Anaheim's Cruzaders

Families of police-shooting victims protest their plight

Frustrated with anti-gang injunctions and what residents denounced as unwarranted police harassment, meeting participants lashed out at Anaheim officers, even directly challenging a few who were in attendance for acting similar to neighborhood bullies. Chief John Welter, who was present at the meeting, promised to address complaints of police misconduct, but such assurances have yet to quell the feelings of anger and resentment in the community.

Family members of Cruz, Whitehouse and Hertl also spoke up during the public-comment session of a June 5 Anaheim City Council meeting. "I don't want any other families to go through this ever again," Conroy says. "It's been nine years, and we still have no justice and no closure. I don't want to see any more deaths by the Anaheim Police Department. I want to see policy changes so this type of behavior does not continue."

On July 19, 2010, the Orange County district attorney's office sent a letter to the Anaheim Police Department about the Cruz shooting. "We have reviewed materials consisting of District Attorney Investigator's interviews of various officers and witnesses to the incident," the letter states. "After a thorough review of all the facts and the applicable law in this incident, we have concluded that the evidence does not support a finding of criminal culpability on the behalf of any officers at the Anaheim Police Department."

Caesar Cruz's mother, Theresa Smith, at her son's grave
Mary Pastrana
Caesar Cruz's mother, Theresa Smith, at her son's grave
Cruz's family during a prayer circle
Mary Pastrana
Cruz's family during a prayer circle

Smith says she never received a copy of the letter. Because the shooting preceded Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' new transparency policy regarding officer-involved deaths, which has seen lengthier reports on more recent incidents go public on the DA's website, no other details of the investigation are available. Since the new implementation of the policy, the detailed findings of five officer-involved shootings in Orange County have been made public, including two fatal and three non-fatal shootings. All five shootings—including a Feb. 17, 2011, incident that wounded Anaheim resident Travis Mock—were upheld.

On March 10, 2010, Smith filed a civil lawsuit against Anaheim, calling Cruz's death an "execution." She visits her son's grave regularly, most recently on Father's Day. Smith is able to talk about her grief as a mother, but citing a court order of confidentiality, she refused to specifically discuss the case. "All I can say is what I know makes me want to fight back harder," she says. "They always come up with an excuse for why this keeps happening. That's why we are out there, and that's why we won't stop until we start seeing some justice."

This article appeared in print as "Cruzaders: Families of police-shooting victims bring Kelly Thomas-style protests to Anaheim."

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