Protesters allege police brutality, murder, in Oxnard, refuted by PD, DA

Accusations and lawsuits fly, protest videos, police replies here

By George Miller

Background

BrutalityThere have been three high-profile deaths of civilians linked to police in Oxnard in the last few years. The most notable is that of Alfonso Limon, who walked into a gun battle between a street gang and Oxnard Police Department (OPD) officers with his brother. The brother escaped. Mr. Limon didn’t, was mistaken for one of the assailants and shot dead- with 16 bullets, according to reports. The parties to a civil action on the matter must have agreed that not everything was done right, since there was a $6.7 million out-of-court settlement made payable to the Limon family, along with other considerations, including  a press conference to explain what what being done, a memorial to Mr. Limon and steps to help prevent a recurrence of like events.

To say that the Oxnard Police Dept. and the City of Oxnard are troubled by what happened would be an understatement.  It resulted in an unnecessary death. Not only is it a public relations disaster, but it helped to undermine trust in the police force, even though there was no finding of crimes committed in the District Attorney’s report. Conversations with Police and city officials have revealed great distress over the incident and a desire to ensure that such things never again occur.

There have been other accusations of excessive use of police force over the years. Reputable members of the community have told us stories of abuses- some of them long ago. Most people heard from agree that things are far better now- but not everyone.  In particular, we had heard stories of claimed unreasonable stops and searches, even claims of warrant-less home searches, which are illegal except in very special cases or when consent is obtained.  Then, there are the strong accusations by protest organization Colectivo Todo Poder al Pueblo, just as strongly refuted by OPD.

Citizensjournal.us publicly requested accusers to provide substantiation of more recent claims. To date, we have had no response.  This is not to say that no allegations are true, but just that no proof has been made publicly available, which would go a long way to clearing the air.

 

 The Protesters

VIDEO: Protesters block traffic at Cooper & Garfield at 10/12/14 protest rally., La Colonia, Oxnard, CA:

Although there has been quite a bit of protest from the more vocal residents, one group stands out as being the most militant, most focused, most visible and has become the de facto voice of the movement, as is common in protest situations. In this case, it is the Colectivo Todo Poder al Pueblo.  At city council, committee meetings and protests, they have accused some department officers of outright murder and brutality and demanded things such as:

TodoPoderoLogo– Removal and discipline of certain officers for alleged crimes or insensitivity

– “Demilitarization” of police force

– Changes in hiring, training and procedures

– Halting of DUI checkpoints

– Opposition to the gang injunctions, or maybe just don’t believe that some people should be listed

– Creation of a civilian police review board

– Adoption of body cameras for field officers

– Dropping of jaywalking citations of protesters, claiming it is harassment (next hearing is 11/3/14)

– Investigation of nine officers allegedly having “death’s head” tattoos and a related culture of glorification of shootings/killings by police, and discipline of guilty parties found.

We were told by one of their speakers at a public meeting that they currently have three lawsuits filed against OPD. We have requested info on those from them and from the City,

At a recent Todo Poder protest on 10/12/14 in La Colonia neighborhood, in Oxnard (photo above), some participants held signs with very inflammatory messages and shouted obscenities. Later on, they besieged Police Headquarters (see photos, video below):

CoffinsTodoPodero10-12-14

The October 12 protest moved from the streets to Police Headquarters, where coffins were displayed, supposedly representing unjustly killed victims. (Photo: Colectivo Todo Poder al Pueblo)

The “Amerikkka predatory policing” sign above suggests that grievances may date back to the voyages of Christopher Columbus, a scope which OPD will likely be unable to address.  The fact that protestors were able to execute protest events and subsequent publicity with police protection and no more injury than a traffic summons- for blocking traffic- suggests that conditions might have improved at least a little bit in the last 500+ years and several changes in management.

 

CooperGarfield

Location of 10/12/14 street protest was at Cooper and Garfield, in La Colonia neighborhood.

Particularly emotional was the ceremonial display of people allegedly unjustly killed by the police, dramatized by moch coffins and headstones (above):

See video: Post. Police response to this and other accusations addressed in the next section.
 

We have made repeated requests to Colectivo Todo Poder Pueblo for details and substantiation of accusations. Representatives have either ignored our requests, or merely referred us to their web site and Facebook page. We shall persist.

Here are some sample postings made by Colectivo Todo Poder al Pueblo:

There is nothing wrong with peaceful, legitimate protest. The People have the right to direct the course of government, even abolish and replace it if it isn’t doing the job. That is enshrined in our Declaration of Independence.  But, the accusations should be accurate and substantiated. In any case, it appears that the protest movement was successful in helping to focus attention on the situation and might have also had an effect on the Limon case settlement and other actions, such as the move toward body cameras.

 More video at police station …

It gets even more interesting ….

 Still more video at the Police station

 

After  a protest, the OPD cited Todo Poder leader Francisco Romero for 5 jaywalking offenses, totaling about $1000 in fines. He has fought the charges on the grounds that he was singled out for harassment. There was a hearing yesterday. Testimony continued throughout yesterday and the proceedings will continue on Monday, November 3rd at 1500 hrs.per OPD.  Here’s what Todo Poder had to say.

deathsHeadtatooTodo Poder also claims that nine Oxnard police officers wear “death’s head” tattoos, signifying shootings or killings of people. They have provided no evidence that we know of. This is all supposedly based on a story by a local reporter hostile to police, who based it on a second-hand accusation and won’t attribute sources or reveal any evidence. An Oxnard Police officer directed our attention to an LAPD accusation, which was almost identical and suggested that the accuser simply adapted this story and applied it to OPD. OPD has engaged an independent investigator to do this and is not happy about how long it is taking. OPD leadership has been told not to participate in any way except to answer questions posed by investigators. They want to clear the air and have pledged to act on any findings uncovered, but don’t believe there will be anything to support the reporter’s allegations, Multiple officers we have contacted at different levels say they have never seen the slightest evidence, don’t believe any such subculture exists and would tear it out by the roots if they found it. OPD tattoo policy would seem expressly prohibit it:

OxnardPDTattooPolicy

 

Police Response

OPD words on all of this have been rather muted, when anything at all is said. While investigations and lawsuit negotiations were underway, very little could be said. After the Limon investigation was concluded and released earlier this year and the $6.7 million settlement announced, the department was somewhat more vocal, but may still be channeled in some of what they can say by the lawsuit settlement.

Police personnel we talked to are troubled by some participants ‘ behavior at the protest, which OPD showed great restraint in. The inflammatory rhetoric in what some participants said may be unjust allegations and incitements. These could lead to rash behavior, resulting in escalating violence, damage to property and lives, done by people acting imprudently on misinformation.  Our sources are also troubled by the unfairness/inaccuracy of the allegations, which is one of the reasons for their helping with this article, since they hesitate to speak out publicly and stridently, for fear of perceived intimidation. So, some of this had to be coaxed out of them.

A press conference was held on October 7, under the terms of the settlement.  Statements were made, not only of great regret for the incident, but on some improvements to help make such matters less likely in the future.

Some pointed questions were asked by the press at the October 7 press conference, including:

Q: What was done with the officers involved in the shooting?

A. All but one are back on active duty, one took a service retirement. Where appropriate, additional training was administered.

There is a good deal of frustration and anger  on the part of critics, some of whom feel that not enough was done to discipline officers involved. Since OPD will not reveal what was done and claims various union agreement rules and confidentiality requirements for this, critics know only that no one was fired.

One thing that all parties seem to be in agreement on is the adoption of body cameras for field officers, which has been proven elsewhere to reduce incidents and complaints, not to mention helping to more easily resolve those that do occur. OPD obtained price and service quotes and has largely completed testing of three vendor offerings.  Assistant Chief Benites informed us that an estimated five year program cost, which includes a costly archiving system, would run approximately $1.6 million. Today. w heard a more recent estimate of $1.9 million. It was unclear whether that number includes the cost of a recommended full-time system administrator. The City Council seems quite receptive to this, but there is a matter of required formal debate, acceptance and appropriation of the funds.

A police union representative made some very strong and emotional comments at a city council meeting about how inaccurate and unfair some of the public critics have been.  This was not in any way an official OPD statement.

Various police sources officially and unofficially refute the accusations made in public meetings and on Internet media, stating that:

– Although protesters accuse Oxnard PD of criminal offenses in the Limon shooting, the Ventura County District Attorney found no such evidence.

– Numerous accusations of wrongdoing have been made by public speakers at City Council Meetings and protests. Most are refuted, in materials received from multiple parties, unofficially, as follows (some have been edited to maintain confidentiality of sources):

On the Todo Poder “coffin” protest

We asked a knowledgeable OPD officer to comment on the coffins at the October 12 protest and this is what we received back:

Here is some background info about the headstones from Todo Poder’s October 12, 2014 march.  Todo Poder was attributing these persons to being victims of police brutality:

  • Edward Medina:  During a traffic stop in July 2006, Medina, who had a felony warrant for his arrest, shot Sergeant Jack Kujawa in the face, and shot Officer Mike Purdy in each of his legs before being fatally shot. 
  • Charles Valdez: in 2001 he pointed a gun at an officer who was chasing him, and fired a round at him.  The officer shot then fatally shot him.
  • James Jensen: an Oxnard Police Officer who was accidentally killed by another officer during the service of a SWAT warrant in March of 1996.
  • Jose Zepeda: Opened fire on officers, setting the Limon tragedy into motion in October of 2012.
  • Alfonso Bravo: A Los Angeles gang member who led officers on a vehicle pursuit as he drove a stolen vehicle. A foot pursuit ensued, and during the pursuit he pointed a firearm at the officer who was chasing him as (the officer) was climbing over a gate.  The officer fatally shot Bravo.

Not pictured, but were also present:

  • Richard Lopez: In 2001, Lopez walked onto the Hueneme High School campus during school hours, armed with a handgun.  He took a student hostage and held a gun to her head in the quad area.  A SWAT sniper fatally shot Lopez.
  • Larry Brown: Brown had been robbing a number of donut shops in 2001.  He was killed by responding officers as he was armed and pointed a pistol at them.
  • Rutillo Castillo was a May 2001 officer-involved shooting.  Officers responded to 1600 West 5th Street (the Mira Loma Apt. complex) about a man who was seen looking into windows.  When officers saw Castillo, he fled on foot.  When an officer caught up to him, Castillo turned on the officer, wielding a knife in each hand.  This resulted in the officer fatally shooting Castillo.  Cleared by the DA’s Office.
  • Larry Pankey: According to the DA’s report, on January 13, 1997, officers of the Oxnard Police department responded to a 911 call that reported a domestic disturbance at 143 Frank Ave. in Oxnard.  Upon arrival,m uniformed officers were met by 36 year old Larry Pankey, who was irate and ordered the officers to leave his property.  A four and half hour standoff occurred, during which Mr. Pankey threatened officers and took firearms and ammunition from his house and loaded them into a truck that was parked on his front law.  Also during this time members of the Oxnard Police Departments Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team were deployed in the are surrounding 143 Frank Ave. At the end of the four standoff, an attempt was made to take Mr. Pankey into custody.  During the attempt, Mr. Pankey resisted and was shot and killed by Officer Scott Herbert.

From a police officer on some public speaker comments at City Council meetings

At the October 7 City Council meeting:

  • Jacinta Garcia, a member of Todo Poder al Pueblo, mis-characterized some police use of force statistics that OPOA Vice President Mike Young had provided to the City Council during public comments.  Young basically said that OXPD had approximately 150,000 service call events in 2013, with about 8,000 arrests, and less than 150 events resulted in a use of physical force.  Of those 150 uses of force, over 90% of them resulted in only minor injury to the suspect.

o    Ms. Garcia indicated that out of 8,000 arrests, that means 640 people suffered major and sometimes fatal injuries while being arrested by the Oxnard Police… 640 people being seriously hurt at the hands of the police is not something to be proud of.

o    I’m not sure how she arrived at her figures, but unfortunately this is what the public heard.

From the October 21 City Council meeting:

  • Leo Martinez from Todo Poder provided some disputed information about Natalie Rose. He indicated that there “was a strange interaction with OPD” following the Limon shooting.  He said that the Limon family was approached by Natalie Rose, who said she was from the Ventura Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children (POMC).  Martinez alleged that Ms. Rose had approached the family with an offer of assistance for funeral expenses, but stipulated that they would not receive help if the family planning on “starting a riot by working with the Todo Poder collective.”

o    Natalie entirely disputes the truth of this statement.

  • Martinez said that it was discovered that Ms. Rose “was a Reserve Officer with the Oxnard Police Department, and misrepresented herself to the Limon Family.”

o    The fact of the matter is that Natalie Rose, who has been heavily involved in the Ventura County Chapter of POMC, was a civilian employee at the Oxnard Police Department, as well as a reserve officer, from 1977 until 1984.  She has not been employed by the Oxnard Police Department for 30 years.  She did not misrepresent herself to the Limon family, and was in no way affiliated with our department during her encounter with them.

The Police Department is willing to discuss the issues, but needs the correct venue.  The Police Department and Todo Poder need to communicate in order to help find that venue.  The inflammatory rhetoric and misinformation is tiring to everyone in this community, and needs to cease in order to help the healing process.

The group’s behavior at the last protest is also something that this community should be concerned about.

Still another officer commented:

  • Jacinto Garcia (who identified herself as part of the Todo Poder al Pueblo Colectivo)
    • She stated that “Officer Rodriguez was one of the first officers to shoot in the direction of Alfonso Limon when Alfonso had dropped to the ground with his hands up and screamed “don’t shoot.”
      • This information is easily “fact-checked” with the DA’s report on the Garfield Street shooting. Officer Rodriguez fired at Zepeda who was firing at Officer Lockner. Officer Rodriguez never fired at Limon nor did any of his rounds strike Limon. Furthermore, there has never been any indication that Limon had his hands up nor that he screamed “don’t shoot!”
    • She stated that “Officer Rodriguez was one of the officers that forced Robert Ramirez to the ground and helped pin him down when he was in desperate need of medical attention.”
      • If you’ve read the DA’s report or listened to the officer’s recordings, you know that the officers tried everything they could to get him medical attention. Ms. Garcia neglected to state that Robert Ramirez had a lethal dose of methamphetamine in his system at the time of the incident.
    • She then made these ridiculous comments about OPOA Vice-President Michael Young’s comments from the previous week:
      • He said in 2013, 92% of arrests had minor or no injuries.”
      • Out of 8,000 arrests, that means 640 people suffered major and sometimes fatal injuries while being arrested by the Oxnard Police.”
      • 640 people being seriously hurt at the hands of the police is not something to be proud of.”
    • These statistics are inaccurate, inflammatory, and a complete misstatement of what Michael Young had spoken on the previous week.
    • It’s absurd to think there would be 640 people with major or fatal injuries. We had less than 150 use of force incidents in 2013 (out of over 8,000 arrests).
  • Elliot Gabriel (who identified himself as part of the Todo Poder al Pueblo Colectivo)
    • He spoke of a tattoo investigation and “a clique of officers that wear tattoos displaying pride in firing on residents. Apparently, some of these officers are now commanders.” 
      • These are allegations made by an “anonymous retired Oxnard police officer” to a local “reporter” who has always maintained an anti-police viewpoint. While there is an investigation taking place, I hope Mr. Gabriel is prepared to make a public apology at a council meeting if those allegations are proven to be false.
    • He also likes to talk about the fact that “95 officers were mobilized in a special enforcement unit operation.”
      • This is not true. He has taken this number from a copy of an operational plan he received as part of a discovery motion for the traffic citations they received from the last protest. During their protest/march, there were approx. 20 officers in the field with the specific purpose of monitoring the march and the traffic in neighboring streets. We always have contingency plans in place with officers on standby if they are needed. We would be derelict in our duties if we didn’t. That’s what police departments do. Events like the Strawberry Festival, Salsa Festival, Dallas Cowboys, etc….they all take a lot of department personnel. 
  • Monica Morales (who identified herself as part of the Todo Poder al Pueblo Colectivo)
    • She stated that “in the United States, 18% of police departments have an oversight committee.”
      • This is not true. I don’t know where she got that statistic from but I’m certain it’s inaccurate.
  • Inez Tuttle
    • She said we’ve had 7 civil cases in 2014 and 12 civil cases in 2013.
      • This really means nothing. Anyone can file a civil case. It’s inflammatory to throw these figures out without any context.

 Other

An officer told us that he believed that critics had doctored autopsy photos of Robert Ramirez, who died in police custody. A DA report exonerated OPD, attributing the death to drugs in Ramirez’s system. The officer claimed that he had seen both the actual autopsy photos and those published by critics and that they did not match.

 

 Police Community Survey

While all this was going on, a quadrennial survey of public opinion was conducted, overseen by CLU and utilizing several organizations to conduct the survey. The high level of public satisfaction registered in the survey tends to undercut critics. Another report was cited, calming Oxnard is the “seventh safest city over 200,000 population.” But, at least some critics said the survey could be biased because some Oxnard Police Officers were involved in it. Read the survey and methodology explanation and decide for yourself.

Oxnard Police evaluate their service to community with help of Cal Lu University

Oxnard Police evaluate their service to community with help of Cal Lu University

OPDsatisfied

 

 

 

 

opdequality

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Citizensjournal.us does not really consider this story to be complete, because we were unable to discuss findings with Todo Poder people (not for lack of trying), although we did go through their web site and facebook page and did leave links here to facilitate examination by the public.

 

Seen on the Toder Poder Facebook page:

 

Related info:

Oxnard Police Dept. holds press conference on Limon killing

https://citizensjournal.us/summer-break-over-for-oxnard-city-council-9-9-14-organizational-review-announced-police-killings-discussed-by-residents-major-debt-obligations/

Good Morning Oxnard– 7/23/14 news segment

Oxnard Community Relations Commission Public Safety

District Attorney’s report

Tri-County Reporter video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5zy22hM1Bo

This article has better coverage on Limon family views: http://abc7.com/news/oxnard-police-takes-steps-toward-change-after-mistaken-identity-shooting/340451/

 

George Miller is Publisher of Citizensjournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant, active in civic affairs, living in Oxnard.

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