Saturday, July 23, 2011

Justice for James Rivera Jr.

2011-07-23 "Protest marks year since teen's death" by Christian Burkin from "Stockton Record"
STOCKTON - One year after 15-year-old James Rivera Jr. was killed by police after a chase through a north Stockton neighborhood, dozens of people demonstrated across the street from the Police Department on Friday morning, calling for greater transparency and an end to what they called police brutality.
The demonstrators included Rivera's relatives and friends, as well as Bay Area activists. Some carried a mock coffin from a truck to the corner of El Dorado and Washington streets. Others held signs calling for justice and invoking other officer-involved killings, including that of Oscar Grant III, shot in the back by BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle on New Year's Day 2009.
An uncle of Grant's, Cephus "Uncle Bobby" Johnson, drove from Oakland to Stockton to join the demonstration Friday morning. Johnson said he had been following officer-involved killings closely since his nephew's, for which Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
"They have a tendency to tell you one thing and then change the story," Johnson said.
Rivera was shot and killed by Stockton police and a Sheriff's deputy after a chase that ended when the vehicle he was driving, a minivan taken in an armed carjacking, was rammed by police, causing it to crash into a house. Police have said Rivera was attempting to reverse rapidly when officers opened fire on the minivan. The carjacker had reportedly been armed with a shotgun, but no weapon was recovered from the minivan.
Some of Rivera's family members have said he told them he had bought the van. His mother, Dionne Smith-Downs, said Friday that if she had heard that from him, she would have demanded proof. She also said she believed other people, not her son, had committed the carjacking.
Smith-Downs said she is frustrated that her son's property has not yet been returned to her, and that the investigation has not been completed.
"It's been a year now. I should have some kind of answer," she said.
The investigation of the shooting includes the District Attorney's Office, the Sheriff's Office and the Police Department. It is not unusual for officer-involved shooting investigations to take up to a year in San Joaquin County.
Deputy District Attorney Robert Himelblau said the investigation has been slowed by budget cuts at the District Attorney's Office, particularly the loss of about 30 percent of its staff. Prosecutors are also dealing with a sharp increase in homicides.
"We don't have the attorneys. We have a higher case load, and we're in trial nonstop," he said.
Smith-Downs has sued Stockton and its Police Department over the killing of her son, but that lawsuit has twice been returned by the court for revisions to the paperwork. She is represented by John Burriss, the Oakland attorney who represented the family of Oscar Grant and who is representing the family of 34-year-old Ernest Duenez Jr., shot and killed by Manteca police on June 8.
Smith-Downs said she has been involved with activism targeting perceived police brutality since her son's killing.
"I want to get the word out: Stand up! Speak up!" she said.
Dionne Smith-Downs, mother of James Rivera, was one of the dozens of demonstrators who gathered across from the Stockton Police Department on Friday, the anniversary of the shooting of 15-year-old Rivera.

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