by Rania Khalek on January 28, 2013
Dispatches From The Underclass
“How am I supposed to explain to my daughters that their father was murdered by the police, the people they’re supposed to go to for protection,” asked Rosanna de la Trinidad three days after her husband was killed. Jose de la Trinidad, 36, left behind a wife and two daughters, ages 3 and 6 when he was shot dead by Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies on November 10, 2012.
An autopsy report obtained by the Los Angeles Times reveals that he was shot from behind. Five of the bullets pierced him in the upper and lower back, one in the right forearm, and another in his right hip. Four were described as fatal.
This makes the deputies who shot him look more guilty of execution-style murder than they already did.
Police say they opened fired because De la Trinidad was reaching for his waistband where he could have been keeping a gun. But this is contradicted by a witness who saw the whole thing. She says deputies opened fire on De la Trinidad after he followed their orders to turn around and put his hands above his head. The autopsy report confirms that he did in fact have his back turned to police when they killed him.
It all started when Jose and his older brother, Francisco, left his niece’s quinceañera. Police tried to pull them over for speeding, but Francisco, who was driving, refused to stop, prompting a brief car chase. A few blocks later, the car came to a sudden halt and Jose jumped out of the passengers seat. Francisco quickly took off again, forcing one deputy to drive after him. Meanwhile, Jose stood on the sidewalk where he was greeted by three deputies in the street with their guns drawn. That’s when, police say, Jose reached for his waistband to retrieve what they could only assume was a gun (because, duh, he’s brown!). ‘Fearing for their lives’, two of the deputies shot and killed him.
Little did they know that a nearby resident, who goes by the name Estefani, to protect her identity, witnessed the entire incident from her bedroom window directly above the shooting.
“His hands were on his head when they started shooting,” she told investigators canvassing the neighborhood for witnesses some 30 minutes after the shooting.
Estefani said De la Trinidad did jump out of the car after it came to a sudden stop. After he ran toward the deputies a few feet, they ordered him to stop and turn around — which he did immediately, she said.
Seconds later, the deputies opened fire, she said.
But they didn’t like what they were hearing:
The deputies, she said, repeatedly asked her which direction De la Trinidad was facing, which she perceived as an attempt to get her to change her story.
“I told them, ‘You’re just trying to confuse me,’ and then they stopped,” she said. Authorities later interviewed Estefani a second time.
In their most recent report on the autopsy, the Times failed to include a vital tidbit: the Sheriff’s Department initially denied having spoken to any witnesses. It wasn’t until they were questioned by, ironically enough, the Times that they came clean, though they blamed it on “a lack of information flowing between various deputies and lieutenants involved in the investigation.”
The family plans on suing the Sheriff’s Department, according to their attorney, Arnoldo Casillas, who argues that De la Trinidad ”complied, did what he was supposed to, and was gunned down by trigger-happy deputies.”
Over 100 people joined De la Trinidad’s relatives in Compton on Saturday to demand justice. They marched through the streets chanting, “No justice, no peace! No killer police!”, a rallying cry sung far too often in neighborhoods of color where police shootings are a regular occurrence. But you would never know this from the Times piece, which includes just two sentences about the weekend protest.
Luckily, the LA Activist’s Dan Bluemel was there:
Converging on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Compton station, protesters demanded justice, not only for the Trinidad family, but for other victims of police shootings.
Speaking to demonstrators, Gigi Fahmi, a friend of De la Trinidad and his wife, described the victim as devoted to his spouse, Rosanna de la Trinidad, and his two daughters, ages three and six.
Fahmi demanded the deputies responsible for De la Trinidad’s death face criminal charges.
“[Sheriff] Lee Baca has no control over his department and should be ashamed of himself, as well as the department, for the way they handled, what deputy sheriffs called a ‘routine traffic stop,’” she said. “You tell me, what’s so routine about two sheriffs instructing an unarmed man to ‘stop, turn around, put your hands on your head,’ so sheriffs can then proceed to shoot him execution style, riddling his body with seven bullets?”
Damian Ramirez delivered a personal message to the sheriffs. He was a close friend of Michael Nida II, who was killed by Downey Police in October of 2011. Like De la Trinidad, Nida was unarmed and gunned down in the back.
“No more murders of innocent men because you don’t know how to do your job, because you are afraid of the community you serve,” said Ramirez to the deputy sheriffs. “The time has come to change the way you do business, the way you are trained to police these communities. These are human beings you are stealing from their families, human beings who deserve to live the rest of their lives in peace and freedom.”
According to the Times, there have been at least 238 police killings in Los Angeles County since 2007, which Bluemel highlights at the LA Activist, adding:
Jubilee Shine, an organizer for the LA Coalition for Community Control Over the Police, referred to the officer-involved shootings as a “long pattern and practice of abuse of poor, black and brown and working-class people.”
Since 1983, he said, only one California police officer has been jailed for killing a civilian while on duty. That was Johannes Mehserle, a former transit cop who killed Oscar Grant while Grant was lying face down and pinned by another officer. Grant was unarmed. Mehserle said he had mistaken his sidearm for his Taser when he shot Grant in the back.
Shine, who called attention to the diverse racial makeup of the crowd, told the demonstrators they had a “common enemy and a common purpose.”
“These police and these deputy sheriffs, they do not come from these neighborhoods,” he said. “They do not come from Compton, Watts or Inglewood. They bring these cops and deputy sheriffs in from out of town — from Anaheim, Pasadena and the Westside. They give them good salaries to come and act like armies in our streets.
People on the left often worry about extrajudicial killings abroad, as they should. But do they realize that in certain US neighborhoods, state-sanctioned murder is routine.
It hasn’t changed. I saw the same stuff in San Diego before I left in the mid-70’s. A drunk driver almost ran me off the road on a freeway entering the City. I stopped a patrol car and complained of the incident, describing the vehicle. The cop roared off, and caught up with the driver. As I approached the scene, several cops had the Hispanic man standing with his feet apart facing the hood of the patrol car. Perhaps, in his inebriated state, the man didn’t understand the officer, but suddenly I saw the one closest grab the man’s black hair from behind and literally smash his face into the hood. I was close enough to hear him say, “When I say to put your hands on the hood, that’s what I *mean*, BEANO!”
It was a disturbing peek into the racism and brutality of the San Diego police. I filed a complaint, but as usual, nothing ever came of it.