Mother's Day Vigil Planned in Anaheim for People Killed in Officer-Involved Shootings
Theresa and Caesar in an embrace
When Theresa Smith lost her son, Caesar Cruz to a fatal December 11, 2009 officer-involved shooting in Anaheim, she hoped her family would be the last to have to endure the pain of such a devastating loss.
"As soon as he was killed," Smith, a resident of Fullerton, says, "I wanted awareness."
Her 35-year old son was shot and killed in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart off the 5 freeway by four Anaheim police officers.
Available details about the incident remain few and far between to this day. Cruz, a married father of five, was not a parolee though the Anaheim Police Department said it responded to a report that one was armed and cruising around.
According to authorities, undercover officers tailed the vehicle and a marked patrol car joined in later as an attempt to box it in failed. At one point, the Chevy Suburban stopped and then attempted to speed away when shots were fired by officers who had, by then, gotten out of their cars. Investigators claim they found a handgun at the scene.
Smith's demand for answers into her son's death evolved into weekly protests for nearly the past two-and-a-half years outside the busy intersection along Harbor Boulevard where the Anaheim Police Department is located. "I'm personally not afraid of retribution," she says, though others' fear of such kept them from joining the demonstration at the early onset. Smith has also filed a civil lawsuit against the police.
Unfortunately, fatal officer-involved shootings in Anaheim did not stop with that fateful December day in 2009. As other families have been affected, they began to join in, most recently members of 21-year old Martin Angel Hernandez who was shot and killed in an Anaheim alley earlier this year.
"My initial thing was, of course, for my son," Smith adds. "It's time consuming, but I'm really excited about the families who are starting to come around and stand up."
Not only are they standing up, but this Saturday at 6:30 p.m., they will be on the march from the Wakefield Avenue neighborhood where Hernandez died to the entrance in front of Disneyland where a candlelight vigil will be held. Family members and friends of Cruz, Hernandez and Justin Hertl, who was shot to death by a police detective in Anaheim in 2003, will be participating on behalf of all those who have been affected over the past ten years by officer-involved shootings in the city.
It's not solely about remembrance. Personal experiences are spurring calls for policy changes. When the District Attorney's office sent a letter to Anaheim Police Chief John Welter in July 2010, it concluded that the shooting was justified in Cruz's case based on its investigation. "I only found out a few months ago," Smith says. And it wasn't the authorities who reached out to the family or their attorney: It was only when Amber Stephens resurrected the incident from media silence with a September 2011 article for Fullerton Stories that the journalist informed her.
Smith, who has set up the non-profit Law Enforcement Accountability Network (LEAN), believes that there needs to be an outside, unbiased investigative agency into officer-involved shootings to ensure greater transparency and accountability.
In the meantime, while searching for justice, there is also the grief where the absence of loved ones remains a constant presence. "This is going to be a very tough Mother's Day for all of us," Smith says of both the mothers who are marching or are grieving in their own personal way. "What I miss the most about my son is that he never let a Mother's Day go by without getting me a card and a flower, always since he was little."
"They say it's painful when you have a child," she adds, with her voice tinged by surging emotions, "try burying one."
There are many stories like Kelly Thomas‘s, read about Cesar Cruz’s story, different but the same…..murder by the Police
-no longer do they serve & protect…..[if they ever did]
Listen to Theresa Smith, Cesar’s mother, on podcast here
She is a thorn in the side of the Anaheim Police Department. At least, that’s what she has been told.
Theresa Smith is the mother of Caesar Cruz, a 35-year-old Fullerton resident who was shot by Anaheim police officers in a Wal-Mart parking lot in 2009. Cruz was married for 12 years and had five sons.
Frustrated with the lack of information from authorities regarding his death, Smith has organized and led weekly protests outside the Anaheim Police Department.
Despite protesting each week at the heavily trafficked intersection, most Orange County residents may not know who she is. She’s been there with family and supporters for over a year and a half yet Cruz’s death has long fallen off the public’s radar.
Orange County Register, ABC7 News and OC Weekly reported the story of her son’s death and a family vigil. In March 2010, her protests also received coverage from those media outlets. However, Smith said, she hasn’t been contacted by the media since.
Smith had tried for many months to follow up with the Orange County District Attorney and the Anaheim Police Department regarding her son’s death. She said was unable to receive any information from either agency.
The OCDA investigates all officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. According to its website, investigations seek to determine criminal culpability and do not address policy, training, tactics or civil liability.
During an interview last month on PBS SoCal Special on the Kelly Thomas investigation in Fullerton, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas confirmed that during his tenure, his office has never prosecuted a police officer for a shooting death. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2mKnA8Od5w)
According to Anaheim Police spokesperson Sgt. Rick Martinez, the Anaheim Police Department conducted a thorough internal/administrative review of the shooting. The details and outcome cannot be released as it is handled a personnel issue, which is protected from public information requests.
Cruz’s family filed a civil lawsuit against the Anaheim Police Department. In February, there was a protective order regarding information deemed confidential for all parties involved in the civil litigation. As a result, there are few details that are available to the public or the media.
According to Smith, she did not receive any information regarding the investigations until the civil case started depositions this month.
Susan Kang Schroeder, the DA Chief of Staff, said there is no legal requirement for the office to release their findings to the families/next-of-kin of the deceased in officer-involved shootings or in-custody deaths.
Families can ask the DA for the information after the investigation is completed, Schroeder says. Whether or not it is released to them “is done on a case by case basis,” she adds.
The DA fully cooperates with legal and civil subpoenas requesting information about the investigation.
Schroeder cited a new office policy as a way the public and families can get information about their investigations into these types of cases.
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