Fresno Police Kill Unarmed Suspect - Community Groups
Express their Outrage
By Mike Rhodes
Joaquin Figueroa was shot and killed by police on August 3, 2006. He was unarmed. At a press conference held today in front of the old Fresno City Hall, community activists condemned the shooting. A press release, sent to the media by event organizers, said that Joaquin Figueroa was "another stolen life taken by the Fresno Police Department." The statement also said "the Community does realize that the only thing that changed in this officer involved shooting was that the suspect was shot only 2 times unlike the 20+ times in the previous incidents."
Community organizer Gloria Hernandez said the "Fresno Police Department should follow the ruling in Tennessee v. Garner, which said ‘deadly force...may not be used unless necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.’ The law clearly does not say that police officers should have this power when a person might in the future pose a threat to others."
The Fresno Police Department says that Figueroa did not have a gun when he was shot. The police also say Figueroa was the primary suspect in a shooting incident in which a Fresno Police officer was shot and wounded. Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said the shooting of Figueroa was justified because he ignored commands to show his hands and that he had a reputation for being armed and dangerous.
At a Press Conference the day after Figueroa was shot, Dyer listed a number of crimes the suspect was believed to have committed. The list included carjackings, robbery, murder, and involvement in a high profile missing persons case. According to Dyer’s statement at the Press Conference, "Subsequent investigation determined that 25 year old Joaquin Figueroa was a validated gang member and convicted auto thief responsible for a series of violent crimes leading up to the shooting of Officer Brian Nieto."
Dyer said "Additionally, the Hanford Police Department named Joaquin as a person of interest in the disappearance and murder of Debbie Hawk." Several news reports have linked Figueroa, the shooting of officer Nieto, and the Debbie Hawk case.
Dyer was quoted in The Fresno Bee, as saying "I am certain that there is a great deal of relief (in the community) that a very violent person has been removed from the street." (8/4/06 Fresno Bee)
Hernandez, the community organizer and one of the speakers at today’s Press Conference, said "we will never know if the cop's latest statistic was in fact guilty. We will never know if this ‘person of interest’ was involved in the Manchester shooting or the Hawk woman disappearing. Both cases closed! Because it's easier to blame it on the bad dead guy!"
Hernandez also announced that they were asking the Human Relations Commission to hold a Town Hall meeting to discuss this shooting. She also demanded that an outside agency investigate Figueroa’s death.
Many of the speakers at today’s event belong to the Central California Criminal Justice Committee (CCCJC), which has been working for years to establish an Independent Police Auditor (IPA) in this community. The concept for an IPA has received support from the Mayor of Fresno and Chief Dyer, but has been rejected by the Fresno City Council.
Without an IPA there is only the Internal Affairs Department to look at police actions. Rev. Floyd Harris, State President of the National Action Network and another participant at the Press Conference has said "that is like having a fox watching the hen house." Hernandez says that the "Fresno Police should develop use of force policies that address use of firearms and other weapons and particular use of force issues such as: firing at moving vehicles, verbal warnings, positional asphyxia, bar arm restraints, and the use of chemical agents. With proper training and planning Fresno Police Officers could demonstrate that the use of non-deadly force reasonably should be sufficient to accomplish an arrest or otherwise accomplish the law enforcement purpose, deadly force should not be necessary."
The Press Release from today’s press conference went on to say:
Jerry Dyer does not speak for the Community. We are not relieved to have to witness the use of deadly force on an unarmed man who was suspect of shooting Officer Nieto. The Community would have wanted the suspect to have the same access to the court system as Jerry Dyer's niece has had when she was involved in a Fowler murder case.
We are not relieved that our questions have not been answered:Was the suspect the one who shot Officer Nieto? Was the gun recovered? Were his fingerprints on it? Did the police have a justified reason to use deadly force? How come other cities are able to bring in the suspect instead of shooting him dead? (Arizona serial killers captured on 8/4/06 instead of being shot to death). We are not relieved to know that cops in Fresno are using submachine guns against suspects, we are not at war with suspects. (Fresno Bee news briefs 8/08/06) Who will be accountable if all the cases are jeopardized because of the Fresno Police Department's lack of training and control? Why were more than 200 officers involved in the search for a cop shooter, used to investigate the case of the woman who was wounded at Manchester Center? Does she not deserve the same level of attention that has been given to Officer Nieto's case?
In addition to the information from the Press Release (above), community activists at the Press Conference cited statistics showing that the crime rate in Fresno is significantly higher than the national average. Some of the statistics cited:
* According to what was reported by Fresno PD to the FBI, Fresno had 53 murders (11.6 per 100,000 people), yet the national level was only 5.5.
* Fresno experienced 181 rapes (39.6:100,000) compared to the national level of 32.2:100,000
* Fresno had 2030 aggravated assaults (444.5: 100,000persons) with the national level being at 291:100,000 persons).
* We can also compare statistics with San Jose which has double the population of Fresno but only had 24 murders in comparison to the 53 in Fresno. One wonders if its because they have an independent police oversight mechanism that keeps the cops on their toes?
Groups at the Press Conference included the National Action Network, MEChA, Books not Bars, California Prison Moratorium, Peace Fresno, Fresno Copwatch, October 22, and the Hmong American Coalition for Justice and Human Rights.