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September, 2006

Fresno Police Kill Unarmed Man, Community Groups Express Outrage

By Mike Rhodes
Editor, Community Alliance Newspaper, Fresno
Fresno photo Fresno photo
Left: The Rev. Floyd Harris is organizing a statewide march in Fresno to protest the lack of police accountability. Right: Rebeca Rangel (far right) read the statement at the press conference.

FRESNO, Calif. -- Joaquin Figueroa was shot and killed by police on August 3, 2006. He was unarmed. At a press conference held on August 11 in front of the old Fresno City Hall, community activists condemned the shooting. A press release, sent to the media by event organizers, said that Joaquin Figueroa was "another stolen life taken by the Fresno Police Department." The statement also said "the only thing that changed in this officer-involved shooting was that the suspect was shot only two times, unlike the 20+ times in the previous incidents."

Rev. Floyd Harris, State President of the National Action Network and a speaker at the press conference, said that the police are sending a message to this community that they are going to be "the judge, jury, and executioner. You are not going to make it to trial. You are not going to make it in front of your peers, because they have a license to kill in this city." Rev. Harris continued "until we get a police auditor in this community this is going to keep happening over and over again. Enough is enough! That could have been any one of us."
Fresno Photo
Gloria Hernandez holds the Stop Police Brutality/October 22 banner. See www.october22.org for more information.

The Fresno Police Department says that Figueroa did not have a gun when he was shot. The police also say Figueroa was the primary suspect in a shooting incident in which a Fresno Police officer was shot and wounded. Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said the shooting of Figueroa was justified because he ignored commands to show his hands and that he had a reputation for being armed and dangerous.

At a press conference the day after Figueroa was shot, Dyer listed a number of crimes he said Figueroa was believed to have committed. According to Dyer's statement, "Subsequent investigation determined that 25 year old Joaquin Figueroa was a validated gang member and convicted auto thief responsible for a series of violent crimes leading up to the shooting of Officer Brian Nieto."

Dyer said "Additionally, the Hanford Police Department named Joaquin as a person of interest in the disappearance and murder of Debbie Hawk." Several news reports have linked Figueroa, the shooting of officer Nieto, and the Debbie Hawk case. Dyer was quoted as saying "I am certain that there is a great deal of relief (in the community) that a very violent person has been removed from the street." (8/4/06 Fresno Bee)
Fresno Photo
Good question.

A press release sent by the press conference organizers said, "Jerry Dyer does not speak for the Community. We are not relieved to have to witness the use of deadly force on an unarmed man who was suspected of shooting Officer Nieto. The Community would have wanted the suspect to have the same access to the court system as Jerry Dyer's niece has had when she was involved in a Fowler murder case. We are not relieved that our questions have not been answered."

Gloria Hernandez, a community organizer and one of the speakers at the press conference, said, "We will never know if the cop's latest statistic was in fact guilty. We will never know if this 'person of interest' was involved in the Manchester shooting or the Hawk woman disappearing. Both cases closed! Because it's easier to blame it on the bad dead guy!"

Hernandez also announced that they were asking the Human Relations Commission to hold a Town Hall meeting to discuss this shooting. She then demanded that an outside agency investigate Figueroa's death.

Many of the speakers at the press conference belong to the Central California Criminal Justice Committee (CCCJC), which has been working for years to establish an Independent Police Auditor (IPA) in this community. The concept for an IPA has received support from the Mayor of Fresno and Chief Dyer, but has been rejected by the Fresno City Council. Without an IPA it is up to the Internal Affairs Department to look at police actions.

Groups at the press conference included the National Action Network, MEChA, Books not Bars, California Prison Moratorium, Peace Fresno, Fresno Copwatch, October 22, and the Hmong American Coalition for Justice and Human Rights. For more information, see: http://cccjc.org/home/

This article originated in the People's Tribune
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