It's getting so you can't keep those recently killed by Orange County cops straight without a scorecard. Most attention has gone to Kelly Thomas in Fullerton and Manuel Diaz and Joel Mathew Acevedo in Anaheim, so you'll be forgiven if you forgot about 23-year-old Jason Bitz, who was shot dead by an off-duty Santa Ana policeman in Lakewood last Halloween morning.
Back to remind you are Bitz's survivors and members of Los Angeles' ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), who picketed outside the home of the unidentified Santa Ana cop on Sept. 13.
Unidentified for now, that is.
A goal of the justice for Bitz “movement” is “to expose the identity of the killer cop who has remained
unnamed for the past 11 months due to a cover-up carried out by the Los
Angeles Sheriff's Department,” according to ANSWER LA.
Here's video from their press conference:
Here's what the LA County Sheriff's Office (LASO) has released about the case: The off-duty cop
heard noises outside his home on Longworth Avenue in Lakewood the morning of Oct. 31, 2011, went outdoors to find
two males breaking into a vehicle across the street, identified himself
as a police officer and gave chase in his car as they darted off on
foot. At some point around 6:30
a.m., one man being pursued somehow got into the officer's car, reached for his waistband and was then shot four times by the officer, who was not harmed. Bitz was pronounced dead at the scene.
The LASO later provided the media an update acknowledging Bitz was unarmed. The cop would not be identified, the agency added, because he was considered a crime victim. The dead man's family concedes Bitz was no saint, being on parole at the time of the incident. But he was not stealing a car, as LASO claimed, but had just returned to a borrowed vehicle he had left in the neighborhood due to a bad tire, critics maintain.
ANSWER LA, which further claims Bitz and the cop who killed him knew and disliked one another, essentially accuses the lawman of murder: “The officer came out of his home
with gun drawn. After having words with him, Jason allegedly fled on
foot. The officer followed and shot Jason four times, killing him.”
The official story had a brief car chase sandwiched between Bitz bolting and the cop shooting him, something labeled a fantasy by the coalition, which claims a witness came forward saying the officer was seeing trying to prop Bitz's limp body up into a seated position in his own vehicle.
Sheriff's investigators said at the time they were relying on surveillance video from neighbor John Tucker,
who retired from the Santa Ana Police
Department a decade ago, to help piece together what really happened. But Roland Salameh, the Bitz family attorney, now counters, “The investigation is basically finished.”
There apparently is no one left to talk to.
“But they still refuse to
release the identity of the officer who killed Jason, and that killer
cop is patrolling the streets to this very day, endangering the lives of
others,” Salameh said at the press conference. “We demand an end to the cover-up and justice for Jason.”
This is a case where justice seems as elusive as simple truth. Sandra Bitz, the mother of the dead man, just wants an end to the misinformation.
“The police and the
media have tried to make my son out to be a monster, a criminal. He wasn't,” she said at the protest. “He was a sweet boy and his only crime was trying to fix his
friend's car in a neighborhood where he wasn't welcome.”
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.