Family and friends identified the 42-year-old Gilroy man who died Feb. 25 after a struggle with Gilroy police as Steven Juarez, a longtime local resident who was well-known by friends and relatives in town.
Just after 6pm Wednesday, Gilroy Police sent out a press release that identified Juarez as the man who died Feb. 25.
Police said the foot pursuit and other circumstances leading up to the arrest and subsequent death of a Gilroy man—including an officer’s use of a Taser and a neck hold in an effort to detain the man—are under investigation.
A Gilroy Police Department spokesman said Tuesday, Feb. 27, that officers acted “appropriately and lawfully” in their attempt to arrest Juarez.
A family member said she thinks the police used excessive force, leading to Juarez’ death.
“We are comfortable the officers acted appropriately, based on the evidence we have in front of us,” said Gilroy Police Capt. Joseph Deras. He added that investigators from the DA’s office have been in Gilroy since Sunday night “monitoring and conducting interviews” with Gilroy officers involved in Juarez’ arrest.
Juarez’ cousin, Rebeca Armendariz, said she has spoken to witnesses of the Feb. 25 incident who she said told her “they saw multiple police beating on him, and he was screaming for them to stop.” Armendariz said the GIlroy police account of the incident doesn’t match up with Juarez’ non-threatening demeanor, his physically small stature and his friendliness with residents of the neighborhood where police subdued him.
“There was a lot of people there that knew Steven, and would allow Steven to stay with them,” Armendariz said. “They are pretty devastated with what they witnessed.”
She added Juarez was “kind of goofy and silly” and will be missed by his four sons, siblings, cousins, friends and relatives. “He was a big-hearted, easy-going person,” Armendariz said.
Escalation of force
Gilroy Police officers attempted to arrest Juarez after a resident of the 7400 block of Chestnut Street called to report a suspicious person in her backyard, four blocks east of Monterey Street, just before 10pm Feb. 25. When police arrived to the residence, the suspect “made eye contact” with an officer and immediately fled on foot, according to Deras.
The officers verbally told Juarez to surrender, but he continued to run away, reads a Feb. 26 press release from Gilroy police. The suspect made his way onto the roof of at least two nearby residences.
The press release from Gilroy police noted that before making any physical contact with Juarez (not identified by name in the release), officers said it appeared he was bleeding from his face. Deras added that this wound appeared to be near the suspect’s forehead.
A nearby witness told officers of hearing a noise that sounded like someone or something fell from a roof, Deras said.
The officers caught up to Juarez on the ground in front of another residence nearby and approached him in an effort to arrest him, according to police and other sources. Juarez “acted violently and resisted their efforts and made threatening statements,” police said.
The release said officers began to use “less lethal force” techniques to take the man into custody. These methods included the use of an electronic control device (Taser), physical force and a “carotid restraint” on his neck, according to Gilroy police.
Seven Gilroy Police officers were in the neighborhood responding to the call by the time police made contact with Juarez, Deras said. He said a single officer used both the Taser and carotid restraint on Juarez.
At one point during the struggle—after the carotid-restraint hold was applied—the officers noticed the man was in medical distress, the Feb. 26 press release states. The officers initiated first aid, which Gilroy Fire Department personnel took over when they arrived at the scene.
A cell phone video from a neighbor, acquired by Armendariz, shows Juarez on a stretcher, surrounded by police and firefighters and being lifted from the ground in the front yard of a home on Chestnut Street into an ambulance.
Authorities transported Juarez to a nearby hospital with a trauma center, where he was pronounced dead, according to police.
A carotid restraint is a “higher level of force” that Gilroy Police officers are approved to use “when you’re running out of options” to take an uncooperative suspect into custody, Deras said. The technique is different from a chokehold or “arm bar”—which Gilroy police are not authorized to deploy—even though it might look similar.
“It’s a method we can use to render somebody unconscious, so we can get them into custody,” Deras said. “Typically they (wake up) within 15 to 30 seconds.”
In this incident, the suspect did not regain consciousness after the officers’ use of force, police said.
Deras added he is aware there might be private security camera footage from residences in the neighborhood that depicts at least portions of the foot pursuit and subsequent use of force on Juarez. Investigators are in the process of attempting to acquire that footage.
While Deras declined to identify Juarez as the deceased man in the Feb. 25 incident, he told the Dispatch that Gilroy Police have a history of contact with “a person named Steven Juarez.”
All of the officers involved in the incident remain on active duty at GPD, Deras said. However, that could change if the joint investigation with the DA’s office finds evidence that one or more officers committed a crime or broke procedure.
The Santa Clara County Coroner’s Office is conducting an independent investigation to determine what caused Juarez’ death.
Furthermore, a joint investigation with the DA’s Office is underway, pursuant to county law enforcement protocols, according to Gilroy Police.
A spokesperson from the DA’s office said, “Fatal encounters where law enforcement is involved will call for a joint investigation with our office.” The office declined to provide any other information about the incident while the investigation was continuing.
Anyone with information about this incident can contact Gilroy Police at (408) 846-0350.