CORRECTION: The person in the photograph that originally accompanied this post was incorrectly identified. We regret the error.
How did you spend last Thursday? The Cruz family of Fullerton and their friends spent it in front of Anaheim police headquarters on South Harbor Boulevard, protesting the death of Caesar Ray Cruz, who was shot by cops three months earlier in a Wal-mart parking lot.
Anaheim police were tight-lipped about the shooting just after it happened, and they aren't saying a peep about it now that the Cruz family has filed a claim against the city, the first step on the road to a wrongful-death lawsuit.
As it does with all officer-involved shootings, the Orange County District Attorney's Office is investigating.
Joseph Cruz, Caesar's brother, has a MySpace page where he posts media reports on the police shooting, his questions and comments about the incident, and announcements of gatherings tied to his brother's passing. Thursday's protest was promoted there.
The last event before that was a bake sale–to raise money for the departed's funeral.
Based on the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times reports reprinted on the memorial page, details remain sketchy to this day about just what the hell happened on Dec. 11, 2009.
Here's what we know, at least according to police:
A team of undercover Anaheim officers in an unmarked car were following a green Chevrolet Suburban around that afternoon. Anaheim Police Sgt. Rick Martinez later said his department had received a report that a parolee was cruising the streets, driving a green Chevy and packing a handgun.
Unable to stop the Suburban, the undercover officers called in a marked patrol car, which joined them by the time they and the Suburban pulled into the Wal-mart parking lot on North Euclid Street near the 5 freeway.
As the Suburban reached the back parking lot, the officers turned on their lights to pull it over. But, according to Martinez, the man behind the wheel failed to yield, so the officers tried to pin him with their vehicles.
As officers got out of their cars, the Suburban took off down a parking aisle. Four or five officers fired shots. Martinez was unsure how many times the man was hit.
Later identified as Cruz, the man was taken to a hospital, where he died an hour later.
A handgun was later found in the Suburban, Martinez said at the time.
But, according to court records, Cruz was not a parolee. The Register reports he was convicted in 2002 of a single
count of drug possession with intent to sell, for which he was given
240 days in jail and three years probation, which ended five years ago.
Joseph wonders on his page why an undercover gang unit was tailing his brother.
He wonders how someone being followed is supposed to know an unmarked car and plain-clothed officers are police.
He wonders why the family was told at the scene that Cruz was taken to UCI Medical Center and, after waiting there for two hours and being told nothing, they were then informed his body was taken directly to the county coroner's office.
He wonders why the coroner's office would disclose no information about the man and would not allow a family member to see him.
No one from the family ever identified Cruz, the brother claims.
“There have been no return calls from the
Anaheim PD, UCI Medical in Orange or the OC Coroners
office after stating they would do so. . . . Why did it
take 5 officers to shoot 1 man, while in his
vehicle, in a public parking lot?”
The family believes Cruz was shot from behind–and they've said so on the signs they've toted in front of the Anaheim police headquarters.
The Cruz family fears the incident fits a pattern of other officer-involved shootings involving Anaheim police, and the MySpace page is being used to get the word out “to stop/minimize unnecessary killings by local law enforcement agencies.”
They would like to be the last family devastated by an incident like this.