Steven Juarez—known affectionately by his friends and family as “Stevie”—was a social butterfly, a die-hard football fan and a tattoo artist who inked some of his childhood friends from his east Gilroy neighborhood.
He was also a father, brother, son and friend who was remembered by loved ones at a memorial reception at the San Ysidro Park community room March 8, nearly two weeks after he died in a struggle with Gilroy Police officers who tried to arrest him Feb. 25.
Juarez’ mother, Martha Silos, laughed and cried as she recalled her son’s devotion to his family and his neighbors.
Silos described how Stevie used to “get mad at me” when she used to tell his friends to “keep an eye on him.”
“He loved his mother,” Silos said.
When Silos suffered a broken ankle last summer, her son stopped by her house “every day” to check up on her and help her get around. He bought a new pair of shoes for her, designed with ankle support.
“I wear those shoes every day,” Silos said.
The reception took place after Juarez’ family buried him March 8 at St. Mary’s cemetery off First Street in GIlroy. About 60 friends, family and area activists attended. Some shared memories of Stevie, and others urged those in attendance to keep the pressure on the authorities while they investigate the Feb. 25 incident that ended in Juarez’ death, and hold the police accountable.
Many of those in attendance wore t-shirts with Juarez’ face printed on the front.
The next day, many of those attending the memorial service would join others in a march and rally through downtown Gilroy, protesting the actions of police officers on Feb. 25.
Juarez was 42 when he died. Authorities are still investigating the cause and manner of death, and whether officers acted lawfully in trying to detain him on the 7400 block of Chestnut Street. Few details of the incident have been released.
“He was a great father, and a great football player,” said Stevie’s sister, Monica Juarez. “He was loved by many. He had a great sense of humor, and he was always helpful and loving.”
Stevie grew up in the previous family home on Polk Court, just a few blocks down the street from San Ysidro Park.
Juarez and his friends and siblings spent a lot of time playing handball in the park growing up, and at the South Valley Middle School athletic field across Murray Avenue from Polk Court. That field was the scene of countless neighborhood football games in which Juarez, a former Pop Warner athlete, was a key player, according to friends who spoke about him March 8. They even used to play in the rain.
Silos also described how Stevie would spend his evenings “making the rounds” in central Gilroy on his bicycle, visiting different friends and relatives to help with chores or to socialize.
Monica added that Stevie worked as a construction laborer, and enjoyed fishing and playing horseshoes. He left behind five sons age 6 to 22.
Many who shared their memories of Juarez March 8 described him as “outgoing.”
Linette Arias, of Gilroy—a friend who has known Stevie since they were children—remembers seeing him walking up the street with a two-seat stroller when his twin boys, now 6 years old, were infants, “with a diaper bag on his shoulder.” Arias praised Juarez for helping to motivate her daughter when she went to military boot camp.
“He was easy to talk to,” said Arias, who cooked up an enchilada fundraiser March 2 and 3 for Juarez’ funeral expenses. “My kids really liked him. He had a good heart.”
Raul Maldonado grew up in Stevie’s neighborhood and was friends with his younger brother, Chico, who died in a car accident several years ago. Maldonado saw Stevie as a mentor who inspired him as an artist. Stevie inked a tattoo on Maldonado’s forearm to honor Maldonado’s son, Brandon, who died at childbirth.
“I thank his mother for bringing such a wonderful man into this world,” Maldonado told the crowd March 8, fighting back tears.
Silos and Stevie’s sister didn’t deny that Juarez had some run-ins with police. He was in jail when he heard that Chico died, and was unable to attend his funeral. But Silos said Stevie had grown out of the “gang stuff” and other criminal tendencies long before he died.
Activism was another facet of the March 8 memorial event, which was also attended by the family members of other young men killed by police in other jurisdictions. One of these activists suggested that recent reports that Stevie had drugs on him when he died, and that he had a criminal record only serve to deflect blame from the police department.
“(The police) will do everything they can to make him this person who deserved to be executed by police,” said Laurie Valdez, whose husband was shot and killed by San Jose State University police in 2014. “You remember who he was. Make that the narrative.”
Two of Stevie’s cousins—brother and sister Rebeca and Reymundo Armendariz—are also community organizers with the nonprofit Community Agency for Resources, Advocacy and Services (CARAS). They also attended the March 8 memorial event for Stevie, and invited those in attendance to the March 10 protest in downtown Gilroy. Related story on Page 1.