A Gracious Life Cut Short

It’s a quiet, affluent suburb in Orange County with residents who have been there for decades.

Known as a safe city, it is seen as an ideal place for families to raise their children.

The city’s motto is “The Land of Gracious Living.”

On June 30, 25-year-old Julian Collender was shot to death by a Brea police officer in front of his parents’ home in Yorba Linda, Calif.

There are no reports that he was armed. According to medical records obtained by the family, he was shot with an assault rifle.

He had no previous record.

Julian had just finished community college. He was in the process of transferring to California State University Fullerton. He had aspirations to be a filmmaker.

According to the Brea Police Department, he was a suspect in an armed robbery earlier that night in a shopping center parking lot in Yorba Linda.

Three people reported Julian was the gunman with a female accomplice three hours after the alleged robbery took place. Less than an hour after the report, about a half dozen police cars showed up at the Collender residence.

Julian was exiting his home when he was shot, according to the Brea Police Department. The family contends he was just getting home.

The Brea Police are contracted with the City of Yorba Linda. Yorba Linda does not have its own police department.

Officer Smyser, spokesman for the Brea Police, told the Orange County Register he did not know if Collender was armed at the time of the shooting. The officer was put on a three day administrative leave and returned back to duty.

The District Attorney’s Office is investigating the officer-involved shooting.

It was first reported the Brea Police Department is in the process of conducting an internal investigation. Smyser later told the OC Register the department will conduct an internal investigation once the results of the DA’s investigation are complete.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County District Attorney’s spokeswoman said the investigation could take weeks or months to finish.

35-year-old Caesar Cruz was shot by Anaheim Police in December 2009. Cruz’s family have not received any information from the Orange County District Attorney Office after almost one year of a pending investigation. The identity of the officer who shot Cruz has not been released to the public or the family.

From left to right: Julian Collender's father Richard, Julian, sister Michele and their mother Yen

Michele Collender, Julian’s sister, said the Brea Police Department and the Orange County District Attorney are taking their time so they can patch holes in their story.

“It’s all frustrating and disheartening,” she said. “My family feels exhausted. It takes all of our energy and strength to push forward. But we are going to keep fighting for him.”

She said the way police are releasing information is misleading to the public. She said they are attempting to criminalize and demonize Julian.

She hopes those that are responsible are held accountable.

“I want the officer that killed my brother to be convicted for murder,” she said. “The least I can hope for is that charges will be brought against the officer.”

Michele said Julian was a kind and caring brother who always took care of other peoples’ needs before his own. He was well known in the local skateboarding scene since he was a teenager. He was always involved in some kind of creative endeavor. She said he was very close to his Jewish faith.

Bonnie Berry, a close friend of Julian, said he was an enigmatic individual who was always comfortable in his own skin.

The last time she saw him was a week before he died, she said.

He told her he had been harassed by police on several occasions in a matter of only a few weeks. She said he got pulled over by the police twice in one day.

“He seemed very scared that the police kept pulling him over,” Berry said. “He was a skinny guy who wore glasses. He wasn’t intimidating looking at all.”

Bonnie Berry with Julian

The family created a website, Justice for Julian, to tell their side of the story as well as appeal for a fair investigation into Julian’s death.

A protest was organized by the family with friends and community members in front of the Brea Police Department on July 7.

On September 21, another protest was organized a few blocks away from the Yorba Linda City Hall. Protesters walked to a session of the Yorba Linda Council Meeting shortly after.

A group of about 60 protesters filled the room, most holding signs up while standing in the back that read “Killer Cop on Duty”

Brea Police Chief Billy Hutchinson and a Brea police officer sat in the front. After the usual business of the meeting, the protesters had their chance to speak during the public comment.

Mayor John Anderson announced he would recuse himself from the public comment session due to a conflict of interest.

According to the City of Yorba Linda website, Anderson has spent 23 years as a prosecutor in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. He is currently an Assistant District Attorney supervising a specialized gang suppression unit.

He said he has nothing to do with the investigation and did not want the Council to be accused of impropriety.

Julian’s sister Michele Collender criticized the Council for not taking action in pressuring the police to investigate her brother’s death.

She said since she hasn’t received any answers from the Brea Police Department, she is forced to believe her brother was murdered by the Brea Police officer and the police department is engaging in a cover-up.

About a dozen other people spoke to the Council about their concern over the tragic incident.

The speakers consisted mostly of longtime residents and friends of the Collender family urging the Council to pressure the authorities for answers.

The meeting became explosive after Julian’s father, Richard Collender, spoke to the Council.He expressed his grievances about his son being shot to death in front of his family’s home.

The treatment him and his wife Yen Collender received from the Brea Police Department after the shooting was heartless, he told the Council.

Richard said they were arrested by the police and kept in locked cars while their son was dying at the hospital. He said after three hours of being locked in a car with his wife, he was told his son had died and had to take a taxi to see his body at the hospital.

They could only see their youngest son’s body for twenty seconds and a police officer threatened him if he stayed any longer, he said.

The City did not record his comments because the meeting had gone into adjournment.

After an extended break, the Yorba Linda City Council made their first public statement about the case. Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Rikel told the attendees of the meeting that the Council will take action once the District Attorney’s investigation is complete.

After the Council’s statement, the crowd started to express disapproval. Collender’s brother James confronted the Brea Police Chief and an accompanying officer.

“You killed my brother with an assault rifle!” he shouted.

The confrontation almost led to a scuffle between Richard and the Brea Police Chief. Richard told Chief Hutchinson there is no law that says the identity of the officer shooter cannot be released.

He called Hutchinson a coward for his silence as the Chief walked out of the meeting. His accompanying officer led James outside where James voiced his concerns to the officer. The meeting ended with the crowd shouting “Cowards!” as the Council got up and left.

The Council remained silent for most of the meeting. A few Councilmembers expressed condolences. Councilwoman Jan Horton suggested a letter be sent to the OCDA to expedite the investigation.

The Orange County District Attorney has never pressed charges in an officer-involved shooting.

Although Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Rikel said the Brea Police Department had a prepared statement, no one from the Department spoke at the Council meeting.

The case was not put on the agenda at the next session.

Amber Stephens
amber.stephens@gmail.com


Update
: In December 2010, the Orange County District Attorney released a statement announcing their new policy of transparency with their investigations of officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. The new policy cited a request from Anaheim Police Chief John Welter.

Now, detailed findings of investigations are to be made public unless criminal charges are warranted, whereas the findings will not be released until after trial and/or sentencing.

One year after Collender’s death, the OCDA released it’s findings, including the identity of the officer Detective Shawn Neel, along with a statement concluding there was insufficent evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Det. Neel committed a crime when Neel fatally shot Collender.

The Collenders are proceeding with their civil case.

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