.
In response to Gutierrez’s motion to dismiss the case, Park stated in a nine-page document that Romero was the only one given the jaywalking infractions because nobody else violating the law could be identified. Also police knew Romero’s address where they could mail the citations, Park said.
“He was observed leading others to break the law by failing to yield to vehicles in the roadway and leading others to do the same,” Park stated. “He placed the lives of 150 of the participants of the march in danger but also putting drivers and others standing by on the road that day in danger.”
Romero’s case began when he received a letter dated Oct. 29, 2013 from the Oxnard Police Department. Romero, who is one of the leaders of the Todo Poder al Pueblo Collective, learned that he had been given the five citations and video recorded by an undercover Oxnard police officer who was driving a vehicle and assigned to monitor the Oct. 13, 2013 march.
The 2013 Protest March and the Oct. 12, 2014 Protest
The 2013 protest drew 150 protestors and 95 Oxnard officers, including undercover officers and SWAT units who were assigned to the march as part of a police plan to keep tabs on the demonstrators, according to law enforcement documents. Uniformed police weren’t visible during the two-mile trek, which began at Camino del Sol Park and ended in front of police headquarters.
The march was also held to protest the fatal shooting by police of Alfonso Limon Jr., a year earlier on Oct. 12, 2012. Limon and his brother got caught up in a running gun battle between police and a wanted parolee in a predominately low-income neighborhood, La Colonia in Oxnard.
The March Against Police Brutality in Oxnard on Oct. 12, 2014 tied up traffic briefly but it was peaceful as about 150 protesters walked from Camino del Sol Park in La Colonia to the downtown police department headquarters where the group gave speeches.Six makeshift coffins represented people who died while under police custody or were fatally shot by officers were carried by protestors to police headquarters.
Pueblo Collective along with Limon’s family are demanding that officers involved in the shooting of Limon be held accountable.
The shooting of Limon resulted in the city of Oxnard having to pay $6.7 million to settle the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Limon’s family which is the largest wrongful death settlement for the city of Oxnard. Limon was shot between 16 to 21 times by four officers as he lay on the ground, according to the Limon family lawyer Adam Shea.
Gerardo Limon who was with his brother when he was fatally shot is still traumatized and hasn’t talked to his family about the shooting, according to Elliot Gabriel, a spokesman for Pueblo Collective.
The Ventura County District Attorney’s Office reviewed the Alfonso Limon shooting and ruled that it was “legally justified and not a criminal act.”
Police Operations Chief Eric Sonstegard Testimony
Oxnard Police Chief Eric Sonstegard testified at Tuesday’s hearing for nearly an hour about a plan he and other commanders put together. He said the plan was to make sure protesters were allowed to exercise their constitutional rights and address public safety concerns. He testified that he is aware of Pueblo Collective because of the Internet but isn’t familiar with what their “mission statement is.” Sonstegard said the protesters didn’t have a permit to march.
Gutierrez’s questioning focused on Romero and what Sonstegard knew about him and his activities. Sonsgtegard described how Romero impeded traffic. He testified that he couldn’t say whether Romero was helping people cross the streets.
“He was standing out in the middle of Oxnard Boulevard blocking traffic,” Sonstegard said. “There were other people in the middle of the road.”
Sonstegard said Romero was encouraging others to break the law by walking in the middle of the street and stopping traffic. He said there have recently been six or seven Pueblo Collective protest marches.
“I think I’ve been at five of them,” said Sonstejard, adding that it was difficult to identify other people on Oct. 13, 2013.
“We are aware of Mr. Romero. We know who he is,” Sonstegard testified. He said police officers, however, weren’t focused on Romero during the march.
BY RAUL HERNANDEZ
American Justice Notebook Reporter
OXNARD, CALIFORNIA — The jaywalking case – the People vs. Francisco Romero – has lingered in the Ventura County courts for a year.
The court hearings have resulted in a lot of legal haggling, a slew of judges making rulings on the matter and several prosecutors assigned to handle the legal proceedings.
Romero said he expects the case to end up at the California Supreme Court if he is found guilty of jaywalking.
The case is more than just someone getting a ticket for crossing the street unlawfully and without regard for approaching traffic. It has become symptomatic of the growing animosity, finger pointing, accusations and counter accusations between the Oxnard Police Departmentand members of Todo Poder al Pueblo Collective surrounding allegations of police brutality, abuse and fatal shootings. Read More…
BY RAUL HERNANDEZ, American Justice Notebook Reporter
OXNARD, CALIFORNIA — The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing an ongoing internal investigation by the Oxnard Police Department surrounding allegations that the city’s police officers put so-called shooting tattoos on their left shoulders after they were involved in shootings with a suspects, according to a spokesman for the department in Los Angeles.
“I can tell you that we are reviewing the matter. I will not comment on any specific allegations or any specific questions that you have posed. Also, I cannot give you a timetable as to how long our review will take,” stated Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the Justice Department in an email sent Tuesday.
In an interview Tuesday, Police Chief Jeri Williams said the investigation is ongoing, and she didn’t know when it would conclude.
“I don’t have a time frame right now but it is an ongoing investigation,” said Williams.
American Justice also learned that the city of Oxnard has hired a San Francisco law firm to conduct an independent investigation surrounding the shooting-tattoo allegations.
A former Oxnard police officer told American Justice Notebook said when gun smoke coming out of the barrel is added to the shooting tattoo, this indicats that the shooting was fatal.
As part of a settlement agreement involving the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old jogger in October 2012, the city also held a press conference Tuesday.
As a migrant community, a diaspora of those populations who experienced expulsion and refugee status as a result of imposed free trade agreements, we are enraged by the extreme violence and disrespect for the human life that is being used by the state and other spheres of power, which seeks to conceal the true purpose of these attacks, which are directed at the very idea of the rural school model, which have created a vibrant hotbed of social struggle.
To all Mexicans residing in Chicago
To all the united collectives in the United States,
To all those who stand in solidarity with the rural students of Ayotzinapa
To all human rights and social advocacy organizations,
To all free & independent media outlets,
On September 26, 2014, in at least four related violent incidents in the vicinity of the city of Iguala in the Mexican state of Guerrero, 6 people lost their lives. Among these were three students from the Rural Normal Raúl Isidro Burgos, Ayotzinapa. Also, 20 were injured (one of whom, a student, is in a vegetative state), and 55 were abducted and their whereabouts are unknown.
It should be noted that student teachers experienced similar events on December 12, 2011 when, following a failed operation to evict the “Autopista del Sol” protest at the normal school, three people lost their lives – including two students, Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino and Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús, who were extra-judicially executed. In the same incident, three students were shot and seriously injured, at least 24 students were arbitrarily detained, 1 student faced torture, and 7 more students were subject to severe inhumane treatment. These crimes remain unpunished, yet the officers accused were acquitted last year.
Como comunidad migrante,diáspora de esas poblaciones, expulsados desde la imposición de tratados comerciales, vemos con rabia, el que con extrema violencia y falta de respeto por la vida,el Estado y sus esferas de poder, pretendan minimizar y desviar el origen de la verdadera intención de atacar el módelo de escuela rural, que ha sido semillero de activistas sociales.
A los mexicanos en Chicago
A los colectivos hermanados en EU,
A las personas solidarias que se manifiesten por los estudiantes rurales de Ayotzinapa
A las organizaciones defensoras de derechos humanos, nacionales e internacionales
A los Medios Libres de comunicación.
Cabe resaltar que los estudiantes normalistas sufrieron hechos similares el 12 de diciembre de 2011, en el que, consecuencia de un operativo fallido de desalojo en la “Autopista del Sol” de una protesta de los normalistas, perdieron la vida tres personas, entre ellos, dos estudiantes Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino y Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús quienes fueron extrajudicialmente ejecutados; tres estudiantes más fueron heridos de bala gravemente y se documentaron al menos, 24 casos de detenciones arbitrarias, 1 caso de tortura y otros 7 más de tratos graves e inhumanos. Estos hechos permanecen en la impunidad y los únicos policías que se encontraban procesados fueron exonerados el año pasado.
VC STAR – City designates Limon death anniversary “Anti-Violence Day,” Todo Poder al Pueblo & Oxnard Police hold opposing press conferences
OXNARD, Calif. – Oxnard officials said Tuesday they will designate a Community Safety and Anti-Violence Day next week in honor of a bystander killed by police in 2012, but other terms of a lawsuit settlement with the man’s family have not yet been met.
Alfonso Limon, 21, was shot and killed by Oxnard police on Oct. 13, 2012, when authorities say officers mistook him for a suspect involved in a shootout with police after a traffic stop.
Officials held a news conference Tuesday — six days before the second anniversary of Limon’s death — to discuss terms of a settlement reached with Limon’s family. His family members, also at Tuesday’s conference, filed a wrongful-death suit after the shooting.
In June, the city announced it had agreed to pay $6.7 million to settle the lawsuit and explore requiring officers to carry video cameras to record incidents. The family also asked the city to dedicate Oct. 13 as a day of anti-violence.
Not much new was announced at Tuesday’s conference. Oxnard Police Chief Jeri Williams and City Manager Greg Nyhoff said they support using the body cameras in the police department, but more study was needed.
Officials are continuing to look at different options, and their findings are expected to go to the Oxnard City Council in the next few months, Williams said. She said she hopes to be using the cameras within a year.
“I see it as a tool to strengthen accountability, to capture critical information during incidents and also to protect our community and our officers,” Williams said.
A memorial in Limon’s honor, expected to be installed in La Colonia, also has been delayed.
City officials are working with Limon’s family on the design, Williams said Tuesday.
Williams said that although nothing can be done to bring Limon back, the city and family are working on ways to keep his memory alive.
She continued to stand by her officers, saying they, too, were affected by Limon’s death.
“They were faced by a terrible set of circumstances and they were forced to make a terrible decision,” Williams said. “The Oxnard Police Department is committed to learning from this tragedy.”
She said the administration will incorporate what it has learned from the Limon incident into reality-based training in the future.
Williams said police brutality became part of the national conversation again after an officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed an unarmed black man. Williams said her administration holds officers accountable for their actions, and the department is transparent, while still keeping the community safe.
“We aren’t Ferguson, Missouri, we are the Oxnard Police Department,” she said Tuesday.
Police officers in Ferguson began wearing body cameras only three weeks after the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown. Two private companies donated those cameras.
In July, the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office announced that the nine officers involved in the Oxnard shooting will not be held criminally responsible, saying “although extraordinarily tragic, (the death) was legally justified and not a criminal act.”
Williams called for an independent agency — the Office of Independent Review — to also investigate the deaths of Limon and Robert Ramirez, who died of asphyxia while being restrained by police. Both that probe and Oxnard’s internal review are still pending.
After Tuesday’s news conference, Limon’s sister, Rebecca Limon, said a lot more could have been done by the Oxnard Police Department to improve training and prevent future officer-involved shootings.
“What happened to all of that training that night?” she asked. “I don’t think that anything is going to give us peace of mind.”
She is, however, hopeful that body cameras will prove effective in holding police officers accountable for their actions.
Todo Poder al Pueblo Collective, a local group that has rallied against police brutality, held its own news conference outside the police department Tuesday.
Daniela Garcia read a statement from the group saying, “The department’s management continues to avoid taking responsibility for its negligence and the pattern of practice that ultimately claimed Alfonso Limon’s life.”
She said Oxnard has been “an industry leader in the ugly practice of harassing and abusing our working-class residents and communities of color.”
The group invited the public to participate in a march Sunday evening to commemorate the anniversary of Limon’s death, as well as other men killed by police. The march will start at Camino Del Sol Park in La Colonia at 5 p.m.
Todo Poder al Pueblo Rejects Statement by Oxnard Police, Calls for 10/12/14 March to Commemorate Limon, Demand Community Control
(OXNARD, CA 10/7/14) Today’s statement by the Oxnard Police Department is further proof that 2 years after 2012’s officer-committed killings, the department’s management continues to avoid taking responsibility for its negligence and the pattern of practice that ultimately claimed Alfonso Limon’s life.
Instead of practicing accountability and releasing officers with blood on their hands from duty, the Oxnard Police Department has chosen to retain them. Officer Pedro Rodriguez, who played a role on the night Alfonso Limon was killed, was even given the title of Resource Officer at Pacifica High School. Meanwhile, allegations are being investigated of a clique of officers, including Commanders, who wear tattoos displaying pride in firing on residents. Officers who kill or treat our community unjustly don’t belong in our streets or in our schools – they belong in a jail cell.
While Chief Jeri Williams has spoken of a “healing process through open and effective dialogue,” residents have instead witnessed public relations and promotional hype from the OPD. Rather than taking ownership of the crisis in police-community relations and addressing the community’s concerns through structural changes and transparency, the Chief has gone on record rejecting community oversight mechanisms like a civilian review board and has blamed members of the community for raising the issue at city council meetings.
The Chief has opened an invitation to collaborate with the Oxnard Police Department, but those who demand justice have faced repression. This was the case last October, when 95 officers were mobilized in a Special Enforcement Unit operation targeting a march led by the Limon family and members of the community. The only result of this operation was that our fellow organizer, Francisco “Chavo” Romero, was singled out and given 5 jaywalking tickets totaling $1000. The charges are still being fought and a motion to dismiss will be filed this Thursday, October 9, at 8:30am at Department 13 of the Ventura County Courthouse.
Reconciliation cannot take place without healing. Healing cannot take place without peace. Peace cannot happen without accountability. Oxnard hasn’t been the exception in the rising nationwide occurrence of police terror and brutality – in fact, for years the City of Oxnard has been an industry leader in the ugly practice of harassing and abusing our working-class residents and communities of color. For these reasons, we invite residents to join us for a community march on Sunday, October 12, to mark the 2-year anniversary of Alfonso Limon Jr.’s death at the hands of the Oxnard Police Department. The Todo Poder al Pueblo Collective will be joined by the families of Jose Luis Ramirez (killed in 2011 by Port Hueneme officers), Robert Ramirez, Michael Mahoney, Alfonso Limon Jr., and other family members and friends of police brutality victims. The march will begin at 5 pm at Camino del Sol Park.
We will be demanding:
- LEAVE OUR YOUTH IN PEACE - End the harassment and abuse!
- Officers with blood on their hands like Pedro Rodriguez don't belong at Pacifica High!
- ACCOUNTABILITY - We need Civilian Oversight and Community Control of the Oxnard Police Department!
- Money for Services, not for Militarizing our Streets!