By Motecuzoma Sanchez
On Wednesday July 21, 2010, a newly organized coalition of organizations from Stockton, Modesto, and Sacramento, gathered together with the public to host a community town hall focused on educating the public about police misconduct and abuse in communities, especially Black and Mexican, and discussed possible strategies and actions to hold law enforcement agencies accountable and promote responsible policing.
A line up of speakers addressed the audience including myself, Sammy Nuñez, and keynote speaker Minister Christopher Muhammad.
Also addressing the audience were the parents of Joey Pinasco Jr, who was killed by two CHP officers in 2008 in a case that has been ongoing and controversial. Pinasco Jr was shot 20 times including 6 times in the head. Officers’ accounts were very different from eye witness accounts. The official story was that the officers “felt threatened” as the vehicle charged towards them”. Eyewitnesses all said the vehicle was stuck in a ditch and never charged the officers. According to Mr. Pinasco, San Joaquin County District Attorney James Willet refused to pursue any wrongdoing by the CHP officers.
Those present also agreed that the police billboards around Stockton were offensive and signed a petition demanding they be taken down. The audience left informed, committed, and empowered.
The very next day word spread quickly that a teenager had been killed in a similar fashion, being shot multiple times by officers who claimed ” they felt threatened” as the vehicle ” charged toward them”
An emergency meeting was called by the Town Hall organizers. I watched on Channel 13 news as the reporter on the scene was scurried away by officers yelling, “he’s armed”! Yet the reporters showed statements from family members and witnesses in a scenario that seems to be playing out far too often, stating that the shooting was not necessary.
I decided to investigate the scene myself, talk to the eye witnesses (whom wish remain anonymous for fear of retribution from Police), and get a clearer picture of what really transpired.
I arrived around 7 p.m. (the killing occurred around 10 a.m.) and as I began walking around the neighborhood I witnessed a police officer walking down Bancroft holding an M16 assault rifle in the air to return to his car. I began talking to witnesses and family members and a very different story began to emerge.
Every single witness who viewed the crash and shooting from beginning to end all stated that the vehicle, an Astro van that had crashed into the side of a triplex garage after being rammed by a police vehicle, was never in motion afterwards and certainly did not back towards officers. These statements of course contradicted the official statements of SPD spokesman Pete Smith.
The witnesses further stated that as soon as the officers yelled get out, they only allowed one second to pass before one officer shot which was followed by a barrage of shots from two other officers. An estimated 30 to 40 shots were fired according to eye witnesses. They stated that when the vehicle was rammed that it ran over a community mailbox and bushes then went through the wall of a garage, missing a glass patio door by five feet.
The witnesses say that the engine was revving the whole time as the suspect was most likely incapacitated from the impact and still had his foot on the gas. A lot of dust was also kicked up from the crash.
The witnesses state that immediately after yelling to come out the officers started firing, allowing no time to comply for the 16-year old suspect, James Rivera. Two officers shot with pistols and one shot with an M16 military assault rifle. I stayed until after 10 p.m. when the van was pulled out by a tow truck, which appeared to have difficulty doing so as it was firmly wedged in the house with the back rims bent out of shape and the tires flat, making it very hard to believe that it ever backed up towards officers.
Neighbors and family members yelled at police as the vehicle was loaded onto the tow truck revealing the damage from the crash and bullets. Officers remained adversarial as one threw a bottle towards people including children, and another gave a boy a ticket for riding his bike across the street without a light.
The next morning demonstrators showed up at the downtown police station holding signs in protest and asking for a transparent investigation and citizen’s oversight committee to investigate police misconduct and officer involved shootings.
I conducted interviews with every local news network and went to City Hall asking for a meeting with Stockton Mayor, Ann Johnston. Her office never responded to my request, but Eric Jones from the office of the Chief of Police, Blair Ullring called and planned a meeting for 2 p.m. After the news interview was aired at noon, in which I stated that all eye witnesses claimed the van never moved after crashing, the office of the Chief called and said, “due to your statements to KCRA 3, we’ve been advised by legal counsel not to meet with you.”
Not much later Pete Smith announced to the media that maybe the truck didn’t move, but the officers” perceived” it was. They refused to answer as to how many shots were fired and how many times Rivera was hit.
The initial media report from the Record was that Rivera was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Officers also said they performed CPR. Eye witnesses say after the shooting subsided the officers congratulated each other and joked about who was going to pull the victim out. According to these witnesses, one of the officers eventually did pull him out by his neck and dropped him on the ground as he was choking on his own blood and his chest was the only thing seen moving. Instead of CPR, the witnesses say the officers merely slapped his face around as if to wake him up. They also claim that he was most likely long dead by time an ambulance arrived with no sirens.
It was reported also in the Record that Sheriff Deputies were called to the Hospital to respond to a disturbance. Rivera’s uncle and legal guardian, Kunta Rigmaden, says that the “disturbance” was the result of the mother not being allowed to see her son after he was pronounced dead and that Sheriff Deputies arrived with a dog and told the family they would, “shoot”
Pete Smith is now claiming that the vehicle didn’t backup, which was the whole justification for shots being fired, and that officers fired because the victim did not respond to commands and they feared he would escape in the house and take “hostages”
Charles Moore —who lives next door in the triplex where the crash and shooting occurred— says the house that was crashed into had six children in it, his brother lived next door with two children, and his home with his four children ranging in ages from nine months to eleven years old.
One must keep in mind that if they were so concerned with the residents inside then —Why were so many shots fired including armor piercing M16 rounds?
The Police is now claiming that no assault rifles were involved. I personally saw one of the officers involved in the shooting taking his M16 back to his patrol car, to which there are pictures taken from neighbors. I personally counted over 20 bullet holes from different calibers in the drywall of the garage next door. A huge chunk of dry wall was missing from investigators taking it.
Rivera’s mother and aunt also claim that officers showed up to their residence at around 2:30 a.m. before the shooting and pointed a gun to the head of a 13-year old boy and told the mother of James Rivera to, “get ready for a funeral, ’cause when we see him we’re gonna kill him”
This case is currently being investigated by the SPD, SJ Sheriff, CHP, and State Department of Justice. The decision to prosecute in the case the shooting was unjustified, will be left to the discretion of District Attorney, James Willet, an elected official who ran unopposed last election —the same DA who refused to pursue justice for the Pinasco family.
Motecuzoma Sanchez is a San Joaquin Delta College student, Iraq War veteran, former mayoral candidate, and co-organizer of the “Who Polices the Police” townhall meetings in Stockton.