Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Family of Yanira Serrano Files Federal Lawsuit Against Deputy Trieu and San Mateo County

On September 9, the family of Yanira Serrano Garcia announced they filed a civil rights lawsuit against San Mateo County and San Mateo Sheriff's Deputy Menh Trieu in Federal District Court in San Francisco for the June 3 killing of Yanira at her home in Half Moon Bay.

The complaint alleges Deputy Trieu shot and killed Yanira without reasonable cause, which is a violation of the Fourth Amendment's limits on police authority. "The fact of the matter is there was no reasonable basis to shoot her," said attorney Arnoldo Casiallas, who is representing the Serrano family in the lawsuit. The complaint also alleges the shooting was a result of negligence on the part of the San Mateo County Sheriff's office due to its insufficient training of Deputy Trieu, as well as the dispatchers who handled the 911 call.

The press conference was held at the location of Yanira's killing, which was outlined in flowers in the street a short distance away from her home in Moodridge, which is a large housing complex in Half Moon Bay.

Yanira's parents spoke publicly about the killing for the first time at the press conference. They were surrounded by supporters.

"They not only killed Yanira, they killed the entire family," said Carmen Garcia Serrano, Yanira's mother. "The goal is to prevent any other family from suffering this kind of pain."

"The only reason we called [911] was because she wasn't taking her medication," she said.

"The point of the lawsuit is to prevent things like this from happening. There is no other option at this point. All of the doors to justice have been closed, so we are proceeding with this lawsuit, hoping to get justice," Carmen said.

On August 18, San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen M. Wagstaffe announced he would not be filing charges against Deputy Trieu for the killing.

Yanira's brother, Tony Serrano Garcia, was the one who called 911 on the evening of June 3 when the family was having trouble getting 18-year-old Yanira to take her medication. She had been diagnosed as having schizophrenia, and the medication she was prescribed made her feel bad. It could be a challenge for the family to keep her on it. Tony had called for medical help before, and the authorities were aware that Yanira had been schizophrenic since the age of 15. They had visited the Serrano home on three prior occasions without incident.

"He was crystal clear in stating this is not an emergency," Casillas said.

A copy of the 911 call was provided to the press. It begins with the voice of an emergency dispatcher who identified himself as "Dispatcher 157" asking what type of help was needed, "police, fire, or medical." Tony Serrano can be heard on the phone replying "medical," and when asked for his location, Tony immediately added some clarification.

"This is not really an emergency," Tony said. "I'm calling because my sister, she has the schizophrenia."

Tony then gave the dispatcher the address of their home, which is located at 1 Maidenhair Walk in Moonridge.

"She's not taking the medications, she's acting up, and she's yelling at my parents," Tony told the dispatcher when asked again what was wrong.

Tony can then be heard during the call saying that the situation with Yanira had changed, and that they were fine and they had been able to get her to take her medicine. The family said they were about to go to a coffee shop, which they hoped would further calm Yanira down, but the dispatcher instructed them not to leave and to wait for the police.

In the mean time, Yanira was holding a kitchen knife because the medication she was taking made her nauseous and she wanted to peel a piece of fruit and eat it to help ease her stomach. Exactly what type of knife it was has been called into question. The authorities claim it was a 10 inch kitchen knife with a wooden handle, which would make it about the length of a typical butter knife. Casillas claims, however, it was a small paring knife of about 5 1/2 inches in length.

Deputy Trieu was the first to arrive at the Serrano home, and he rushed towards Yanira when he spotted her.

Three deputies were assigned to the call. According to the sheriff's office, the first deputy became lost and was not able to find the home, as was the second deputy assigned. Deputy Trieu responded as the second assistant deputy, and he did not communicate his presence at Moonridge to his superiors who were still on the way.

"He did not follow protocol. His obligation was to sit and wait, not only for the initial responding units, but also for the supervisor, a sergeant that was in route," Casillas said. "Instead he did what he wasn't supposed to do."

He immediately ran into an "explosive" situation, which is what caused Yanira to react and move towards the deputy, Casillas said.

The family has directly attributed the escalation to Deputy Trieu in their description of the events of June 3, saying he ran into the scene like "el diablo" (the devil).

Yanira advanced in the direction of Deputy Trieu with knife in hand, but Casillas claims the deputy was always able to maintain a safe distance between himself and the young woman. No one else was in danger, or located in the immediate area, and family members say Yanira in general was not really able to run.

Besides suffering from schizophrenia, Yanira also had a congenital birth defect, which was a club foot. Additionally, she was five feet tall, and weighed 200 lbs. Her somewhat recent weight gain was the result of side effects from one of the medications she had been prescribed.

"There was nobody in the immediate vicinity. There was nobody he was protecting. He created the threat. He created the emergency. He created the danger," Casillas said.

Deputy Trieu issued no orders or verbal commands to Yanira. Casillas explained this can be determined from the 911 call because the commands Trieu did give are audible on it. Trieu can be heard commanding "get back," while pointing his gun at Yanira's brother and mother, when they were attempting to comfort Yanira as she lay dying, Casillas said.

Within five minutes of the Serrano family calling 911, Yanira was dead. According to the sheriff's office, approximately 30 seconds elapsed between the time Deputy Trieu first arrived at Moonridge and the moment he shot and killed Yanira.

Deputies with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office are required to receive Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) emergency training, but Trieu did not have that training according to Casillas. Casillas called this an act of "deliberate indifference" which shows that San Mateo County does not care about the safety of mentally ill persons.

If Trieu had the training, "he would have followed the protocol," Casillas said, and Yanira would, "still be here."

Additionally, the emergency dispatcher handling the 911 call that evening was undergoing on-the-job training. When listening to the 911 recording, another voice that can be heard on the call is that of someone talking the Dispatcher 157 through his training.

"The shameful part of it is, if there was a trained, capable dispatcher under these circumstances, it might have been a good idea for that trained individual to take over," Casillas said.

Also speaking at the press conference was a representative from the Mexican Consulate.

"We have been following this case since the beginning," she said, but that, "the district attorney never responded to the consulate."

Casillas made it clear that Yanira and the members of the Serrano family were legal residents of the United States, but that they were born in Mexico, which is why the Mexican Consulate had taken an interest in the case.

The Consul stated her office would continue to press for a federal civil rights investigation into the killing of Yanira.

Attorney Arnoldo Casillas.

Attorney Jonathan Melrod speaks as Yanira's father and brother look on.

The Mexican Concul.


Yanira's memorial on the front porch of her home in Moonridge.

The Sheriff's office at Moonridge is located about 50 feet from the Serrano home.

Family of Yanira Serrano Marches in Response to DA's Decision Not to Indict Deputy Trieu

The family of Yanira Serrano held a rally and march in Half Moon Bay on September 6 in reaction to District Attorney Stephen M. Wagstaffe's decision not to indict San Mateo County Sheriff's deputy Menh Trieu for killing Yanira on June 3 outside of her home in Moonridge. In attendance and marching were Yanira's parents, brother, grandmother and uncle, and speakers at the rally included a group of religious leaders from a variety of faiths. Attorney Jonathan Melrod spoke on behalf of the Serrano family, filed a lawsuit against the San Mateo County Sheriff's office threed days after the demonstration.

The march began at the Half Moon Bay fire station and made its way through the downtown and on to the sheriff's station.

The group recited a number of march chants as they walked, including: "DA says exonerate, we say indict," "mental health is not a crime," "Half Moon Bay, Ferguson, same struggle, same fight," and "racist cops off our streets."

"Hands up, don't shoot" was chanted in both english and spanish while people marched and held their hands up.

When the group made its way past Our Lady of the Pillar Church, Father Juan Manuel Lopez, who presided over Yanira's funeral, spoke and thanked everyone for participating.

"It is very important that you are on the streets letting them know that it is very important for them to treat people who need special care with very special care," he said. "You better know where they are and who they are so they will know and they will not just send anybody."

In a letter dated August 18, District Attorney Wagstaffe announced he had determined the killing of Yanira to be "legally justifiable" when Trieu killed her on June 3. Yanira's family called authorities that evening because Yanira, who was schizophrenic, was acting up. She took possession of a kitchen knife, and when Trieu encountered her, he felt threatened by her.

Wagstaffe's letter claims the killing occurred within 30 seconds of Trieu's arrival on the scene, which contradicts the San Mateo Sheriff's initial statement in June that the period of time was 20 seconds.

The DA's letter states that Trieu attempted for about 10 seconds to retreat from Yanira before he shot her, and the reason he used his gun was because he did not have time to use his taser.

"Deputy Trieu later informed inspectors that he did not believe that he could have used less than lethal force on Ms. Serrano-Garcia. He advised the inspectors that because she was closing the distance between them so quickly, he would not have the time to unsnap and unbuckle his taser from its holster in time to deploy it," the letter states.

The Serrano family with religious leaders

Yanira's father looks on as Vaughn Harrison of Coastside Jewish Communities speaks

Yanira's mother, Carmen Garcia Serrano

Yanira's grandmother raises her hand during a "Hands up, don't shoot" chant
Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights

Catholic Worker of Half Moon Bay

"Hands Up" in front of the sheriff's station

Father Juan Manuel Lopez

Attorney Jonathan Melrod

Friday, August 29, 2014

Protesters Confront Salinas Police Chief at Bookstore Appearance in Santa Cruz

To send a strong message that "killer cops" are not welcome in Santa Cruz, community members gathered on August 26 to protest a speaking engagement at Bookshop Santa Cruz featuring Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin. "We are creating a public presence to say loud and clear that the Salinas police chief who oversaw the killings of four Latino men in four months is not welcome in our community," read a flyer provided by Sin Barras, the Santa Cruz-based organization that called for the demonstration. [Top photo: A protester displays a sign inside Book Shop Santa Cruz.

Between March and July of this year, four individuals have been killed by officers with the Salinas Police Department.

Outside of the book shop, which is located in downtown Santa Cruz, one demonstrator held a sign that declared, "Salinas: Our Ferguson."

Several dozen individuals attended the protest, with some traveling from Salinas and other areas in Monterey County to make their voices heard. Organizers say they did not intend to disrupt the speaking event. 

Six uniformed Santa Cruz police officers were present at the book shop for security, as was SCPD Deputy Chief Rick Martinez, who personally escorted Chief McMillan in and out of the building and was his driver.

Another sign held by demonstrators read: "Chief McMillin cannot speak for peace while justifying police murder."

McMillin was invited to speak at Bookshop Santa Cruz by Monterey Herald reporter Julia Reynolds as part of a signing event for her book "Blood in the Fields." According to the shop's website, the book documents the history of Operation Black Widow, "the FBI's questionable decade-long effort to dismantle Nuestra Familia [a criminal organization], along with its compromised informants and the turf wars it created with local law enforcement agencies."

One of those agencies was the Salinas Police Department, and Reynolds made it clear she was a supporter of Chief McMillan's, heaping praise on him for his efforts with regards to youth violence.

Community members seeking justice for those killed by Salinas police this year, however, have had to grapple with the department's lack of transparency and accountability. McMillan has refused to release the names of the officers responsible for the killings.

"We believe it is anti-thetical and extremely disrespectful to give Chief McMillan such a privileged voice in a space that is uncritical of his policies and the racist murders he has overseen," the literature from Sin Barras stated. The group also stated it sought to, "expose the brutality and racism of the Salinas cops and media."

Salinas Chief of Police Kelly McMillin

Since its founding, Sin Barras has primarily concerned itself with the intersecting issues of poverty and prison abolition. The Salinas police killings became an intense focus for the group, though, when they learned the fourth person killed this year was Frank Alvarado, who was a Sin Barras member and a dear friend.

Frank was killed on July 10 and since that time very little information about his killing has been released by authorities. They claim he was killed when Salinas Police perceived he was coming at them with a weapon. It was later determined to be a cell phone.

In May, Frank participated in a Sin Barras rally in Santa Cruz. He spoke about his recent release from incarceration, and why he opposed California prison expansion. He spoke passionately about his life and his family. The loss of Frank is still a fresh wound for his friends and fellow activists in Santa Cruz. After his death, Sin Barras immediately contacted his family in Salinas and is in close touch with them.

One member of Sin Barras held a sign at the book shop demonstration that read, "Rebuilding Trust? How about bringing back lives? Frank Alvarado, Carlos Mejia, Angel Ruiz, Osman Hernandez."

Angel Ruiz was killed on March 20 by Salinas police outside of the Wingstop restaurant on Constitution Blvd. Ruiz had reportedly been going through alcohol and mental issues when police killed him after receiving reports he was spotted behaving erratically and in possession of a BB gun.

Carlos Mejia was killed on May 21 outside of a Bakery on Sanborn Rd. Osman Hernandez was killed on May 9 outside of the Mi Pueblo market on Sanborn. In both cases, Salinas police have explained the men were behaving erratically and that they were killed because they felt threatened by the work tools they were carrying at the time of their killing. Mejia was carrying a pair of garden sheers he used for work, and Hernandez was carrying a lettuce knife.

In their literature, Sin Barras presented a set of demands concerning the Salinas police killings. The group demands police release the names of the officers who killed the four men this year, and hold them accountable. They support the families' call to investigate anti-Latino discrimination and violation of federal rights, and they want federal civil rights lawsuits filed.

"Salinas Police Chief Kelly McMillin denies police racism, but how else do you explain that Salinas' population is 75% Latino, but 100% of those murdered by by Salinas Police were Latino?" the Sin Barras literature states.

After four police killings in one year, the perspective vocalized by many is that Kelly McMillin has clearly decreased public safety in Salinas. One sign held by demonstrators read, "Term Limits for Police."

Near the end of the talk, a group of demonstrators holding signs entered the bookshop to display their messages directly in view of McMillan.

As the question and answer period commenced, demonstrators became more vocal as they realized the questions they submitted weren't being asked.

McMillan may have sensed this, and the last question chosen was more critical, comparing the SPD to a criminal gang.

"I do understand the perception that cops are their own gang, that they are the best paid most well equipped gang," he stated. He insisted, however, that the work they do as police is "entirely devoted to being effective at reducing violence."

A Sin Barras member in the audience then shouted out, "effective at killing our friend...[who was] unarmed."

"Our whole goal is to reduce violence and make Salinas a safe place," continued McMillan.

People in the audience started hissing. McMillan then added he thought every police officer in Salinas was deeply troubled by the four killings. People shouted out in response that Salinas police were "murderers" and "terrorists."

After one person in the audience stood up and attempted to ask McMillan one more question, the chief was silent and the person was cut off by the moderator, who concluded the evening.

When the question went unanswered, protesters began a loud chorus of booing and then chanted, "cops, pigs, murderers" repeatedly before leaving the book shop.

In an open letter penned to Sin Barras the day before the protest, and posted to her Facebook page, Reynolds stated that police legitimacy, "can and should be part of the conversation," but that, "it is not all of the conversation."

One individual addressed this issue in remarks made online directly to Reynolds: "You're a tool of state power. Journalists should always be critical of power, or else they are complicit with it's abuses. And providing a forum for the head of a murderous police department to spew out shit is an even worse form of complicity."

"Police are so obviously on the front line of maintaining the poverty and oppression that leads to the violence that you pretend to be concerned are either dangerously naive or willfully supporting their oppression."

Salinas Police Department Spokesperson Spencer Critchley gets his book signed by Julia Reynolds