Gilroy Police revealed Thursday that 42-year-old Steven Juarez had suspected methamphetamine in his possession when he died in a struggle with officers on Feb. 25.
Gilroy Police Sgt. Jason Smith also said the man had an active arrest warrant at the time of the fatal encounter. He also revealed that multiple officers had some degree of physical contact with Juarez, and that all were wearing body cameras.
Smith said the substance that appeared to be meth, which was found “in (Juarez’) clothing,” will be tested in a crime lab to confirm it is an illegal drug. Juarez was also in possession of drug paraphernalia at the time of his death, Smith added.
Court records show that Juarez has been arrested on suspicion of drug-related charges at least three times in Gilroy since 2006.
The warrant for his arrest that was active Feb. 25 was for an unspecified probation violation, according to Smith.
Juarez, 42, of Gilroy, died after officers used a Taser, carotid restraint and other forceful measures to attempt to arrest him on the 7400 block of Chestnut Street in east Gilroy.
Police said earlier this week that officers arrived to the neighborhood on a report of a suspicious person, and that Juarez tried to run away on foot when he saw police at the scene. He allegedly jumped over a number of residential fences and onto rooftops during the pursuit, and police speculated that he might have fallen off a roof before officers caught up to him.
When officers tried to arrest Juarez, he began to struggle and resist, and verbally threatened the police. After seven Gilroy Police officers used varying degrees of force to arrest Juarez, he fell into medical distress and was transported to an area hospital, police said. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Memorial services for Juarez are scheduled for 4pm Tuesday, March 6 at Habing Family Funeral Home in Gilroy, according to Juarez’ cousin Rebeca Armendariz.
The Santa Clara County Coroner’s Office and District Attorney’s Office are investigating the Feb. 25 incident, along with the Gilroy Police Department.
All seven officers who responded to the “evolving call” were wearing body cameras, which recorded video of the Sunday night incident, Smith said. Gilroy Police patrol cars are also equipped with dash cameras, and those on scene Feb. 25 also captured footage that will be reviewed in the investigation.
Police declined to release that video footage while the investigation is underway.
Smith also revealed that all the Gilroy officers at the scene made some degree of physical contact with Juarez before his death, in an effort to detain him.
“That doesn’t mean they were using any kind of impact weapon or significant force,” Smith clarified. “It could be as simple as putting a hand on him to gain compliance. They all had involvement in some level of force” during the attempted arrest of Juarez.
A single officer applied a Taser and a carotid hold, police Capt. Joseph Deras said earlier this week. Smith said Thursday he did not know how many times Juarez was tased by the officer.
Furthermore, Smith said these use-of-force techniques occurred in a “pretty contemporaneous” timeline, and he “wouldn’t be comfortable” trying to pinpoint which move by the officers resulted in Juarez’ medical distress. He added that the coroner’s report, which is not yet completed, will offer more details about Juarez’ cause and manner of death.
“It happened so quick, once they were able to subdue him, the focus immediately switched to medical aid,” Smith said.
Authorities are conducting both a “criminal investigation and an administrative investigation,” Smith added. The purpose of the administrative inquiry, conducted by GPD, is to “see if any policies or procedures were violated.”
The department’s preliminary administrative investigation has not found any evidence of police misconduct, Smith said. For this reason and because the incident did not involve a shooting, Gilroy Police Chief Steve Smithee has not removed any of the officers involved from active police duty.
Gilroy administrative investigators interviewed all seven officers who responded to the Juarez incident within 24 hours after he was pronounced dead, Smith added.
The DA’s investigation will aim to determine if the officers involved in the death of Juarez acted unlawfully.
“We’re trying to answer one question and one question only: Were the officers’ actions legal within the law when they did what they did, when they caused the death of a person?” DA spokesman Sean Webby said of the office’s arrest-related investigations in general. He declined to comment on the investigation into the Feb. 25 Gilroy incident until it is completed.
Such investigations into police actions can take several months for the DA’s office to complete. Deputy DA Chuck Gillingham is leading the DA’s investigation into Juarez’ death.
As of Thursday, police were still declining to offer more details on which addresses on the 7400 block of Chestnut Street the pursuit of Juarez occurred. The incident started when a female resident of the block reported Juarez as a suspicious person trespassing in her backyard, police said.
Juarez began to run away as soon as he saw the first officers arrive, police said. The officers ran after him, and the chase spanned alleyways and “no less than three backyards of different residences,” Smith said Thursday.
At one point, Juarez led police to a residential property on Martin Street, but the pursuit returned to the 7400 block of Chestnut Street.
Seven officers, the “majority” of the department’s on-duty shift at the time, responded because the Feb. 25 incident was an “evolving incident” with unpredictable circumstances, Smith added.
“Any time you have somebody going into different residents’ backyards and on the roofs, we’re going to get as many people there as we can, and that’s what we did,” Smith said. “It’s so unfortunate that he died.”
Gilroy Police are seeking information from potential witnesses of the Feb. 25 arrest of Juarez and related incident. Anyone with information can call the Gilroy Police Department at (408) 846-0350.