Steven Abraham Juarez, a longtime Gilroy resident with deep ties to the area who died after a struggle with police on Feb. 25, will be remembered as a loyal friend and family member with a good sense of humor and fun-loving demeanor.
Gilroy Police and other law enforcement authorities knew Juarez, who was 42 at the time of his death Sunday night, from numerous arrests and criminal court proceedings over the years.
Juarez’ cousin, Rebeca Armendariz, also a Gilroy resident, admitted in a phone interview with the Dispatch that Steven Juarez was “no angel.” “But he wasn’t some kind of hardened violent criminal,” Armendariz said.
“He was a big-hearted, easy-going person,” said Armendariz, adding that she just saw him last weekend at a family barbecue. “It’s really hard for his mom, and his brothers and sisters.”
Juarez left behind five sons age 6 to 22, according to a gofundme page set up to raise funds for his funeral expenses. Armendariz said these children include young twin boys.
“Steven was a son, brother, father, uncle and friend to many,” reads the page, which can be found online at gofundme.com/steven-juarezs-funeral-fund.
At the time of his death, Juarez did not have a permanent residence and had been staying at different friends’ and family members’ homes in Gilroy, according to Armendariz.
Juarez was welcomed with open arms into many homes in the Chestnut Avenue neighborhood where police say a resident reported him as a suspicious person before officers arrived, chased him and then struggled with him in an effort to arrest him. That struggle ended in Juarez’ death.
Armendariz said others in the neighborhood often let him sleep on their couches and play with their kids. “Steven wasn’t an unknown person that we would have called the cops on,” she said.
By Feb. 26, residents and family members created a memorial to Juarez outside a home on the 7400 block of Chestnut Street, where the struggle with Gilroy Police occurred. Flowers and a cross with Juarez’ name were placed at the memorial.
Another cousin of Juarez’, Marina Martinez, of Morgan Hill, placed a cross at the site Tuesday. She said when she lived in Gilroy with her father, Juarez made it a routine to loyally stop by just to “hang out with my dad. He always checked up on my dad,” Martinez said.
“He’s a really good guy. A really happy guy,” she continued. “We’ll miss him. He always makes you laugh. He was a free spirit.”
Gloria Olmos, a friend who has known Juarez since they attended school together at South Valley Middle School in Gilroy, wept as she placed flowers at the memorial Feb. 27. Olmos, like others who knew Juarez, was upset about the way he died.
“They treated him like he was nothing,” she said.
She added, “He was loved.”
Gilroy Police Capt. Joseph Deras earlier this week continued to decline to identify the man who died after a struggle with his officers. But he said the department is “quite familiar with a Steven Juarez.” Gilroy Police Department sent out a press release just after 6pm Wednesday that identified Juarez as the man who died in the incident.
While Deras said he couldn’t discuss the details of Gilroy Police’s history with Juarez, a review of court records and newspaper archives reveals he was arrested numerous times over the years.
A search of court records at the Morgan Hill Courthouse brought up 20 cases from 1997 to 2017 in which Juarez faced criminal charges. These include misdemeanors and felonies. He has faced charges related to drug possession, trespassing, driving under the influence and other vehicle code violations.
One of his case files, from 2001, reveals police suspected him of affiliating with the Norteno street gang. In that case, he was accused of attempted murder in a gang-related stabbing in January 2001. Juarez was ultimately not convicted of a crime in that case, after spending months in jail. At the conclusion of his preliminary hearing in early 2002, the judge determined the authorities did not have enough evidence to take him to trial, and he was released from custody, according to the court file.
The stabbing victim in that case, Carlos Gonzalez, told police he was not a gang member, but Juarez and three other suspects in the stabbing thought he was affiliated with the rival Sureno gang, according to the court file.
Juarez and the other three suspects allegedly followed him to a home on Eigleberry Street in downtown Gilroy, according to the court file. The suspects and victim began a shoving match, which escalated to more violence and a knife attack on Gonzalez.
The court file does not indicate that Juarez was the one who wielded the knife.
Eight of the cases on file for Juarez have been “purged” from the court records system. These cases occurred 2002 to 2012.
A search of the Gilroy Dispatch website brings up numerous instances of his name appearing in the “police blotter” over the years. These include arrests on suspicion of controlled substances and a probation violation.