Anaheim's Cruzaders

Families of police-shooting victims protest their plight

On the afternoon of Dec. 11, 2009, the Anaheim Police Department received a tip that an armed parolee was roaming the back streets of Anaheim's working-class Loara neighborhood. At the same time, Caesar Cruz, a 35-year-old father of five, was driving his dark-green Chevrolet SUV to his sons' school. Later, police would tell reporters that the undercover units tailing Cruz sought to pull him over, and when that failed, they called for assistance. A marked police cruiser then followed Cruz into a Walmart parking lot, which was packed with pre-Christmas shoppers. 

Cruz stopped, but when officers got out of their cars, they claim, he rapidly accelerated through the lot. According to police, the officers got back into their marked and unmarked cars and chased after Cruz, quickly surrounding him. Within moments, Anaheim detectives Bruce Linn, Philip Vargas, Kelly Phillips and Nathan Stauber opened fire at Cruz, who was still inside the vehicle. Cruz was shot in the back at least nine times. Police later told reporters they found a gun in the vehicle, but they refused to say what kind it was or if it was fired that day. As it turned out, Cruz was not on parole at the time of the shooting.

In the two-and-a-half years since her son died under what remain mysterious circumstances, Theresa Smith has organized weekly protests outside the police department on Harbor Boulevard with friends and family members, all of whom are demanding answers about what really happened that day. She has encouraged other families affected by officer-involved shootings in Anaheim to join her protest, but, she says, they've mostly refused because they fear police retaliation. But after the brutal July 5, 2011, beating death of Kelly Thomas at the hands of Fullerton police officers gave energy to critics of police brutality in Orange County, word has spread about Smith's crusade.

For the past several weeks, from a dozen to 20 people can be found every Monday evening on the corner of Harbor Boulevard and Broadway Avenue, waving signs and chanting, "Shame on APD!" Corie Cline has been going to the protests for about three months; her brother Joe Whitehouse was killed by Anaheim police in 2007. She brings along her 5-year-old son, who cheerfully joins in the chants, shouting, "Shame on the Anaheim police!" and, echoing the popular Occupy chant, "Whose streets? Our streets!"

"I've been wanting to do it since my brother was killed five years ago," Cline says, explaining that her mother dissuaded her from speaking out until now. "She said, 'I already lost one child; I don't need to lose another.' But it took knowing I was safe with other families out there for her to say, 'Go ahead; you can go.'"

Whitehouse was celebrating the end of his probation when his brother Chris started to fight him in the street. Both had been drinking heavily when, police say, Whitehouse began threatening his brother outside of his apartment with a butcher knife. Cline says the "knife" in question had no blade, just a handle, which Whitehouse, locked outside of his brother's house, was using to bang on the front door when officers arrived. Police shot Whitehouse at least 18 times, according to Cline. "They didn't try to Taser him," she says. "One of them just starting shooting with a 12-gauge shotgun and another one with a 9 millimeter."

Justin Hertl was walking his grandmother Barbara Kordiak to her car when he was shot by undercover Anaheim detectives on Nov. 14, 2003, after the police received information about a stolen car, possibly from Hertl's girlfriend, with whom he had just been fighting. Kordiak alleges that police came up behind her and that one of them yelled, "Gun!" The next thing she knew, three shots had rung out and her grandson was lying on the ground bleeding. A fourth shot, she claims, killed him.

"Bullets were flying everywhere," she says. "I could have been killed alongside him. They were close enough to grab either me or him, but instead, they started randomly shooting, with no regard for time or place." She also claims police left key details about the shooting out of their report, which she viewed after her daughter hired an attorney. "They didn't include my statements that were in direct opposition of what they were saying," she claims. "It's a worthless report."

Along with her daughter Jaclyn Conroy, Kordiak attended the Kelly Thomas protests outside the Fullerton Police Department last summer. For the past year, they have joined Smith and other families to take on what they feel is a culture of impunity within the department. "It seems like they shoot for any reason now," she says. "They shouldn't be able to; I don't know when they decided that's okay, but it's not. They have other choices; they just aren't using them."

So far this year, there have been six officer-involved shootings in Anaheim. One of them took place on the night of March 6, when police responded to reports of possibly armed men in a Ponderosa neighborhood alley and fatally shot 21-year-old Martin Hernandez, who was standing next to another male, who fled the scene and was never identified. Four days after the shooting, on March 10, about 100 friends and family members took to the streets in a protest near the alley where Hernandez was shot, and a few weeks later, members of the community confronted Anaheim police during a community meeting at Ponderosa Elementary School.

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."

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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13 comments
iain39
iain39

The police have clearly been given authorisation to terrorise the public into submission.  I've never seen such violence against the public, except at times of crumbling regimes like in Saddam's Iraq, or Assad's Syria, or Mubarak's Egypt, or Akhmenijad's Iran.Ever since the 9/11 disaster was exposed as a massacre of American people to justify overseas wars, people have started to understand the nature of the US government.  Some people are even jokingly referring to America as "Dumfukhistan" to paint it in its true colours as a terrorist state.

 

When 275,000,000 people sensed they've been conned into sending their kids to die in a war for the billionaires, trouble started.  When that mob gets angry, there is going to be all hell to pay, and Obama's bosses know this all too well.

Guest
Guest

Not even a good hit piece by the OC Weekly. If you are going to try and stir up the people at least put a little effort into it. Interesting that none of the "victims" family mentioned if there actually was a gun or not. Plus, I'm not impressed if the "victim" Cruz was a father of five, Osama Bin Laden had over 20 children. Should I have shed a tear for him? In addition, what I find funny about the OC Weekly (and I mean Ha Ha! funny) is the way they denigrate "mainstream" newspapers such as the OC Register and LA Times for not questioning the police agencies and DA's Office version of shootings but will put up unchallenged grieving families accounts of incidents as if they are the gospel truth. Did it ever occur to you that maybe Johnny Gangbanger's family might actually lie to you?

Prawda
Prawda

"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." It all starts in the home lady. I see little future bangers at the park and their parents dress them like little hoodlums....

Prawda
Prawda

"They didn't try to Taser him," she says. "One of them just starting shooting with a 12-gauge shotgun and another one with a 9 millimeter." So it's dark, police show up after being called to assist (my guess the 911 call said he was armed with a knife) the perp has something in his hand....so is the police officer supposed to wait until your drunken relative shows them what he has is his hand ? Im an officer, i see a weapon, you turn towards me ,game over. I am going home because i am not going to lose my life over another drunken dispute at your house. Put down the booze, the guns, your fists. Start acting like you live in a civilized society. WTF do you expect?

Chrisjacobs
Chrisjacobs

The journalistic rage of a dorky white chick. Bwaha. Fail.

Retired-USAF Enlisted
Retired-USAF Enlisted

Although it's good that the media let's this out in the open, I believe in being fair, and I would like to hear what police officers say about this. Are there any police who read this column and what do you say? The reason I'm skeptical is that police apprehend people all day long especially in Anacrime (sic), so why they chose to shoot these specific people? At least, I've always felt that if you do exactly as the officer says, and don't argue, why would they shoot you for no reason? By contrast, I've travelled in foreign countries a lot and had ONLY one unpleasant encounter with the police but it was because of a language barrier, but I was very careful to smile and act polite, and then they just said to GO, as they couldn't make me understand what I had done wrong by my driving (it was speeding) (LOL), so I guess I could imagine that if a suspect didn't speak English and the police officer didn't speak Spanish, that maybe this could cause a dangerous miscommunication, but I would think police must have protocols for this to ensure they don't harm someone for not undestanding. Again, any police that can share your thoughts as I'd be very interested to hear their side.

Martinez072
Martinez072

::::::::::::DOESNT MAKE IT RIGHT:::::::::::::::::::::::::

Martinez072
Martinez072

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::DOESNT MAKE IT RIGHT::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

SPOKEN like TRUE Police man, who can comment about peoples drinking, and others relatives- If its so hard being  an OFFICER quit. and do every one a favor. I guess POLICE are the ONLY civil people out there... 

Martinez072
Martinez072

SPOKEN like TRUE Police man, who can comment about peoples drinking, and others relatives- If its so hard being  an OFFICER quit. and do every one a favor. I guess POLICE are the ONLY civil people out there...

iain39
iain39

You mean, like the Latino crowd of parents and children peacefully protesting another police mruder - the cops turn up and shoot into the crowd, and sick savage dogs on a mother holding a child!  With a police force like this, who needs terrorist enemies?  They're all wearing blue uniforms and shooting people.In fact if this happened in Iran, the New York Post would already be saying: "Mother, Toddler Allege Inappropriate Response: Why We Must Go To War With Dumfukhistan."

GustavoArellano
GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

Nice for you to ridicule a college student—you're SUCH a big man!

 
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