Romero’s suit against Oxnard continues

By Colectivo Todo Poder- with response by Oxnard Police Dept.

Editor’s note: We received this article by Raul Hernandez from the Todo Poder activist site,  which we reproduce below,  followed by comments by the Oxnard Police Dept.  Although both are opinions, with facts, we put them in the news section, since they are newsworthy and both parties to this dispute opine.  Mr. Hernandez is a former court reporter for VC Star.

Background: The Todo Poder group has organized multiple protests against the Oxnard police for what they say was unjustified violence leading to deaths. Investigations exonerated OPD, but Todo Poder maintains that there is an establishment bias. The protests were peaceful, but did block roadways and violate multiple traffic laws. Subsequent protests at night outside the police station were loud and obscene. OPD took no action except surveillance. There are several articles on our web site about the issue.

 

Todo Poder article:

COMMUNITY ORGANIZER PUT ON TRIAL FOR JAYWALKING, OXNARD POLICE & ACTIVIST TESTIFY AS DISTRICT ATTORNEY PROSECUTES

BY RAUL HERNANDEZ

[email protected]

OXNARD CALIF.

DAY 1 – October 5, 2015

Participants in the trial of Francisco Romero testified on police video recording that allegedly show Romero violating traffic laws. (From Left to Right: Romero’s lawyer; Jaime Gutierrez; Romero; Prosecutor Jennifer Sihn, and Officer Jaime Brown)

What a defendant describes as the “criminalization of dissent” through retaliation by the Oxnard Police Department, prosecutors argued in court that this is simply a case of a community activist getting five jaywalking tickets during a protest march because he was recorded on video violating the law.

The trial of Francisco Romero got underway in Ventura County Superior Court on Monday. Romero was the only protestor to be cited for jaywalking where police testified that there were between 150 to 200 marchers.

Romero claims he was singled out because he was one of the leaders who organized a march on Oct. 13, 2013 to protest the deaths of young men by police in Oxnard:  Alfonso Limon Jr and Jose Zepeda in Oct. 13,  2012.  Before Limon was killed, Robert Ramirez Jr. died June 2012 under police custody, followed by the slaying of Michael Mahoney in August 2012.

During opening statements in the trial, Romero’s lawyer Jaime Segall Gutierrez, of Whittier,   California, told Commissioner Anthony Sabo, who is hearing the case, that Oxnard police are trying to “silence protests” against police slayings in Oxnard.

“Law enforcement’s attempts in silencing the people’s voices has been in place since the founding of this country,” Gutierrez said.

He said the protest was held after family members of Alfonso Limon contacted Romero’s group to organize a protest.Romero-looks-at-Video-e1444106435964

Prosecutor Jennifer Sihn declined to make opening statements, telling the judge that the prosecution’s evidence will be sufficient. Evidence that includes five video clips that prosecutors allege show Romero leading and directing the crowd during the protest.

Prosecutor Jennifer Sihn declined to make opening statements, telling the judge that the prosecution’s evidence will be sufficient. Evidence that includes five video clips that prosecutors allege show Romero leading and directing the crowd during the protest.

Sihn put two officers on the stand — Jaime Miranda and Jess Aragon — who conducted video surveillance on the protestors.

Gutierrez subpoenaed Oxnard police officers. Two of them —Jaime Brown and Alex Arnet— also testified Monday.

The case has been in the courts for two years because of stop and start hearings in this case; unrelated and conflicting legal issues involving Commissioner Sabo’s court and other delays.

Officers Miranda and Aragon, who were surveilling the protestors, denied that Romero was singled out because he is a leader.

During the protest march, there were more than 90 Oxnard police officers, including undercover officers, police strike teams and SWAT units, who were assigned to maintain public safety. Police also brought  an armored vehicle to the protest in case it was needed, police documents indicate.

Francisco Romero

Uniformed police including Miranda and Aragon weren’t visible during the two-mile trek, which began at Camino del Sol Park and ended in front of police headquarters, court evidence indicated.

The video recordings show a vocal protest march being lead by Indian dancers. It included children and older participants along with women pushing strollers. People held up small and large signs. Some state:  “Killer Cops Off Our Streets,” “No Justice. No Peace,” and “Oppression. Prejudice. Destruction.”

The protest was peaceful. There were no arrests or traffic citations issued other than the five jaywalking tickets given to Romero.

A briefing was held by the Oxnard Police Department before the Oct. 13, 2013 March where a “March for Justice Incident Action Plan” was given to officers.

March for Justice — Incident Action Plan

On Oct. 22, following the protest, the Oxnard Police Department’s Special Enforcement Unit held a meeting and surveillance video was reviewed for violations. A memorandum was written about the protest march.

Special Enforcement Unit Memorandum on March for Justice

Romero was the only person who officers said they could identify among the protestors. Subsequently, a letter  dated Oct. 29, 2013 was sent to his house that stated that he was being issued five jaywalking violations.

Romero claims the tickets, which total $1,000 in fines, were given in retaliation for protesting against the Oxnard Police Department. He said the city of Oxnard has spent thousands of dollars in an “attempt to criminalize dissent. An attempt to silence the people who have lost fear in resisting, struggling and standing up” for their constitutional rights.

Romero, who is one of the leaders with the organization Todo Poder al Pueblo, once ran for the Oxnard City Council and got 7,000 votes.

Police have testified that the video recording proves that Romero was involved in leading the crowd to commit jaywalking that stopped traffic, including temporary blocking Oxnard boulevard while protesters crossed the busy street when the traffic light was green.

 

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Miranda’s Testimony

Miranda testified that he and Aragon were in a vehicle surveilling the protestors, saying that he identified Romero and two family members of Robert Ramirez.

Miranda said he included these names in his police report but doesn’t know why the two other protestors weren’t given jaywalking citations.

He said he gave the police report to his superior Arnet.  Miranda said he doesn’t know why Arnet only chose to give jaywalking tickets to Romero.

“Did you ask,” Gutierrez said.

“No,” Miranda replied.

Miranda said his review of the video doesn’t change his opinion that Romero was jaywalking

Officer Jaime Miranda’s Police Report

Aragon’s Testimony 

Jess Aragon

Aragon said he was in the vehicle with Miranda but at one pointed got out of the vehicle and stood on the Third Street bridge to video record.  He said he didn’t know who Romero was until Miranda told him.

“He just appeared to be one of the leaders,” Aragon testified.

He denied that they were targeting Romero or that they had been told by superiors to do so.

Aragon said police officers were trying to provide security for the march and keep people safe.

Officer Brown Takes the Stand

Officer Jaime Brown said he mailed the Oct. 29 letter to Romero after a “careful review” of the videos showed Romero “helping people across the street,” waving his hands and “standing guard” during the protest march.

“Did it look like my client was helping keep safe the marchers?” Gutierrez said, noting one video.

Officer-Jaime-Brown-e1444102819499-300x242

Yes,” Brown replied.

He said he had been a police officer in Oxnard for 18 years when the oct. 13, 2013 protest took place.  He said there were about 200 marchers.

“I didn’t know who Romero was. I couldn’t ID anybody,” said Brown.

Brown said his letter stated that Romero was jaywalking in a protest along with “organizing, leading and directing.”

Brown said there were safety concerns for the participants and motorists who were on the roads where the protests were occurring.  He said if a motorist wasn’t paying attention, a protestor could have been killed.

Arnett’s Testimony

Officer Alex Arnett testified that he was the supervisor of the Mobile Surveillance Unit . He said seven police officers were assigned to that unit to work on the protest march. He said he reviewed Miranda’s police report with three names on it including Romero’s name.

“Did you notice the names on the report?” Gutierrez said.

“I don’t recall that,” he replied.

Arnett said he drafted the letter that Brown reviewed and signed.

Officer Alex Arnett

Arnett said other people in the report weren’t given traffic tickets because of the “totality of the situations” and that Romero organized, directed and lead the protestors.

The Limon and Ramirez Deaths

The city of Oxnard has had to pay millions to settle one wrongful death lawsuit, and most recently, a federal jury ruled against Oxnard in another wrongful death suit.

In June, a federal jury awarded the family of Robert Ramirez $2.9 million as damages as a result of a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Oxnard Police Department.

Ramirez died while under police custody and after ingesting methamphetamine. The county medical examiner determined that the cause of death was homicide by asphyxiation.

The shooting of Alfonso 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.

Witnesses saw police shooting Alfonso Limon several times and frantically yelled at police to stop because he was unarmed. A witness recorded the incident through a cell phone camera.

Limon’s shooting was video recorded and uploaded into the Internet

The trial resumes at 1:30 on Tuesday.

DAY 2 – October 6, 2015

The two-day trial of a community activist who claims that Oxnard police targeted him to stifle criticism about police abuse and brutality ended Tuesday with closing arguments by the prosecution and the defense.

IMG_0854-e1444193964425

Francisco Romero got five traffic citations for jaywalking during a protest march on Oct. 13, 2013. The protests were for young men who were killed by police:  Alfonso Limon Jr and Jose Zepeda in Oct. 13,  2012.  Before Limon was killed, Robert Ramirez Jr. died June 2012 under police custody, followed by the slaying ofMichael Mahoney in August 2012.

The October 2013 protest was peaceful, there were no arrests or injuries, and nobody else got any traffic tickets with the exception of Romero, court testimony indicated.

Police and others testified that the marchers numbered from 150 to 200. They said Romero was the only one who got the traffic tickets because they couldn’t identify other marchers.

Prosecutors argued in court that Romero violated traffic laws, and these violations were  recorded on video.

Commissioner Anthony Sabo who heard the case, told the lawyers that he will making a ruling later after looking at all the evidence.

During closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Sihn told Sabo that Romero was caught walking against a red traffic light, walking between vehicles and standing in the middle of the street as cars stopped or drove by.

Sihn went through the five police video clips pointing out the alleged traffic violations.

Romero’s lawyer Jaime Segall Gutierrez, of Whittier, California, told Commissioner Sabo that police targeted Romero because he represents an “articulate and charismatic voice” for many people in the community who are “sick and tired” of police abuse, killings and misconduct that goes on in Oxnard.

Gutierrez said Oxnard is trying to “chill” First Amendment and other constitutional rights.

Gutierrez said it is “unbelievable” that Oxnard police couldn’t identify anybody else from hundreds of people who participated in the protest march.  In a police video, Officer Jaime Miranda, who was doing surveillance on the marchers, is heard saying, “There is Romero. There is Romero,” Gutierrez said.

Miranda testified Monday that he also wrote in his police report the names of two other protest marchers — Elliot Gabriel and Guillermo Ramirez, a family member of Roberto Ramirez. Miranda said he didn’t know whether his supervisors were aware of the two other names in his report or why they didn’t ticket others who were violating traffic laws.

The  jaywalking case has been in the courts for two years because of stop and start pre-trial hearings in this case; unrelated and conflicting judicial matters involving Commissioner Sabo’s court and other delays.

Testimony indicated that a  briefing was held by the Oxnard Police Department before the Oct. 13, 2013 March where a “March for Justice Incident Action Plan” was given to officers.

On Oct. 22, following the protest, the Oxnard Police Department’s Special Enforcement Unit held a meeting and surveillance video was reviewed for violations. A memorandum was written about the protest march.

Romero was the only person given the traffic tickets

Subsequently, a letter  dated Oct. 29, 2013 was sent to his house that stated that he was being issued five jaywalking violations, noting that he was leading and organizing the march.

Romero, who testified at his trial, claims the five tickets total $1,000 in fines.

Police testified that the video recordings prove that Romero was involved in leading the crowd to commit jaywalking that stopped traffic, including temporary blocking Oxnard boulevard intersection while protestors crossed the busy street when the traffic light was green.

They denied singling out Romero, testifying that they were concerned about the safety of the protestors and motorists.

IMG_0845-e1444191058762-288x300

Tuesday, an Oxnard assistant police chief along with the sister of a man gunned down by police, and Romero took the stand.

Oxnard Assistant Police Chief Eric Sonstegard, who was the commander of the Special Operations Division in October 2013, testified about the “Incident Action Plan” and the police briefing held to plan for the Oct. 13, 2013 March.

Sonstegard said he couldn’t recall whether Romero’s name came up during the briefing.

During the protest march, there were more than 90 Oxnard police officers, including undercover officers, police strike teams and SWAT units, who were assigned to maintain public safety, according to police documents. Police also brought  an armored vehicle to the protest in case it was needed, police documents indicate.

Sonstegard said there were actually 25 to 30 officers assigned to work the protest march and the rest were on standby or working regular patrols. They would be used if needed. He said he didn’t tell officers to target Romero. Sonstegard said he never saw the videos, and the decision to cite Romero was made by other commanders.

Sonstegard said he never gave the command to order protest marchers to disperse because as soon as this is done, there is usually confrontation, and he was concerned about women and children who were participating in the protest march.

He said it is “inherently dangerous” to stand in the middle of Oxnard Street like Romero.  Sonstegard said he didn’t believe Romero was facilitating the march and trying to keep the protestors safe while they navigating through the streets.

 

Claudia Limon’s Testimony

The sister of Alfonso Limon,testified that they contacted Romero to organize an anniversary protest march for her deceased brother. Claudia Limon said Romero made it clear that the Limon family was in charge and would decide what streets they wanted to use.

Claudia Limon

Claudia Limon said Romero tried to keep the marchers safe, away from traffic and keep cars at bay.

She said Romero was being targeted by police because her family members were there along with members of Ramirez’s family. She said police could identify the family members.

“They know our families,” she said.

Romero Takes the Stand

The 39-year-old Romero testified that he works as a paralegal and has been involved in community organizing against police brutality for 18 years. He said he has been involved in 50 marches. He said he has lived in Oxnard 38 years.

Romero, a former educator, said he knew Alfonso Limon and Roberto Ramirez who was his student at Haydock Intermediate School in Oxnard.

He said he didn’t lead the march but was trying to keep marchers safe while crossing the streets.  Romero, who is a member of Todo Poder al Pueblo, testified that he was one of the facilitators of the march.

During his testimony, he used the police videos and a map to give details of what he was doing during the march. He said police were definitely targeting him.

“There are members who are afraid to march now,” he said. adding, “Anybody that is seen as a leader is being ticketed.”

Romero said the Limon and Ramirez families offered to give him $1,000 to pay the jaywalking tickets but he declined to accept the money, saying he regards the tickets as a challenge to his right to protest.

“Police brutality is occurring on a daily basis in the community,” he said. Adding, “”I love my barrio. I love my people, and I will not put them in danger.”

Under cross examination, Romero said throughout the march there was danger at every intersection. He said police never issued an order to disperse, and the marchers would have done so as planned.

The Limon and Ramirez Deaths

The city of Oxnard has had to pay millions to settle one wrongful death lawsuit, and most recently, a federal jury ruled against Oxnard in another wrongful death suit.

In June, a federal jury awarded the family of Robert Ramirez $2.9 million as damages as a result of a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Oxnard Police Department.

Ramirez died while under police custody and after ingesting methamphetamine. The county medical examiner determined that the cause of death was homicide by asphyxiation.

The shooting of Alfonso 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.

Witnesses saw police shooting Alfonso Limon several times and frantically yelled at police to stop because he was unarmed. A witness recorded the incident through a cell phone camera.

In March, 26-year-old Meagan Hockaday of Oxnard was killed by Oxnard police.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Oxnard Police Dept. Response, By Assistant Chief Jason Benitez:

—–Original Message—–
From: Jason Benites 
To: CitizensJournal.us
Sent: Wed, Oct 7, 2015 7:15 pm
Subject: RE: [New post] Community organizer put on trial for jaywalking, Oxnard Police & activist testify as District Attorney prosecutes

Hi George, here are a couple of comments about points that were in Mr. Hernandez’s article concerning the trial for five infractions.  This has been drawn out over the past two years and has called an abundance of witnesses, including myself around this time last year.

 

“Romero claims he was singled out because he was one of the leaders who organized a march on Oct. 13, 2013 to protest the deaths of young men by police in Oxnard”

This is a diversion from the trial at hand.  The trial is essentially about whether or not Mr. Romero committed the traffic violations for which he is accused.  AMurgia motion was made by the defense regarding the above, and often used, statement.  Mr. Hernandez’s blog covered the article in which the defense motion was denied, stating: “Commissioner Anthony Sabo issued his ruling last week stating Francisco Romero had not been singled out by the Oxnard Police Department during a protest march that took place on Oct. 13, 2014.“There is no showing that the defendant was targeted for prosecution for any reason other than, to the defendant’s misfortune, officers were able to identify him and observe his actions on video,”  Sabo wrote in his decision.” CJN’s rticle concerning the Murgia motion: http://www.cjnotebook.com/motion-to-dismiss-five-jaywalking-tickets-against-activist-protesting-police-killings-denied/

 

“During the protest march, there were more than 90 Oxnard police officers, including undercover officers, police strike teams and SWAT units, who were assigned to maintain public safety” – (this statement is made twice in the article).  Interim Assistant Chief Sonstegard clarified that many of the officers listed on the operational plan were simply listed for contingency purposes.  When events of this nature take place, we have an obligation to have a contingency plan.  Many of the officers that Todo counts in the “90” were working their regular patrol duties (we have three shifts per day) and were never actually deployed to the event.

 

Some other comments:

We made reasonable efforts prior to the march to advise Todo that they were required to obey all laws.

We made great efforts to ensure that the situation did not escalate – their expectation that we would have issued a dispersal order is overly simplistic and not reasonable.

Regardless, when it’s all said and done, protestors do not get a free pass from violating laws, such as walking in the midst of moving traffic, or blocking streets (such as Oxnard Boulevard, which is a major thoroughfare).  There are a number of public safety considerations that occur, such as the impact on traffic flow, how traffic on other side streets (such as adjacent residential streets) is impacted;  residential neighborhoods suddenly find themselves with spillover / diverted traffic.  Also of consideration are the impacts that the blockage has on first responder and emergency vehicles, such as fire engines, police vehicles, and ambulances – all of which have to alter their routes to respond to other emergencies in our city of 200,000 people.

 

OPD response to additional CitizensJournal.us queries:

Q: It was also my understanding  that:

Romero was not “put on trial.” He was not the one on trial. It was he who put OPD on trial.

A:

  1. It is correct to say that Romero made voluminous discovery requests, as well as called for a Murgia motion hearing last year.  This hearing paraded numerous witnesses through the court room, including a commander and two assistant chiefs, some of whom were on the witness stand for over an hour.  I have not seen anything like this during my career.
  2. Throughout this process, reference has been made by some, describing the charges as “misdemeanors.”  It is important to clarify that Romero was charged with infraction violations.
  3. Typically, infractions of this nature are resolved in a traffic court trial.  Though it is termed a “trial” the vast majority are testimony from the officer and accused, followed by a judge’s ruling.  All this usually takes place in a matter of minutes.
  4. The direction that this entire matter has taken was driven by Romero’s requests/motion(s).
  5. The extent of legal motions/discovery requests were to such a degree that a Deputy District Attorney had to be assigned to this matter.
  6. This process has taken the better part of two years.  During my career I have seen major felony cases resolved in less time.
  7. Despite the burden that is being placed on public resources (police staff time, District Attorney resources, court resources, which are all funded by taxpayers), Romero is exercising his rights.

Q: 90 people were not deployed. Vast majority were simply on call.

A:

  • Correct.  90 or so were listed in the operations plan, but many of them were simply patrol officers who were working that day throughout the city.  These shift officers were on their regular working days performing their routine duties.  They were listed in the operational plan, but were simply part of a contingency plan.  They did not have a direct role in the event.

 

 

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