Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Santa Cruz Dream Inn Workers Rally for a Fair Contract

On September 26, workers held a rally at the Santa Cruz Dream Inn to send a strong message to the owners of the landmark hotel that they are demanding a fair contract with meaningful wage increases. Dream Inn workers are presently without a contract and have been negotiating with the hotel for months. Owners are proposing they take a three-year wage freeze followed by 1% and 2% raises in the fourth and fifth years. "We can barely support ourselves now and the Dream Inn wants to make it worse over the next five years," read a flyer handed out to hotel guests at the rally.

Workers demanding a fair contract at the Santa Cruz Dream Inn include everyone from room cleaners to bell persons, as well as servers, cooks and banquet staff from Aquarius, the hotel's restaurant. Many of those participating in the rally did so on breaks from work and while still wearing their Dream Inn uniforms.

Demonstrators marched in a circular picket line in front of the hotel and held signs with messages such as, "Dream Inn Workers Need a Fair Wage Increase to Continue Working in this Community," "Dream in Workers Can Not Afford 3 Years Wage Freeze," "Dream Inn Works Because We Do," and, "Dream Inn Workers Ask for a Fair Contract Now!"

"In this community it is very hard to live over here without wages," said Sergio Rangel, an organizer with Unite Here! Local 483, the labor union that represents hotel, restaurant, and hospitality workers in the Monterey Bay area. Rangel said they would be back "again, again, and again," until the company's owners, "do the right thing."

During contract negotiations held with the Dream Inn several years ago, workers had already agreed to take wage concessions because the economy was doing so poorly at time. According to Unite Here! these are different times now, and business at the hotel has picked up.

The workers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, Rangel said

Established in the 1960s, the Santa Cruz Dream Inn is the tallest building located in the main tourist beach area, and was the last big hotel project approved there. The 10-story tower makes the building a visual landmark. In 2008, San Francisco based Joie de Vivre Hotels took over operations, remodeling the somewhat dated structure into a "retro-chic boutique," according to the hotel's website. The Santa Cruz Dream Inn is now able to boast that all guest rooms include laptop-size safes, iPod docking stations, and complimentary robes for guests to use. Off-season room rates are currently in effect, but are still pricey, with weekday rates for a stay at the hotel ranging from $210 and up during weekdays, to $400 and up on weekends.

Handing out flyers at the entrance to the lobby

Sergio Rangel of Unite Here! Local 483

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Protesters Demand Faster, More Complete Response from SCPD Regarding Records Requests

Following a year of complaints about SCPD public safety Officer Barnett, who is assigned to patrol downtown Santa Cruz, the organization Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom (HUFF) has begun an inquiry with the Santa Cruz Police Department to study the citations Barnett has issued. According to HUFF, Barnett has been, "accused by numerous community members of anti-homeless and racist harassment." To raise more awareness about this issue, and to pressure the Santa Cruz Police Department to release the information about Barnett's law enforcement practices more promptly, HUFF held a demonstration outside of the police station on September 17.

Through a series of California Public Record Act requests, HUFF has obtained a cache of incident reports distilled from citations officer Barnett has written downtown. The group reports, however, that SCPD has required them to inspect the original physical copies of the citations at the station in person if they wish to gather any information concerning the race or ethnicity of the individuals targeted for enforcement, and that those citations were not ready to be viewed. Members of HUFF eventually did view the citations on September 24.

The police station, located on Center Street, is a hub of activity with officers constantly arriving and departing in patrol vehicles.

At the September 17 demonstration, members of HUFF shouted out to communicate to the SCPD officers, and they physically oriented their protests signs so that officers could read them.

HUFF offered those passing by the demonstration free coffee and chocolate brownies on a table, which also displayed protest signs that read, "No Ferguson in Santa Cruz" and "Decriminalize Poverty."

Many cars driving by honked in support of the demonstrators and gave them thumbs up sign. Others jeered, and some flipped the group the "birdie."

Robert Norse, the founder of HUFF, initiated a "Too many cops in Santa Cruz" chant, and a man in a car yelled out in response, "Yes, I know!"

Another demonstrator chanted repeatedly, "Go after the real criminals. not after the homeless. The police must protect and serve."

Robert Norse

ARM the HOMELESS with cell phone cameras, community support and dignity

This sign refers to complaints HUFF has received concerning certain local coffee shops that have refused to serve customers carrying homeless survival gear and/or large backpacks.

Entrance to the police station lobby.

Instructions for Homeless people on how to retrieve seized property are located on the front door of the police department's lobby.

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