Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Vigil Marks One Year Since Osmar Hernandez was Killed by Salinas Police

Community members in East Salinas held a vigil on May 9 to mark the day 26-year-old Osmar Hernandez was killed by Salinas Police in 2014. Osmar's family members were in attendance; Maria Guardado-Hernandez spoke, and Asuncion Guardado stood by solemnly while holding a lit votive candle. Also in attendance were the family members of two other men killed by Salinas Police in 2014, Frank Alvarado and Angel Ruiz. In all, five Latino community members died at the hands of Salinas Police in unrelated incidents in 2014. Four were shot and killed, and one died after being tased. In 2015, community members have been honoring the victims with vigils. On March 20, a vigil was held for Angel Ruiz, and a vigil is planned for May 20 to honor Carlos Mejia-Gomez at the location of his killing.

The May 9 vigil was held in front of the Mi Pueblo Market on Alisal, near where Hernandez was killed. Individuals wrote a variety of messages in colored chalk on the sidewalk. One message posed the question: "Tony Barrera - Where are You?"

Barrera is the city council member elected to represent District 2, where the Mi Pueblo Market is located. Those at the vigil explained Barrera has been silent and inactive in response to the police killings. Council member José Castañeda, however, was in attendance and spoke to the group.

Supporters standing at the corner of Alisal and Sanborn chanted statements such as, "no justice, no peace, no racist police," and, "hey hey, ho ho, McMillan has got to go!"

Ever since rallies protesting the Salinas police killings began in 2014, community members have consistently called for the resignation of Salinas Chief of Police Kelly McMillin. In a civil rights/wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of the parents of Hernandez in September of 2014, McMillin was called out specifically by the family's attorneys for acting with "deliberate indifference" when setting the departmental policies that govern complaints of officer misconduct relating to the excessive use of force. The lawsuit also alleges wide-spread internal corruption within the department.

Osmar Hernandez, whose first name has widely been misreported as "Osman," was shot and killed on May 9, 2014 outside of the Mi Pueblo Market at Alisal and Sanborn when he was reportedly acting erratically. He was carrying on his person a lettuce knife, a tool of his work, at the time of his killing. According to an SPD press release issued on May 9, officers "contacted" Hernandez and, "quickly realized that he was not going to comply with simple commands based upon his behavior. When it became apparent to the officers they were not going to get any cooperation from this individual they tried to subdue him with a taser."

Very little information has been released by authorities concerning the details of Osmar's killing. A year later, the Salinas Police Department still has not announced the completion of its investigation into what happened before and after police made contact with him at the market.

The lawsuit filed in September, however, has helped shed more light on these details.

Three officers shot at Hernandez on May 9, according to he lawsuit. Sergeant George Lauricella and Officer Derek Gibson, both of the Salinas Police Department, were named as the officers who killed Hernandez shortly after the lawsuit was filed. The lawsuit states that all three of the officers who shot at Hernandez had been implicated in previous shootings. One was involved in three prior shootings as a police officer, and the other two had each been involved in two prior shootings.

The lawsuit alleges that Salinas Police used, "excessive and unreasonable force," against Osmar Hernandez when they tased him and then shot him ten times, and that his killing was, "without provocation or just cause."

The lawsuit states that officers failed to communicate in Spanish with Hernandez as well as witnesses on the scene. Hernandez spoke only Spanish, and he had no arrest history in the City of Salinas, according to police. Additionally, Chief McMillin has acknowledged the department knew that immigrant workers sometimes carry lettuce knives as tools of their employment.

The lawsuit alleges that Hernandez at no times posed a significant threat to others, and that none of the three officers involved gave Hernandez any warning before killing him, even though, "a warning was feasible and proper." In addition to the three officers who shot at Hernandez who were all wearing bullet proof vests, there was a K-9 officer on the scene.

The lawsuit alleges that it was the conduct of the police that led to the escalation of events on May 9, 2014, and that they were not properly trained or supervised in the, "proper use of force, the proper method of investigation, the proper use of tasers, and the proper use of firearms."

"They knew or should have known that the taser or Electronic Control Device had been effective in subduing Mr. Hernandez after he was tased the first time. Yet, they failed to use any other restraint attempts with non-deadly force, such as the use of the taser the second time, physical restraint, or the use of other control devices such as pepper spray, batons, and specialty impact munitions," the lawsuit states.

Numerous examples of "deliberate indifference" on the part of Chief McMillan and the city with regards to the inadequacies of the policies that protect the public from the use of excessive force by police are alleged in the lawsuit.

The department has failed to provide proper psychological "testing and/or treatment" for officers to determine which were prone to use "illegal and/or excessive force" so that employees who posed a risk of harm to citizens could be "retrained, dismissed, or transferred," the lawsuit states.

Chief McMillan, "either knew or should have known," that officers within the department were the subjects of, "numerous disciplinary violations," and that the wrongful death of Hernandez was the result of, "a deprivation of specific constitutional rights," that had been occurring to other residents before his killing on May 9, the lawsuit states.

As a result, McMillan failed to implement a training program for officers with the Salinas Police Department that would have prevented the killing of Hernandez.

The lawsuit alleges that McMillan and the City of Salinas tolerated the use of excessive force and unlawful deadly force, and that they covered up previous violations of citizens' Constitutional rights. This includes their failure to properly investigate previous reported incidents of the use of excessive force, and failing to properly investigate and discipline officers engaged in unlawful activity.

McMillan and the City failed to, "properly evaluate and monitor its own internal affairs policies," the lawsuit states, and that they allowed or encouraged, "a code of silence," among police department personnel, where officers did not provide, "adverse information," against fellow officers or other members of the department.

Another allegation is that the department, "allowed and/or encouraged," officers to file incomplete police reports, and to, "make false statements, intimidate, bias and/or coach witnesses to give false information, and/or attempt to bolster officers' stories, and/or obstruct or interfere with investigations of unconstitutional or unlawful police conduction, by withholding and or concealing material information."

McMillin also tolerated inadequate procedures for investigating complaints of officer misconduct, according to the lawsuit, and the procedures for handling complaints of officer misconduct were improper under California code. Additionally, McMillin failed to take, "necessary remedial action," after improper police conduct had occurred.

The lawsuit states that the policy at the time of the killing of Hernandez, which was set by Chief McMillin, was that all SPD officer involved shootings were investigated by police officers and co-workers within the department, which does not provide for, "a meaningful objective internal review," of officer misconduct.

2014 Salinas Police Killings

Angel Ruiz, killed on March 20, 2014
Officers who killed him: Sergeant Mark Lazzarini, Officer Daniel DeBorde, and Officer William Yetter, all of the Salinas Police Department.

Osman Hernandez, killed on May 9, 2014
Officers who killed him: Sergeant George Lauricella and Officer Derek Gibson, both of the Salinas Police Department.

Carlos Mejia-Gomez, killed on May 20, 2014
Officers who killed him: Sergeant Danny Warner and Officer Josh Lynd, both of the Salinas Police Department.

Frank Miguel Alvarado, killed on July 10, 2014
Officers who killed him: Sergeant Brian Johnson and Officer Scott Sutton, both of the Salinas Police Department.

Jaime Garcia, died after being tased by Salinas Police on October 31, 2014

Maria Guardado-Hernandez

Asuncion Guardado

Frank Alvarado Sr. speaks about his son Frank Alvarado, who was killed by Salinas police on July 10, 2014.

No comments: