Officer-involved shooting draws hundreds in Vallejo protest
Supporters of the family of slain Vallejoan Mario Romero march outside the Vallejo Police Department Tuesday afternoon following a rally on the department steps. Romero was killed early Sunday morning in a police-involved shooting, the fifth officer-involved fatal shooting this year in Vallejo. (Mike Jory/Times-Herald)
Under a sea of protest signs hoisted in front of the Vallejo Police Department on Tuesday afternoon, numerous speakers angrily denied that a pellet-gun wielding 23-year-old man killed by Vallejo police provoked his own death.
More than 150 people gathered for more than two hours to decry Vallejo's latest fatal officer-involved shooting. In this one, 23-year-old Mario Romero, known as "Papaya" by friends, died before dawn Sunday and his brother-in-law, Joseph Johnson, 21, was shot through his hip and hospitalized.
During the rally, the police department released information to the press linking Romero to a neighborhood gang, but no one from the department addressed the crowd outside. A family member denied any gang affiliation.
Those gathered -- many family, friends and neighbors of Romero -- raised questions about what was the city's fifth fatal, as well as seventh officer-involved shooting this year. In the seven shootings,
Rev. Floyd D. Harris, the president of the National Network in Action, a civil and human rights organization, leads a chant of 'No Justice, No Peace' at a protest rally on the steps of the Vallejo Police Department in support of the family of Mario Romero, killed in an officer-involved incident Sunday morning. Behind Harris is Cynthia Mitchell, mother of Romero, while Romero's godmother, Shantell Stokes stands in front. (Mike Jory/Times-Herald)
10 unidentified officers have been involved, Vallejo police spokesman Sgt. Jeff Bassett said late Tuesday. The two officers in this shooting, who both have at least a decade experience, are on administrative leave.
Romero and Johnson were shot by the officers around 4:33 a.m. Sunday, while sitting in a Thunderbird parked in front of their home, in the 100 block of Pepper Drive, near Lofas Place. A vehicle matching the same description was reportedly involved in a shooting in recent weeks, Bassett said.
Police say the duo was approached because of recent gang-related activity in the neighborhood. They said officers fired repeatedly at Romero because they believed he had reached for a gun in his waistband. Police released a photo Tuesday of a pellet handgun they said Romero had on him.
The protesters said the shooting was not justified.
Rally organizer, Fresno-based Rev. Floyd D. Harris Jr, said he organized Tuesday's protest to spotlight the Romero shooting, and potentially help Vallejo form its own branch of the activist police oversight organization, Copwatch.
Vallejo police released this photo of what they say was the pellet gun found after Mario Romero, 23, was shot Sunday morning. (Vallejo police photo)
"This type of policing is not acceptable in America -- nowhere across the United States," said Harris, president of the civil rights group National Network In Action.
Later, Romero's mother, two sisters and several others spoke to the crowd before they drove to City Hall with plans to confront Mayor Osby Davis.
"I saw everything," said Romero's sister, Cynquita Martin, whose house Romero shared with her.
"My brother never got out of the car. My brother was slumped over in that boy's lap," Martin said. "He caught bullets for that child (Johnson). He saved somebody's life while they was killing him."
"And," she scoffed, "they try to make him out to be some Ecstasy dope dealer. We got better drugs to sell."
Martin was referring to police charges that more than 50 pills of Ecstacy and packaging materials were found in the car.
Police said that Romero briefly responded to officers' shouts to show his hands after they shot off their first rounds, but that he then allegedly went back into the car "reaching toward the center console," that prompted a second volley of shots.
Martin and her sister, who identified herself only as Kris, said they believed Romero did not have a pellet gun -- or any other gun -- as police allege.
"There were no precipitating factors that justified him being killed, and my brother-in-law being shot," Kris said. "This is not a case of excessive force -- no force was required. There was no altercation. There was no confrontation."
Kris said she was not part of a "cop-hating family," and that her brother's shooting was not a "black and white thing" but "a human thing."
Many people at the rally asked where Vallejo's leadership was during the fallout of this shooting, and why Vallejo police chief Joseph Kreins did not appear to address the crowd.
Kreins explained later.
"I understand that the group in front of the PD today was demanding to speak to the chief," Kreins told the Times-Herald after the rally. "That of course was not the time or place to have a civil discussion regarding this matter."
However, Kreins said he will address questions today at an 11 a.m. press conference at police department headquarters.
Kreins added that any incident involving a fatality is an unfortunate one, and that the community must address the problem of the large number of people with guns.
"To put it in perspective, we've had hundreds of shooting calls per year," Kreins said. "Seven of them involved our officers, unfortunately, and five of them fatal.
"No officers want to be put in that situation," Kreins said. "But if anyone points a gun at them and are threatening their lives that's what we are going to do."
["threatening their lives" -NOT what happened]
Kreins added that Sunday's incident was one of 18 shooting calls the department received last weekend, Friday to Sunday.
About 40 people from the rally later made their way to the steps of Vallejo City Hall, though family members who attempted to speak with Mayor Osby Davis were reportedly unsuccessful.