BY RAUL HERNANDEZ
What a defendant describes as the “criminalization of dissent” through retaliation by the Oxnard Police Department, prosecutors argued in court that this is simply a case of a community activist getting five jaywalking tickets during a protest march because he was recorded on video violating the law.
The trial of Francisco Romero got underway in Ventura County Superior Court on Monday. Romero was the only protestor to be cited for jaywalking where police testified that there were between 150 to 200 marchers.
Romero claims he was singled out because he was one of the leaders who organized a march on Oct. 13, 2013 to protest the deaths of young men by police in Oxnard: Alfonso Limon Jr and Jose Zepeda in Oct. 13, 2012. Before Limon was killed, Robert Ramirez Jr. died June 2012 under police custody, followed by the slaying of Michael Mahoney in August 2012.
During opening statements in the trial, Romero’s lawyer Jaime Segall Gutierrez, of Whittier, California, told Commissioner Anthony Sabo, who is hearing the case, that Oxnard police are trying to “silence protests” against police slayings in Oxnard.
“Law enforcements attempts in silencing the people’s voices has been in place since the founding of this country,” Gutierrez said.
He said the protest was held after family members of Alfonso Limon contacted Romero’s group to organize a protest.
Prosecutor Jennifer Sihn declined to make opening statements, telling the judge that the prosecution’s evidence will be sufficient. Evidence that includes five video clips that prosecutors allege show Romero leading and directing the crowd during the protest.
Gutierrez subpoenaed Oxnard police officers. Two of them — Jaime Brown and Alex Arnet — also testified Monday.
The case has been in the courts for two years because of stop and start hearings in this case; unrelated and conflicting legal issues involving Commissioner Sabo’s court and other delays.
Officers Miranda and Aragon, who were surveilling the protestors, denied that Romero was singled out because he is a leader.
During the protest march, there were more than 90 Oxnard police officers, including undercover officers, police strike teams and SWAT units, who were assigned to maintain public safety. Police also brought an armored vehicle to the protest in case it was needed, police documents indicate.
Uniformed police including Miranda and Aragon weren’t visible during the two-mile trek, which began at Camino del Sol Park and ended in front of police headquarters, court evidence indicated.
The video recordings show a vocal protest march being lead by Indian dancers. It included children and older participants along with women pushing strollers. People held up small and large signs. Some state: “Killer Cops Off Our Streets,” “No Justice. No Peace,” and “Oppression. Prejudice. Destruction.”
The protest was peaceful. There were no arrests or traffic citations issued other than the five jaywalking tickets given to Romero.
A briefing was held by the Oxnard Police Department before the Oct. 13, 2013 March where a “March for Justice Incident Action Plan” was given to officers.
On Oct. 22, following the protest, the Oxnard Police Department’s Special Enforcement Unit held a meeting and surveillance video was reviewed for violations. A memorandum was written about the protest march.
Romero was the only person who officers said they could identify among the protestors. Subsequently, a letter dated Oct. 29, 2013 was sent to his house that stated that he was being issued five jaywalking violations.
Romero claims the tickets, which total $1,000 in fines, were given in retaliation for protesting against the Oxnard Police Department. He said the city of Oxnard has spent thousands of dollars in an “attempt to criminalize dissent. An attempt to silence the people who have lost fear in resisting, struggling and standing up” for their constitutional rights.
Romero, who is one of the leaders with the organiztion Todo Poder al Pueblo, once ran for the Oxnard City Council and got 7,000 votes.
Police have testified that the video recording proves that Romero was involved in leading the crowd to commit jaywalking that stopped traffic, including temporary blocking Oxnard boulevard while protestors crossed the busy street when the traffic light was green.
Miranda testified that he and Aragon were in a vehicle surveilling the protestors, saying that he identified Romero and two family members of Robert Ramirez.
Miranda said he included these names in his police report but doesn’t know why the two other protestors weren’t given jaywalking citations.
He said he gave the police report to his superior Arnet. Miranda said he doesn’t know why Arnet only chose to give jaywalking tickets to Romero.
“Did you ask,” Gutierrez said.
“No,” Miranda replied.
Miranda said his review of the video doesn’t change his opinion that Romero was jaywalking
Aragon said he was in the vehicle with Miranda but at one pointed got out of the vehicle and stood on the Third Street bridge to video record. He said he didn’t know who Romero was until Miranda told him.
“He just appeared to be one of the leaders,” Aragon testified.
He denied that they were targeting Romero or that they had been told by superiors to do so.
Aragon said police officers were trying to provide security for the march and keep people safe.
Officer Brown Takes the Stand
Officer Jaime Brown said he mailed the Oct. 29 letter to Romero after a “careful review” of the videos showed Romero “helping people across the street,” waving his hands and “standing guard” during the protest march.
“Did it look like my client was helping keep safe the marchers?” Gutierrez said, noting one video.
“Yes,” Brown replied.
He said he had been a police officer in Oxnard for 18 years when the oct. 13, 2013 protest took place. He said there were about 200 marchers.
“I didn’t know who Romero was. I couldn’t ID anybody,” said Brown.
Brown said his letter stated that Romero was jaywalking in a protest along with “organizing, leading and directing.”
Brown said there were safety concerns for the participants and motorists who were on the roads where the protests were occurring. He said if a motorist wasn’t paying attention, a protestor could have been killed.
Officer Alex Arnett testified that he was the supervisor of the Mobile Surveillance Unit . He said seven police officers were assigned to that unit to work on the protest march. He said he reviewed Miranda’s police report with three names on it including Romero’s name.
“Did you notice the names on the report?” Gutierrez said.
“I don’t recall that,” he replied.
Arnett said he drafted the letter that Brown reviewed and signed.
Arnett said other people in the report weren’t given traffic tickets because of the “totality of the situations” and that Romero organized, directed and lead the protestors.
The Limon and Ramirez Deaths
The city of Oxnard has had to pay millions to settle one wrongful death lawsuit, and most recently, a federal jury ruled against Oxnard in another wrongful death suit.
In June, a federal jury awarded the family of Robert Ramirez $2.9 million as damages as a result of a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the Oxnard Police Department.
Ramirez died while under police custody and after ingesting methamphetamine. The county medical examiner determined that the cause of death was homicide by asphyxiation.
The shooting of Alfonso Limon resulted in the city of Oxnard having to pay $6.7 million to settle the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Limon’s family which is the largest wrongful death settlement for the city of Oxnard.
Witnesses saw police shooting Alfonso Limon several times and frantically yelled at police to stop because he was unarmed. A witness recorded the incident through a cell phone camera.
The trial resumes at 1:30 on Tuesday.