The two-day trial of a community activist who claims that Oxnard police targeted him to stifle criticism about police abuse and brutality ended Tuesday with closing arguments by the prosecution and the defense.
Francisco Romero got five traffic citations for jaywalking during a protest march on Oct. 13, 2013. The protests were for young men who were killed by police: 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.
The October 2013 protest was peaceful, there were no arrests or injuries, and nobody else got any traffic tickets with the exception of Romero, court testimony indicated.
Police and others testified that the marchers numbered from 150 to 200. They said Romero was the only one who got the traffic tickets because they couldn’t identify other marchers.
Prosecutors argued in court that Romero violated traffic laws, and these violations were recorded on video.
Commissioner Anthony Sabo who heard the case, told the lawyers that he will making a ruling later after looking at all the evidence.
During closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Sihn told Sabo that Romero was caught walking against a red traffic light, walking between vehicles and standing in the middle of the street as cars stopped or drove by.
Sihn went through the five police video clips pointing out the alleged traffic violations.
Romero’s lawyer Jaime Segall Gutierrez, of Whittier, California, told Commissioner Sabo that police targeted Romero because he represents an “articulate and charismatic voice” for many people in the community who are “sick and tired” of police abuse, killings and misconduct that goes on in Oxnard.
Gutierrez said Oxnard is trying to “chill” First Amendment and other constitutional rights.
Gutierrez said it is “unbelievable” that Oxnard police couldn’t identify anybody else from hundreds of people who participated in the protest march. In a police video, Officer Jaime Miranda, who was doing surveillance on the marchers, is heard saying, “There is Romero. There is Romero,” Gutierrez said.
Miranda testified Monday that he also wrote in his police report the names of two other protest marchers — Elliot Gabriel and Guillermo Ramirez, a family member of Roberto Ramirez. Miranda said he didn’t know whether his supervisors were aware of the two other names in his report or why they didn’t ticket others who were violating traffic laws.
The jaywalking case has been in the courts for two years because of stop and start pre-trial hearings in this case; unrelated and conflicting judicial matters involving Commissioner Sabo’s court and other delays.
Testimony indicated that 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 given the traffic tickets
Subsequently, a letter dated Oct. 29, 2013 was sent to his house that stated that he was being issued five jaywalking violations, noting that he was leading and organizing the march.
Romero, who testified at his trial, claims the five tickets total $1,000 in fines.
Police testified that the video recordings prove that Romero was involved in leading the crowd to commit jaywalking that stopped traffic, including temporary blocking Oxnard boulevard intersection while protestors crossed the busy street when the traffic light was green.
They denied singling out Romero, testifying that they were concerned about the safety of the protestors and motorists.
Tuesday, an Oxnard assistant police chief along with the sister of a man gunned down by police, and Romero took the stand.
Oxnard Assistant Police Chief Eric Sonstegard, who was the commander of the Special Operations Division in October 2013, testified about the “Incident Action Plan” and the police briefing held to plan for the Oct. 13, 2013 March.
Sonstegard said he couldn’t recall whether Romero’s name came up during the briefing.
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, according to police documents. Police also brought an armored vehicle to the protest in case it was needed, police documents indicate.
Sonstegard said there were actually 25 to 30 officers assigned to work the protest march and the rest were on standby or working regular patrols. They would be used if needed. He said he didn’t tell officers to target Romero. Sonstegard said he never saw the videos, and the decision to cite Romero was made by other commanders.
Sonstegard said he never gave the command to order protest marchers to disperse because as soon as this is done, there is usually confrontation, and he was concerned about women and children who were participating in the protest march.
He said it is “inherently dangerous” to stand in the middle of Oxnard Street like Romero. Sonstegard said he didn’t believe Romero was facilitating the march and trying to keep the protestors safe while they navigating through the streets.
Claudia Limon’s Testimony
The sister of Alfonso Limon,testified that they contacted Romero to organize an anniversary protest march for her deceased brother. Claudia Limon said Romero made it clear that the Limon family was in charge and would decide what streets they wanted to use.
Claudia Limon said Romero tried to keep the marchers safe, away from traffic and keep cars at bay.
She said Romero was being targeted by police because her family members were there along with members of Ramirez’s family. She said police could identify the family members.
“They know our families,” she said.
Romero Takes the Stand
The 39-year-old Romero testified that he works as a paralegal and has been involved in community organizing against police brutality for 18 years. He said he has been involved in 50 marches. He said he has lived in Oxnard 38 years.
Romero, a former educator, said he knew Alfonso Limon and Roberto Ramirez who was his student at Haydock Intermediate School in Oxnard.
He said he didn’t lead the march but was trying to keep marchers safe while crossing the streets. Romero, who is a member of Todo Poder al Pueblo, testified that he was one of the facilitators of the march.
During his testimony, he used the police videos and a map to give details of what he was doing during the march. He said police were definitely targeting him.
“There are members who are afraid to march now,” he said. adding, “Anybody that is seen as a leader is being ticketed.”
Romero said the Limon and Ramirez families offered to give him $1,000 to pay the jaywalking tickets but he declined to accept the money, saying he regards the tickets as a challenge to his right to protest.
“Police brutality is occurring on a daily basis in the community,” he said. Adding, “”I love my barrio. I love my people, and I will not put them in danger.”
Under cross examination, Romero said throughout the march there was danger at every intersection. He said police never issued an order to disperse, and the marchers would have done so as planned.
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.
In March, 26-year-old Meagan Hockaday of Oxnard was killed by Oxnard police.
Warning: file_get_contents(): https:// wrapper is disabled in the server configuration by allow_url_fopen=0 in /hermes/bosnacweb02/bosnacweb02af/b360/ipg.sbnotebookcom/wp-content/themes/goodnews5/framework/functions/posts_share.php on line 151 Warning: file_get_contents(https://plusone.google.com/_/+1/fastbutton?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cjnotebook.com%2Fthe-case-of-community-activist-who-alleges-he-is-being-targeted-by-police-goes-to-judge%2F): failed to open stream: no suitable wrapper could be found in /hermes/bosnacweb02/bosnacweb02af/b360/ipg.sbnotebookcom/wp-content/themes/goodnews5/framework/functions/posts_share.php on line 151