Nearly two months after the death of Steven Juarez in police custody, friends and family of the Gilroyan are not giving up in their effort to demand answers from City Hall and its police department.
Specifically, Juarez’ family—consisting of several generations of Gilroy residents—wants to know more about the Gilroy Police Department’s use of force policy, review the police camera footage from the Feb. 25 incident that ended in Juarez’ death and learn why nobody from the city or police department has expressed their condolences to the family, according to Juarez’ cousin Rebeca Armendariz.
They also want to know the names of the seven officers involved in the Feb. 25 incident on Chestnut Street in east Gilroy, and why none of them were placed on any kind of leave following Juarez’ death.
“Why haven’t our elected officials done their due diligence?” Armendariz wondered.
About 30 people, including the brother and sister of Juarez, packed a City Council meeting on Monday, April 16, and 10 of them lined up to speak to the council about their concerns.
“Why are the police still being paid, and why are they still working?” pondered Mathilda Lopez, another cousin of Juarez’ who joined a small group of protesters the afternoon of April 16 at the corner of Monterey Road and First Street. “You take a life and just take a shower the next day and go to work? It’s not right.”
The protest was part of the family’s and the east Gilroy neighborhood’s continuing “Justice For Stevie” campaign. Protesters held signs in front of St. Mary’s Church that read, “Stop killing us. Our children. Our fathers, moms. Our brothers, sisters,” and “Stop police brutality. No justice, no peace.” Some held smaller signs depicting Juarez’ photo and the slogan “Justice for Stevie.”
Many of the protesters said they were amazed at the lack of any statement from Mayor Roland Velasco, Police Chief Scot Smithee and council members since Feb. 25.
Juarez’ brother, Daniel Salcido, said during the April 16 protest that city and police officials were quick to offer information about the incident that is “good for them.” But when family members ask for additional information, they have been repeatedly told they have to wait until the district attorney’s investigation is over.
“We just want them to sit down with us,” Salcido said.
Lopez and Armendariz added that they attended the April 14 Coffee With the Mayor to ask Velasco some of the questions to which they are seeking answers. When asked about the Gilroy police policies on use of force and officer-involved deaths, Velasco said he didn’t know anything about these policies, Lopez and Armendariz said.
What Gilroy police have said is that Juarez died shortly after officers responded to a call reporting suspicious circumstances just before 10pm Feb. 25 on the 7400 block of Chestnut Street. When officers arrived, Juarez, 42, saw them and ran away on foot, and police pursued him through residential yards.
Juarez allegedly jumped over fences and climbed onto rooftops during the foot pursuit, according to Gilroy police. One witness told officers that a sound was heard that resembled someone falling from a rooftop.
At one point during the pursuit, officers saw Juarez lying on the ground in front of a residence, police said. When they approached him, he allegedly began to struggle with and threaten the officers.
Police said they used a variety of force techniques to make him comply, including a Taser and a carotid hold, according to police. At some point after using force, Juarez fell into “medical distress.” Paramedics arrived on the scene and Juarez was transported to a San Jose hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Gilroy police have said the officers involved in the Feb. 25 incident acted lawfully and “appropriately.” The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office is conducting an investigation into the incident. The county medical examiner’s office is also participating in the investigation, and has not released Juarez’ cause of death.
The Dispatch has asked many of the same questions that Juarez’ family has asked, and has been met with the same response: that it’s an ongoing investigation.
The Gilroy Police Department did provide the Dispatch with its written “Use of Force” and “Officer-Involved Shootings and Deaths” policies.
The Officer-Involved Shootings and Deaths policy notes, in part, “Each involved GPD officer shall be given reasonable paid administrative leave following an officer-involved shooting or death.”
GPD spokesman Sgt. Jason Smith said in the days after Juarez’ death that none of the officers involved in the Feb. 25 incident was placed on leave. He has not responded to follow-up questions about the policy.
Armendariz said the family has retained an attorney, who so far has filed a request with Gilroy police to “preserve any and all evidence” related to the Feb. 25 incident involving Juarez. They have not yet filed a claim against the city.
The family is also looking into commissioning an independent autopsy of Juarez’ brain, which has been preserved, Armendariz said. The rest of his remains have been cremated.