Flanked by the mother and father of a 16-year-old boy fatally shot in the back of the head by a Fresno police officer in a 2017 incident that has drawn national attention, community advocates announced Monday they have asked federal officials to investigate the shooting “for potential civil rights violations.”
“A comprehensive review of this incident may serve to move us towards systemic reforms that reduce the use of excessive and deadly force by police,” said Gloria Hernández of the Fresno Stolen Lives Committee in a 2-page letter addressed to U.S. Attorney McGregor ‘Greg’ Scott of the Eastern District of California.
In a video released by the parent’s attorney last Friday, Isiah Murrietta-Golding is shown getting out of car that was stopped by police who were looking into a homicide. The boy backs up to police before suddenly running away. Security video from a nearby day care center shows Murrietta-Golding jumping over a fence while chased by two police officers.
An officer identified as Sgt. Ray Villalvazo braces himself behind the fence and fires a shot into the back of the teen’s head. Murrietta-Golding died three days later.
Then-Police Chief Jerry Dyer, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office and an independent investigator have said the shooting was justified because officers thought Murrietta-Golding was reaching for a gun under his waist.
Community members who expressed outrage at the shooting said the teen was only trying to hold up his pants. No gun was found at the scene.
The parents have filed a civil suit against the city and the police department alleging unlawful deadly force, assault and battery, and negligence.
Presidential candidate Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and housing secretary in the Obama administration, weighed in on the incident. He tweeted on Oct. 24, “We have to reform our policing system to end the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mentality that ends far too many black & brown lives.”
Fresno City Councilmembers Esmeralda Soria (who is running for Congress) and colleagues Nelson Esparza and Miguel Arias posted a statement last Thursday saying “we can and must do better.”
“It is heartbreaking that Fresno has once again made national news for a video that speaks for itself,” the statement said. “Because of the police chief’s statement, we want to reassure our entire community that this incident does not reflect our city, nor its values.”
On Friday, Fresno Councilmembers Garry Bredefeld and Mike Karbassi released their own joint statement.
“While the video reflects an officer-involved shooting and subsequent loss of life, it is important to remember that the district attorney reviewed the circumstances of the shooting.”
At Monday’s rally/press conference, family members and supporters said Fresno police need to abide by their policies. Hernández handed out a list of 93 victims of police shootings or beatings since July 1993. Not all victims died. The majority were Latino.
The teen’s parents, Christine Pauline López and Anthony Golding, were present but did not speak.
“I’m out here for my son,” said Golding before supporters requested he not talk.
Hernández, who retired earlier this month, called for civilian review of the police department so that shootings and millions of dollars in lawsuits are halted.
“Local law enforcement agencies are unable to conduct a fair and transparent review of the incident,” Hernández wrote in her request to the federal court.
She said Dyer, the district attorney and the independent police reviewer found no wrongdoing in the incident.
Hernández said police have failed to implement policy changes “as promised” in the November 2016 settlement in the shooting death of Jaime Reyes Jr.
“That settlement mandates that Fresno police are only allowed to shoot a suspect if the suspect poses an ‘immediate threat,’ or a threat at this very moment,” she wrote.
“If the U.S. Attorney does not conduct an independent investigation surrounding the murder of Isiah Murrietta-Golding, the Fresno Police Department will continue violating the civil rights of Fresno residents, and their practice of unjustified injury and death will create a fiscal crisis for the city,” she said.
Fresno Stolen Lives indicated it will hold weekly events like demonstrations and rallies in support of Murrietta-Golding.
Monday’s rally was organized by the Fresno Brown Berets.