Victims’ families pushed to get new police reform law passed
on October 6, 2021
In the Gardena, California, park where police shot and killed her son in 2018, Fouzia Almarou addressed supporters last week about a bill carrying her son’s name that had just been signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“I’m tired of it. I’m tired of seeing mothers crying,” said Almarou, who was eager to see the Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act become law.
It’s a feeling Amanda Blanco of Oakland understands. Her stepbrother Erik Salgado was shot and killed by California Highway Patrol officers on June 6, 2020, and since then, the family has tried to hold the officers accountable.
“It’s kind of like an uphill battle,” Blanco said. “ I feel helpless sometimes.”
The decertification law was introduced in December in response to officer shootings across the United States, most notably the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. It creates a statewide decertification process for officers who have been convicted of a felony or have a record of serious misconduct, preventing them from moving to other departments and agencies. California was one of four states that didn’t have a process for taking away an officer’s ability to remain employed as a result of misconduct.
State Sen. Steven Bradford, who introduced the bill, has said the officer who killed 25-year-old Ross previously had been involved in several “questionable” shootings. But unlike Derek Chauvin who was convicted of murdering Floyd, the officer who shot Ross was never charged. In a wrongful death lawsuit filed in July 2020, Salgado’s family makes similar claims about an officer’s past actions.
That officer was one of three who responded to a report of a car with stolen license plates. It ended with more than 40 shots being fired into the car Salgado was driving, killing him and wounding his girlfriend, according to a federal wrongful death lawsuit filed against the officers last year. The initial complaint, filed in September 2020, said Salgado’s girlfriend was four months pregnant at the time and lost the child.
The officers’ actions were “indifferent to human life, premeditated, and criminal,” the lawsuit argues.
In his response to the suit, Deputy Attorney General Rohit S. Kodical defended the officers, saying, “Mr. Salgado’s actions were threatening the life of another when the Defendant officers used deadly force.”
One of the officers, Richard Henderson, was also involved in the killing of 19 year-old Pedro Villanueva in Fullerton in 2016, the lawsuit notes. The Orange County district attorney’s office didn’t charge Henderson, finding his actions “reasonable and justified.”
Blanco believes that had the decertification process been law at the time, Henderson might not have left Orange County for the Bay Area, and her stepbrother might still be alive.
“This is a small step in the bigger scheme of things,” she said. “Hopefully, they don’t just pass it and sweep it under the rug. I hope it’s implemented really hardcore.”
Step toward healing
The law will create the Peace Officer Standards Accountability Advisory Board, which will make recommendations to a commission in cases where police are accused of using excessive force. The commission will then decide whether there is evidence of police misconduct and determine what action to take. Officers will be able to contest and appeal if their certification is in question.
Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong said the decertification process should be equitable and fair, and that it should be overseen by an unbiased board.
John Vasquez, 45, who works on policy and legal services for Communities United For Restorative Youth Justice, an Oakland-based organization that co-sponsored the law, said the board should hear directly from affected families. He said CURYJ’s primary role in the bill’s passage was to make sure families impacted by police violence were involved in the bill.
One of those family members is Michelle Monterossa.
Her brother, Sean Monterossa, 22, was killed by a Vallejo police officer the same week as Salgado. According to an investigation by Open Vallejo, Sean Monterossa’s death was the officer’s fourth shooting in five years and the first to end in death.
“This bill should have been in place 20 years ago, 30 years ago,” Michelle Monterossa said.
While the law’s signing has been generally well-received by many in the community, it’s just one small step toward healing, Vasquez said.
“I don’t like to use the word justice,” he added. “The only justice would be bringing the loved ones back and having their loved ones not killed in the first place.”
This story was updated to correct the date of Salgado’s death and the name of the police department involved.
Lead photo: Amanda Blanco, stepsister of Erik Salgado, who was killed by state police in Oakland last year, with her sons Jeshua, left, and Major. Contributed photo.
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