Police in the California city of Anaheim are facing allegations of murder and brutality after fatally shooting two Latino men over the weekend and firing rubber bullets at crowds of protesters. On Saturday, Anaheim police shot and killed 24-year-old Manuel Diaz after he reportedly ran away from a group of officers who confronted him in the street. Diaz was unarmed. Hours after his death, a chaotic scene broke out when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at a crowd of local residents protesting the shooting. Another Latino resident, Joel Acevedo, was shot dead by police the following day. Police say Acevedo was suspected in a car robbery, but the circumstances around his death remain unconfirmed. We discuss the situation in Anaheim with Gustavo Arellano, editor of the alternative newspaper, OC Weekly, and Theresa Smith, who has worked with families to call for police accountability in Anaheim since 2009, when officers shot and killed her son, Cesar Cruz, a 35-year-old father of five. "Given the fact that this is the eighth officer-involved shooting within one year in the city of Anaheim ... the community is going to be very upset," Arellano says. "There's a lot of angry residents, and rightfully so."
Gustavo Arellano, editor of the OC Weekly, an alternative newspaper covering the police shootings in Anaheim, California. He also writes the nationally syndicated column "Think Like a Mexican."
Theresa Smith, has worked with families to call for police accountability in Anaheim since 2009, when officers shot and killed her son, Cesar Cruz, a 35-year-old father of five, in a Walmart parking lot.
Amy Goodman: Residents of Anaheim, California—home to Disneyland—are protesting after police shot and killed an unarmed man on Saturday. He was the seventh to die in an officer-involved shooting this year. A witness told the Associated Press an unmarked police car approached several men around 4:00 p.m. as they stood in an alley. Two officers say 25-year-old Manuel Angel Diaz was among those who ran when they ordered people to stop. A witness reported Diaz had his back to the officers when he was shot in the buttocks. Police then allegedly fired another bullet through his head as he fell to the ground. Diaz was unarmed. Two of Diaz's sisters demanded justice for their slain brother.
Correna Chavez: Once they even shot him in the leg, and he went down, the cop continued and shot him in the head. Like, what is that about? My brother did not have a weapon on him at all.
Lupe Diaz: These cops need to know what they've done to us, to our family, especially my mom. And we're going to speak for him, and we're going to bring this to justice.
Amy Goodman: After Saturday's shooting, officers stayed in the area and were confronted by about a hundred angry residents, who allegedly threw bottles and rocks. Witnesses say police responded by firing rubber bullets, bean bags, pepper-spraying the crowd. A number of people were wounded, included several children. Video of the scene shows a police dog chasing people, ultimately biting a man on his arm as he shields his infant son. Some victims described the attack to local station, KCAL-TV.
Victim: They started shooting, and I was with my son, and they—the dog just came.
Witness: This is the man that was on the floor, and the man took two shots.
Susan Lopez: They just released the dog, and I had my baby in my—in my—in my stroller. And the dog just scratched me with his teeth, and then they just grabbed me.
Amy Goodman: In a dramatic turn of events, on Sunday, Anaheim police shot dead another Latino resident. Officers said Joel Acevedo was suspected in a car robbery, but the circumstances around his death remain unconfirmed. Meanwhile, two Anaheim officers involved in Saturday's shooting have been placed on paid leave. Police Chief John Welter has apologized to victims bitten by the police dog. But he said the shooting of Manuel Diaz remains under investigation.
Police Chief John Welter: When an officer faces someone and says, "Police! Stop! Don't move!" and they keep running and throwing and reaching for things, I can't speculate what happened.
Amy Goodman: We asked the Anaheim Police Department to join us; they didn't respond to our repeated requests.
Today, family members of the shooting victims will speak at a city council meeting where the police chief will also be in attendance. The Latino rights group, Presente, has launched a national petition calling on the state attorney to conduct a full investigation into the incidents and others like it.
Well, for more, we go now to Orange, California, not far from where the shootings took place, to speak with two guests. Gustavo Arellano is editor of the OC Weekly, an alternative newspaper covering the police shootings in Anaheim. He also writes a nationally syndicated column called "Think Like a Mexican."
And Theresa Smith is with us. She has worked with families to call for police accountability in Anaheim since 2009, when officers shot and killed her son, Cesar Cruz, a 35-year-old father of five, in a Walmart parking lot. Police say a handgun was recovered from Cruz's car, but it's unclear if it was used during the incident. She's forming a nonprofit now called LEAN, Law Enforcement Accountability Network.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Gustavo, can you lay out what your understanding is of the events of this weekend?
Gustavo Arellano: What happened was, essentially—all we know right now is what the police officers are telling us and what the residents who were actually on the scene are telling us.
The police officers, in the case of Manuel Diaz, they admit that Diaz was unarmed. They say that he ran from them, and then, after that, though, they won't say why they decided to shoot him. However, residents at the scene—the OC Weekly, we obtained a video shot immediately after Diaz was gunned down by the police officers, and he's lying on the ground there for three minutes, and instead of caring—and he's still alive—instead of caring for his body, instead of caring for him to make sure he doesn't pass away, they seem to care more about pushing residents away from the scene, especially those residents who are taking video of the incident, and also blocking their cameras. At the very end of the three-minute clip, they finally turn him over. Even though the video is grainy, you could still see all the blood from Diaz's head.
In the case of Acevedo, again, they claim that Acevedo was part of three people who were in a stolen car. The car crashed into, I think, a pole, and then, you know, they took off. They allege that Acevedo shot at them, and so they had to shoot back at them. But again, we don't know what's going on, and given the fact that this is the eighth officer-involved shooting within one year in the city of Anaheim, and this happens after years of all these officer-involved shootings, a lot of times with people who are unarmed, the community is going to be very upset. So what's happening right now is there's a lot of angry residents, and rightfully so.
Amy Goodman: Gustavo, what about the word in the community that police officers were offering to buy cellphone video?
Gustavo Arellano: That's not surprising, nowadays. Before, what you used to have is police officers acting with impunity. They could do whatever they wanted, because, ultimately in court, witness—or, you know, juries were going to believe police officers over witnesses. Now, in this day and age of instant media, everyone's a journalist, which is a wonderful thing. So, the police officers, they know that they need to confiscate as much video as possible. Ultimately, they're probably going to be held culpable. You know, right north of Anaheim is the city of Fullerton. In a case that made national headlines last year, police officers killed a homeless man by the name of Kelly Thomas. The only reason why that case went national was because there was video on the scene by various witnesses that is allowing them to—for two of the police officers to be tried in a court of law. Of course police officers are going to be offering people money. That makes—you know, it suits their best interest. But the great thing is that there's a lot of testimony that's slowly trickling out that's going to counter whatever the narrative that the police department has for the rest of the country.
Amy Goodman: Gustavo, I want to play a part of a video taken by a local activist which shows children who witnessed Saturday's protest. This was the protest after the police killed Manuel Diaz. The kids describe what happened after police opened fire with rubber bullets, bean bags, pepper spray, starting with a young girl named Jocelyn.
Jocelyn: What I just saw, like the police grabbed a woman, and then they started shooting, like shooting. And then I ran, but I didn't know they shot me. But then I just felt something, like it was burning my feet, my leg. And then, like I saw—I saw something white, but then I saw a mark on my leg. And it hurt it a lot.
Interviewer: So, was there a lot of kids during that time?
Interviewer: And did you see, like, babies that were around, too?
Interviewer: So, why would the—
Boy 1: Like two babies.
Interviewer: Two babies?
Boy 1: Yeah.
Boy 2: Yeah, and I know who—I know who got hit.
Girl 1: And the police released a dog, and the dog started to chase people around.
Amy Goodman: The dog chased people around. Gustavo Arellano, the video of this is horrifying, with this dog biting at a father's arm on the ground as he's protecting his infant in his other arm.
Gustavo Arellano: That's not the worst of it. You see the video. You see police officers pointing guns at families, are going to shoot rubber bullets. And you see terrified—you see terrified parents shielding their children, lying on the ground, the police officers barking orders. And then, all of a sudden, you have this police dog that just runs off. The police department is saying it was an accident. Somehow the dog escaped, you know, their secure holding on the car and just went around and, you know, went on a rampage. That alone—that's the overreaction.
So, on top of not just what seems to be an unjustified shooting, then you have the heavy-handed tactics of the Anaheim Police Department. Instead of going there and trying to calm down the scene—of course people are going to get upset. But to pull out rubber bullets—you know, there might have been some people throwing bottles and rocks. OK, go after them. Go after them; don't go after the entire community. So that's just a black eye on the police department. That's something, I frankly think, that's going to be hard—far more hard to justify than any—you know, any of the shootings that they've done over the past couple of days.
Amy Goodman: So, to be clear, there were two Latino men killed this weekend. After Manuel Diaz, that's when this protest took place, and the police hit the protesters who were protesting the death of Manuel Diaz with the pepper spray. The dog was unleashed. I want to play a part of a report from the Orange County Register about the second shooting on Sunday. This is after the protest. This is a description of the incident by Police Chief John Welter.
Police Chief John Welter: We had some gang detectives who were working the area on just routine patrol when they saw a car that was driving slow in the neighborhood. They believed that they recognized someone in the car, attempted to make a stop, called patrol officers there. The vehicle left and failed to yield to the patrol cops, and they chased it through the neighborhood, where it finally jumped a curb, lost control—appears to have jumped a curb and ended up in a field. And as the officers got out of their vehicles, the suspects jumped out of the stolen vehicle and took off running. There were two males and a female. And they split up. One officer followed one of the males just about a half a block from here. And at that time, the male that he was chasing turned and fired a handgun at him, missed him, fortunately—missed the officer. Officer returned fire, and the suspect was shot at the scene. He does have a gun lying right beside him, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Amy Goodman: That's Police Chief John Welter. Gustavo Arellano?
Gustavo Arellano: Yeah, that's the same neighborhood where, earlier this year in March, Martin Angel Hernandez was also shot and killed by the Anaheim police. And the story seems to be the same in that case, as well. Police say that they saw some suspicious men—somebody that they recognize always, of course, that's how the story goes. And so, they gave chase to Martin Hernandez. According to them, Hernandez was carrying a shotgun. He tossed the shotgun over a wall and kept running. At that point, he had nowhere to go, then police shot him on the scene.
So, in March, Police Chief Welters, he went out and did a community meeting. At that point, the community was already outraged. They're saying, "Look, all you seem to care about us is when you think we're doing something suspicious. The rest of the time, when we're calling you for actual crimes being committed, instead of the supposed crime of looking suspicious, you really ignore us."
Now, with this case, this happened just three blocks away. Now, you know, the community—this all happened on Sunday night, so I really think whatever is going happen in terms of community response, it's going to happen tonight, actually, at the Anaheim City Council meeting. There's going to be a protest earlier. There's going to be some of the mothers whose children were killed by police officers. And again, it's one thing—things are going to happen with the police department sometimes. Again, if somebody tries to shoot at you, then the police officers, by law, have every right to shoot back at you. But when you have eight of these cases in the span of a year and many more in the past couple years, you have to ask yourself, "What on earth is going on in the city—in the Anaheim Police Department?"
Amy Goodman: In Disneyland, in the land of Disneyland. Theresa Smith—
Gustavo Arellano: Oh, yeah.
Amy Goodman: Theresa Smith—
Gustavo Arellano: Yeah, I mean, I was born—
Amy Goodman: Go ahead.
Gustavo Arellano: Yeah, exactly, it's a place of myth. I was born and raised in Anaheim, so I always find it fascinating how the rest of the country, all they care about is Disneyland, the Anaheim Ducks, the hockey team, the Angels team. And that's what Anaheim, the city council, that's what they want. They want the rest of the country to know the facade of what is Anaheim. They don't want the rest of the country to know the millions of dollars of subsidies that they throw to hotel developers and anybody who has money, while they let the rest of the city crumble. You know, again, born and raised in Anaheim, I've seen the city infrastructure crumble. I've seen office—or, you know, the city council members and city staff not give a damn about our city. In fact, there's a lawsuit right now by the ACLU that's suing the city of Anaheim to try to get at ward elections, because Anaheim is now over majority Latino, and yet there's no Latinos on the city council. You know, it's easy to blame the police department; it's not so easy to blame the city leadership. I blame the city leadership for all of this.
Amy Goodman: Theresa Smith is sitting next to you, Gustavo Arellano, right there in Orange, California. Theresa, you've worked with families to call for police accountability in Anaheim since 2009, when officers shot and killed your son, Cesar Cruz, 35-year-old father of five, in a Walmart parking lot. Can you tell us what happened and what you have done since in this three years?
Theresa Smith: Are you referring to the incident with my son?
Amy Goodman: Yes.
Theresa Smith: All we know is that they received a phone call that there was a parolee with a gun. About seven police followed him into Walmart. He pulled into Walmart because he knew there was cameras. He had been harassed on several occasions by police because of his appearance. Anyway, he pulled into Walmart—
Amy Goodman: His appearance being bald and tattooed?
Theresa Smith: Bald and tattoos.
Gustavo Arellano: And Latino.
Theresa Smith: And Latino. And I did have a witness that did talk to me after this, said that he saw them following him. My son stopped. They jumped out of their cars. Five officers shot at him, so he was shot at like about 15 times. I know two bullets through the head and one through the heart, for sure, because I saw his body. And I just chose not to turn his body around to see what else they had done. But he was shot about 15 times.
Since then, I've been protesting. I did it for a long time with just family members, friends, and then that dwindled away. Then it was just me and my son, me and my daughters. And then other people saw me out there, so other families would stop and ask me what I was doing, and I would tell them. And it just gets—word of mouth just got out that I was out there, so then other families started joining me, that this had—you know, same thing had happened to them, where their loved one had been shot by the police. They were afraid to protest because of retaliation. But every time somebody gets shot—I have a huge family. I'm from—I live here in Orange County. I have a huge family. I know lots of people. So, every time somebody gets shot, they usually call me, because they know that I'm out there, and I've been trying to do something to get accountability. I'm working on starting a nonprofit called Law Enforcement Accountability Network, and that would consist of having a community—well, community members to be a mediator between the communities and law enforcement—
Amy Goodman: Theresa—
Theresa Smith: —because right now there's—
Amy Goodman: Let me just interrupt and ask, was there an investigation done into the killing of your son in the Walmart parking lot by police?
Theresa Smith: Yes, there was.
Amy Goodman: Who did the investigation? What did they find?
Theresa Smith: It was investigated by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. Evidently, he said that it was justifiable, you know, that they were justified in killing my son. Unfortunately, I didn't find out about this until probably a year and a half after my son passed away. And I found that out through a journalist.
Amy Goodman: The investigation wasn't made public?
Theresa Smith: They never—no, well, they didn't tell me anything. They didn't tell me—they didn't tell me or my attorney. And then we were told that they didn't have to tell us. I mean, they're just—it's very callous. Like, when they shot my son, you know, and I get a phone call that he's been shot, I go to the hospital, they make me wait. Well, I went to the scene first, and they said, "He's at the hospital. Go. He's at the hospital." So I'm thinking he's still alive, so I rush to the hospital. They make me wait for three hours before they tell me that he's dead. And then they tell me that he's not even in the hospital, that he's at the morgue. They wanted to question me. I don't know about what, you know. I refused to answer any of their questions.
Amy Goodman: Theresa—
Theresa Smith: But this is their—
Amy Goodman: Your son had five sons—
Theresa Smith: Yes, he did.
Amy Goodman: —was married and had five kids. Your reaction this weekend when you heard about the police killings of two other Latino men? What was your first reaction?
Theresa Smith: Well, you know, my first thought—my first thought is for the mothers. It's—it's very painful. This is—it's a painful, painful thing to hear that your child has been killed. And for the families, I offer my help, you know, if I can help them in any way. I know the grief. And not everybody knows how to bury somebody, so I've offered my services that way, because I've been doing that for a long time. I just—I offer whatever I can to them because I've been there and done that.
Amy Goodman: The second man who was killed on Sunday night, you knew him?
Theresa Smith: Yes. I know his mother.
Amy Goodman: And who is she?
Theresa Smith: She's a very good—who is she?
Amy Goodman: Who was he?
Theresa Smith: Or her son?
Amy Goodman: Yes.
Theresa Smith: That's her youngest son. I haven't seen her in a while. She called me yesterday for some help. Like I said, I haven't seen her. She was best friends with my sister when they were growing up. My son went to school with her. My son has kept in contact with her over the years. And like I said, people know that I'm working at trying to make a change, so this is why I usually get so many phone calls and people call me and ask me what they should do.
Amy Goodman: Joel Acevedo, the young man who was killed, Gustavo, final comment on investigations, the city council meeting that will be taking place tonight, the marches to Disneyland?
Gustavo Arellano: It's about time. Again, this city has been festering for years because of a city leadership that doesn't really care about the residents of the city. And here in, you know, placid Orange County, the rest of the country thinks we're all a bunch of conservative yahoos, but there is a good, small progressive movement that has been fighting the good fight here for years. But now, with this, I really start thinking this is when you're going to see the community at large, the community that's usually afraid to speak out, really join up and demand justice—not just in for what happened with the killings of Joel Acevedo and Manuel Diaz, but also just some of the infrastructure, you know, some economic justice that needs to come to the city of Anaheim. You get all these—all this money from Disneyland and other corporations, yet it never trickles down to the residents down in the city. It's time for a change, from the top all the way through.
Amy Goodman: I want to thank you both for being with us. We will certainly continue to follow this story. Gustavo Arellano, editor of the OC Weekly, Orange County Weekly, an alternative newspaper covering the police shootings in Anaheim, California, writes the nationally syndicated column, as well, called "Think Like a Mexican." And Theresa Smith, thanks so much for being with us. Her son was killed by police in 2009 in Anaheim, her son Cesar Cruz, 35-year-old father of five, killed in a Walmart parking lot. Police say a handgun was recovered from Cruz's car, but it's unclear if it was used during the incident. She is now forming a nonprofit called LEAN, Law Enforcement Accountability Network.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, an update on the Kenneth Chamberlain case here in New York. A police officer who was part of the unit that was involved in the killing of this older African-American gentleman in White Plains, New York, has now just been suspended without pay. Stay with us.