Reality of Brutality
Theresa Smith has been feeling sick for the past few days.
She has a fever and chills. She joked with her family that she has typhoid fever.
Instead of resting in bed, she spent her Sunday afternoon in front of the Anaheim Police Department in 80-degree weather.
Arriving at 3 p.m. on March 28, she wore a pink tank top with a photo of herself and a smiling man imprinted on it.
“Everyone else wants to sit around to mourn and grieve,” she said. “But I can’t sit still.”
Smith watched as a group of about ten family members walked down the sidewalk holding signs. She said there were more people coming out before but they have dropped off over the weeks.
“Others have moved on but I am not going to,” she said. “Not until I find out why the police killed my son.”
On December 11, 2009, police shot and killed 35-year-old Fullerton resident Caesar Cruz in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Anaheim, Calif.
According to the Orange County Register, the shooting occurred after undercover officers, including gang investigators, received information that a parolee was in a green Chevrolet armed with a handgun. Officers followed the vehicle to the Wal-Mart parking lot, where they tried to box it in.
Sgt. Rick Martinez of the Anaheim police told the Register “as to whether he shot at us, I don’t know…we shot at him.”
A handgun was recovered from the Chevrolet, according to Martinez. It is unclear if the handgun was used during the incident.
The OC Register later reported that according to court records, Cruz was convicted in 2002 of a single count of drug possession with intent to sell, for which he was given 240 days in jail and three years probation, which ended five years ago.
His other only violation in Orange County was a dismissed infraction for having the radio too loud.
An investigation by the Orange County District Attorney is pending.
Smith and other family members held candlelight vigils in the parking lot where Cruz was shot.
Frustrated with the lack of cooperation from the authorities in months following the shooting, they have organized weekly protests in front of the Anaheim Police Department.
Cruz’s brother Joseph Cardenas said his family plans on protesting outside of the Anaheim Police Department until they receive answers about his brother’s death.
Cardenas said over the course of almost four months, his family has contacted the Anaheim Police Department and the Orange County District Attorney numerous times with no returned phone calls. He said his family have not been informed of the identity of the officer shooter or the timeline of events.
It took five hours for his family to be notified that Cruz was dead and took almost two weeks to identify him at the Orange County Coroner’s Office, he said.
An official autopsy has not been conducted. However, Cardenas said when they were able to see the body, it appeared Cruz had been shot 11 times in the back and they saw bruises on his chest.
He said his family believes the locations of the gun shot wounds show his brother was killed by “police execution.”
Cruz was married and a father of five. He worked as an independent contractor for warehouse jobs. In his free time he would volunteer at the local youth football league.
Cardenas has followed police shootings before it happened to his brother. He said he has seen many cases fall under the radar.
“We want justice for Caesar,” he said. “We don’t want them to forget what they did.”
In 2004, the OC Weekly found that out of 50 officers related shootings the last five years, none had been pursued by the Orange County District Attorney’s office.
“The police are like a gang,” he said. “They have become what they are trained to fight. They have become their own enemies.”
As a Marine for six years, Cardenas said he knows the importance of law and order.
“Law enforcement have to do their jobs,” he said. “But sometimes they overstep their boundaries.”
Cardenas said in most situations, he thinks an officer has the right to defend themselves if their life or others are clearly in danger. However, he said, they are trained to try to diffuse a situation.
He said he thinks his brother was trying to pull over to a safe place in the parking lot when he was shot. The family has hired a lawyer and a lawsuit is pending.
From the protests, he said he seeks acknowledgment about his brother’s death. He said he wants the officer responsible to be prosecuted if it is shown the shooting was unjustified.
“When the police do something that is violating the law, it’s wrong just like it is for the rest of us,” he said. “They should be prosecuted like anyone else.”
Cardenas said Cruz’s 3-year-old son gets upset everytime he hears a police siren.
“Children can be traumatized when they see police act like bullies,” he said. “How do you tell them police are supposed to be there to protect you when they just killed your dad?”
Read my updates on Theresa Smith at the links below
Unarmed and Afraid: Police Shootings in the OC (March 2011)
A Mother Fights for Justice (September 2011)
Anti-police brutality protests staged in Anaheim (March 2012)
Officer-involved shootings in the OC (April 2012)