Friends and Family Gather to Demand Accountability in Police Violence Investigations
By Earl Parsons
Several families affected by police-related deaths in Kern County met in Heritage Park last Saturday to demand accountability for the loss of their loved ones.
Reacting to Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green’s announcement last week that her office would review all officer-involved shootings and uses of police force resulting in death going forward, the participants in Saturday’s rally gathered to call for third-party, “truly independent” investigations of past cases, according to Ben Meiselas, an attorney from the Geragos & Geragos law firm representing multiple families in civil suits against Kern County law enforcement agencies.
“The collusion between the District Attorney’s office, [the Bakersfield Police Department] and Kern County Sheriffs is something that is obvious,” Meiselas said. “The DA’s office doesn’t have the greatest track record of prosecuting police officers or doling out just punishment, nor do they have a good reputation of preserving evidence.”
Approximately 60 demonstrators chanted protest slogans from the “Black Lives Matter” movement and held signs on the corner of Mt. Vernon Avenue and Bernard Street asking passersby to “Honk for Justice”. The rally then moved into the shade of Heritage Park, where family and friends of the victims spoke before the crowd and pleaded for reforms in police investigations.
Rally organizer Jorge Ramirez expressed his frustration with the District Attorney’s handling of his case against the Bakersfield Police Department regarding his son, Jorge Joel Ramirez, who was shot dead by Bakersfield police in 2013 though he was acting as a citizen informant in their protection.
“Our loved ones are murdered with no accountability on the part of law enforcement,” Ramirez said about his son’s death. “The DA’s office has justified every one of them.”
Jorge Joel Ramirez had agreed to assist Bakersfield police bring in a suspect wanted in connection with a fatal shooting. However, multiple officers on the scene said they had not been informed that Ramirez was an informant before opening fire on Ramirez and the suspect, according to a report published in March by the Bakersfield Californian.
As the trial for Ramirez’ family approaches its first hearings in April of 2016, Meiselas said he is confident that a jury will look at the facts of the case. After years specializing in police brutality lawsuits, Meiselas believes that the perception of law enforcement in America is changing with the public outcry involving the cases of Mike Brown, Freddie Grey, Sandra Bland and others across the country.
“People are starting to ask the appropriate question, which is what justifies an escalation into lethal force?” Meiselas said. “This concept of escalation protocol is a nuanced point that doesn’t necessarily deal with race or gender, but it’s the most important thing. “When can a police officer use deadly force? Only under the most extreme circumstances.”
Sarina Gonzalez, one of several family members of Kern County residents killed in connection with police activity who spoke at the event, argued that the DA’s office treats situations where officers are injured with more urgency than situations where officers have injured or killed others. She called for an “objective, independent committee” of local civilians to review cases separate from the DA office’s announced investigation program.
“The community comes second and law enforcement officials come first,” Gonzalez said. “We need to break this cycle because we’re not a part of it.”
Gonzalez’s brother, James Villegas De La Rosa, was fatally shot after leading Bakersfield police on a chase ending at Mount Vernon Avenue and Highway 178. De La Rosa was unarmed, and one of the police at the scene, Senior Officer Aaron Stringer, allegedly manipulated De La Rosa’s corpse at the Kern Medical Center.
Meiselas, who is also representing the De La Rosa family, called for the termination of Officer Stringer, who remains on paid administrative leave, by this Friday, July 19th.
“This is our ultimatum—you get Officer Stringer off the street by Friday,” Meiselas said to the crowd. “If we don’t hear he was fired, we will know the DA’s proposal was complete garbage.”
Others in attendance included the family of Ronnie Ledesma, Jr., who died nine days after his assault by Kern County Sheriff’s deputies and a K-9 dog was caught on cell phone video and posted on YouTube in 2013.
Mary Silva also shared her grievances about the DA office’s investigation into her son David Silva’s death. He was killed during an attempted arrest by Kern County Sheriff’s officers in May of 2013, sparking allegations that deputies had misused of force. The federal investigation into the case was dismissed last fall.
“My son was beaten, hogtied,” Silva said. “The DA did not even look at the [patrol car’s] dash cam before concluding her investigation.”