Silicon Valley Families Find Flaws in DA’s Handling of Police Shootings

The families want new investigations into the deaths of their loved ones following reporting errors discovered at the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office.

Silicon Valley De-Bug, a criminal justice reform nonprofit made up of families affected by police shootings, said sloppy incident reports by the DA’s office were uncovered after reviewing a number of cases. This includes the incorrect names of victims in what appear to be copy-and-paste paragraphs regarding fatal police shooting incidents. The families and the non-profit organization said this indicated the reports had been glossed over and not critically reviewed. They want an outside investigation to re-examine the cases to determine if the police actions were justified.

The district attorney’s office writes an incident report every time an officer shoots a civilian — deadly or not — to determine whether the use of force was justified and whether the officer should be cleared of criminal liability.

In three different reports, the wrong name of the victim is mentioned three times in the same paragraph. Some sentences are also copied verbatim. Family members said it was the inclusion of the wrong name that made the cut-and-paste job obvious.

“The main problem is that there was no thorough investigation. If you cut and paste, you go with the flow,” said Laurie Valdez, whose partner Antonio Guzman-Lopez was killed by the San Jose State University Police.” You would have thought they would have tried to change it to a proper name, but they dropped the ball. It’s how sloppy they are because no one has ever reviewed their work.

Families of those killed by law enforcement in Santa Clara County stand at a press conference outside the county administration building. Photo by Jana Kadah.

Guzman-Lopez was shot twice in the back in 2014. It was his name that reappeared in the other three reports that weren’t about his incident. His name was found in incident reports for Byron Rosas, Richard Jacquez and Leonel Acevedo, all of whom were shot by San Jose police officers in 2015, a year after Guzman-Lopez was killed.

“These are just a few that we have studied,” Valdez said. “Can you imagine how many more (there are)?”

Sean Webby, spokesman for District Attorney Jeff Rosen, said families of the victims have met with Rosen several times.

“We would be happy to meet with Raj Jayadev (founder) of De-Bug to discuss his concerns, Webby told San Jose Spotlight. “We have met with him many times before and have worked with De-Bug on re-sentencing and many other criminal justice reform projects.”

Webby and Rosen did not respond to inquiries from San José Spotlight regarding how the incident report errors occurred. Rosen faces two challengers in her re-election bid.

Valdez and other families said they no longer had confidence in the prosecutor’s office. Silicon Valley De-Bug has reviewed 15 to 20 reports so far, but plans to review all reports from 2011 onwards when Rosen takes office. There have been at least 50 people killed in Santa Clara County since 2011, according to the Officer Incident Reports online portal produced by the district attorney’s office. This count does not include fatal shootings from 2020 to date or non-fatal shootings. Every officer from 2011 to 2019 has been cleared of criminal liability by the DA.

“Officers are never charged, never brought to justice, so investigations must be conducted independently,” Rosie Chavez, aunt of the late Jacob Dominguez, told San Jose Spotlight. Dominguez was fatally shot by San Jose police while unarmed in 2017. “The DA is law enforcement. So law enforcement is still investigating law enforcement, which is why the bureau doesn’t seem to find any of these officers responsible or truly responsible for the deaths. It’s always: they were justified.

Chavez, Valdez and a dozen other families gathered outside the county administration building last week to announce their demands and share their letter with Rosen. When they tried to give the letter to Rosen or the employees of the prosecutor’s office, the receptionists said that no one would accept it and that they could not leave it at the reception. Webby said Rosen was not at the county building at the time.

An investigator from the district attorney’s office outside the front desk eventually took the letter, but many families said the initial denial illustrated how the district attorney’s office treated them.

“It looked exactly like what they did to our loved ones,” Valdez said. “We are nothing to them, just like our loved ones.”

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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