For local activists and the survivors of Steven Juarez, a chief source of danger in some Gilroy neighborhoods is that entity that is supposed to keep them safe—the Gilroy Police Department.
In response to the death of Juarez while in police custody in Old Gilroy, the nonprofit Community Agency for Resources, Advocacy and Services (CARAS) has joined up with Juarez’ friends and family to begin the “Justice for Stevie” campaign.
The effort begins Saturday, March 10 with a protest march starting at 11am on the 7400 block of Chestnut Street, where Juarez was involved in a struggle with Gilroy Police officers last month that ended in his death. The demonstration will proceed west from Chestnut Street, up Sixth Street through the city’s downtown and ending at the Gilroy police station, where the group will conduct a 1pm press conference, according to CARAS Program Director Reymundo Armendariz.
Juarez’ mother will “call on the Police Chief to meet with his family and share the footage from officers’ body cameras” that recorded the Feb. 25 incident involving Juarez, reads a press release from CARAS.
The Gilroy Police station is located at 7301 Hanna Street.
The purpose of the “Justice for Stevie” campaign—named after the nickname for the 42-year-old man who was well known among generations of east Gilroy residents—is manifold.
“We feel like Steven Juarez was killed unjustly,” said Armandariz, who is also Juarez’ cousin. “We want police accountable for Stevie’s death, and a change of policy to avoid any further deaths from police brutality.” Specifically, he added CARAS will pursue changes to the Gilroy Police Department’s use-of-force policies and other procedures for “how they treat suspects.”
Juarez died shortly after police responded to a 911 call on Feb. 25 reporting a suspicious person in a residential yard on the 7400 block of Chestnut Street.
When Juarez saw the responding officers, he fled on foot, over fences and onto rooftops of other homes, according to police. When officers caught up to him lying on the ground in front of a home, they tried to arrest him but Juarez allegedly struggled against them. Police said they used a variety of force techniques to subdue him, including a Taser and a carotid restraint. During the struggle, Juarez fell into medical distress and was transported to San Jose Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Several days after Juarez’ death, Gilroy police reported that officers found suspected methamphetamine in his clothing, and he had an active warrant for his arrest.
Gilroy police as well as the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office and Coroner’s Office are investigating the death to determine how he died and if any officers committed a crime during their attempt to arrest him.
For Martha Silos, Juarez’ mother, the death of her 42-year-old son has made her question whether law enforcement is really committed to “protect and serve” the communities of Gilroy’s east side.
“Before I die, I want some justice,” Silos said at a March 8 memorial event for Juarez at the San Ysidro Park community room. “I am scared for all the families and friends—anyone who has little ones growing up in this town. I wouldn’t want this for anybody. I don’t want to live here anymore. This town is not safe.”
Armendariz added that police haven’t specified what crime Juarez was suspected of when they responded to the Feb. 25 911 call, other than resisting officers.
“I don’t think running from the police justifies being killed,” Armendariz said.
He added that CARAS has heard from other residents who have accused Gilroy police of misconduct in unrelated cases. The activists are worried that without a widespread campaign in response to the Feb. 25 death of Juarez, such incidents could become more common.