Two videos that surfaced this week of a Fresno police officer shooting a 16-year-old boy in the back of the head have caused local and national outrage.
“We have to reform our policing system to end the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mentality that ends far too many black & brown lives,” presidential candidate Julián Castro tweeted Thursday evening. “The fact that these officers weren’t held accountable is shameful—and more evidence that the system is broken.”
On April 15, 2017, police pulled over Isiah Murrietta-Golding because he was suspected of being involved in a deadly shooting that happened the day before. Bodycam footage, released by the family’s attorney Stuart Chandler Tuesday, shows Murrietta-Golding fleeing from police.
Police chased Murrietta-Golding to the Discovery Center, a daycare in Fresno, where he hopped a fence, surveillance video from the center shows. While he was running, Murrietta-Golding looked back for a second with his left hand on his waistband. The teen takes a few steps then drops to the ground after Sgt. Ray Villalvazo shoots him.
An officer is heard saying “good shot” on the police bodycam footage.
The police have said the lethal force was justified because the officer felt threatened after Murrietta-Golding looked back and had his hand on his waist. Chandler argues the teen was holding up his pants because he was running. Later he was found unarmed.
Chandler is representing the teen’s father, Anthony Golding, in a wrongful death civil rights lawsuit filed last March against the City of Fresno, former Police Chief Jerry Dyer, and Villalvazo. The videos will likely be part of the trial scheduled for October 2020.
The videos have been covered by national media outlets and have reenergized local concerns about the Fresno Police Department’s lethal force practices. The Fresno Brown Berets are planning a “Stop Repeat Killer Cops” protest Monday night in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Fresno.
“There’s a lot of questions that come up just watching the video. We won’t know the truth until we go to court, until trial,” said Gloria Hernandez, a protest organizer. “The truth will come out.”
Investigations by the Fresno Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, and the City of Fresno all found the shooting justified.
But Hernandez says she disagrees with the findings. She said Villalvazo doesn’t appear to be in danger from the videos.
“We’re tired of the fact that the DA and the independent police auditor just completely kissed the Fresno Police Department investigation and called it justified,” she said.
Hernandez is part of Fresno Stolen Lives, a group that works with people who have lost family members in police shootings. She accompanies families to court and has advocated for change within the police department. The Fresno native has been doing this work since 1985.
Fighting lawsuits over police brutality and lethal force has cost the city a lot of money over the years, Hernadez said. “It’s on the taxpayer’s back and as a taxpayer, I’m pissed about that. I’m tired of the police lying,” she said.
In a statement released Wednesday night, Police Chief Andy Hall stood by the use of force. He said the teen was known to carry firearms. He also said that he and his brother were both suspected of a homicide to which his brother later pleaded guilty.
The video footage has split the city council. Councilmembers Gary Bredefeld and Mike Karbassi released a statement stressing the importance of the DA’s findings. Councilmembers Miguel Arias, Esmeralda Soria, and Nelson Esparza say the videos do not reflect the city’s values.
Mayoral candidate Andrew Janz said he can’t comment on the specifics of the case because he works for the district attorney. In a statement, he said he’s been vocal about criminal justice reform and would implement true community policing practices as mayor.
Former Police Chief Jerry Dyer, also a candidate for mayor, could not be reached for comment on Friday.