May 29, 1996
By Yolanda Reynolds
Photographs by Mary J. Andrade
The Human Rights Defense Committee gathered last Sunday in memory of Carl Sciabarra who was killed by several San Jose Police ofﬁcers on May 7, 1993. Sciabarra was at the time of his death, just weeks before his birthday, which is May 25. Though he was shot at numerous times, reportedly he was stopped from ﬂeeing from the ofﬁcers with the ﬁrst shot.
Sunday, following a Mass and a press conference at the steps of the Cathedral in downtown San Jose, the demonstrators held a march that led to the site at 120 N. 4th Street where Sciabarra was gunned down. The group was accompanied by Sciabarra’s mother. Hollace Sciabarra Cassel.
In San Jose there have been numerous protest marches regarding police brutality – some that have brought together over 400 participants. The police presence, at this peaceful Sunday afternoon march of approximately 50 persons, was startling. There were at least 6 if not more police cars, as many or more officers on motorcycles, officers on horseback and a paddy wagon-along the Santa Clara street march route.
Once the march stopped on 4th St., the police stationed themselves in clear view but at a distance. Distressed by the unusual police presence, Rachel Perez called out to the police to explain why they were there. She pointed out, “we have to protect ourselves from you and we want to know why you are here and why there are so many of you.”
This writer and La Oferta co-publisher and photographer, Mary Andrade walked across a vacant lot to be used as a parking lot to ask two officer the question asked by Perez and others at the demonstration. Sgt. Werkehama explained that, “our only interest is the safety of the demonstrators.” He added. “we just want to make sure that no one is hurt trying to cross the streets” or that “someone could cause trouble.” This writer explained that she had to quickly step back on the sidewalk when three ofﬁcers zoomed past-just as it seemed that these officers were indeed positioning themselves to halt traffic in order to let the demonstrators cross the street together, even though the light had changed – that change in position hardly seemed to have the safety of the demonstrators in mind. In response to the near miss of this writer at the intersection the Sgt. restated the purpose of the overwhelming police presence early Sunday afternoon was the “safety of the demonstrators.” He also explained that the paddy wagon was on Santa Clara regarding “another incident.”
The Human Rights Defense Committee is aggressively seeking answers in a number of recent deaths at the hands of law enforcement officer’s. The Committee says that there are too many unanswered questions involving this and other deaths in the area. Among those who have died are Art Diaz, who in September 10, 1994 was run over and killed by a Santa Clara County sheriff: Moses Pardo, killed in San Jose September 27, 1994; Jerold Hall, killed in Hayward November, 1992 by the BART police, and most recently, the death of Gustavo Soto Mesa March 2,1996 by a Santa Clara County Sheriff.
The Sciabarra family has filed a Civil Rights violation suit against the officers involved in Carl’s death, as well as against the City of San Jose and the County of Santa C|ara. This case is scheduled to go before the San Francisco Federal Court on June 5.
A friend of the family, David Callahan, explains that, in Sciabarra’s case there are numerous glaring discrepancies between the autopsy report, eyewitness accounts and the testimony of all but one of the ofﬁcers present on the evening of his death.
For example, he says, embedded in one cement sidewalk square is the evidence as to where two bullets hit that night. This evidence, Callahan says, runs counter to police testimony that they only shot at Sciabarra, at waist height as he was running towards the officers in a menacing manner.
Sciabarra’s mother explains that although the police report indicates that her son had his arm raised to inflict a blow to the ofﬁcers, he was shot in the back and that the first bullet that struck him passed through his upper arm and went into his chest, an injury inconsistent with the claims that his arm was raised to injure them.
According to Callahan, the 1st names of the officer on the police reports are Baldwin, Carli, Longoria, Hathaway, Morales and Lynch.
As in the recent death of Gustavo Soto Mesa, the Human Rights Defense Committee contends that the other deaths were all unwarranted. They also want answers as to why the long delays by the police in either providing medical attention to the victim, as in Soto’s case, or in notifying the family of a victim’s death, as in the case of Sciabarra. His family was not notiﬁed of his death for eleven and a half hours after the incident.
Sciabarra-Cassel’s trust in the police report began to deteriorate, almost immediately when she realized that their description of the incident indicated that her son Carl had been causing a disturbance on a County bus at 1:30 am. At that time, she says, no buses were running at that hour in the location of the incident. She challenged the police with that information only to have them say instead that the incident occurred near a bus line.
Rachel Perez and others of the Human Rights Defense Committee met with Santa Clara County District Attorney George Kennedy several weeks ago. He promised them that there would be a public Grand Jury hearing into the death of Soto Mesa. This hearing is scheduled to begin on June 18. He also promised that the Grand Jury membership would be reflective of San Jose’s population.
The Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission has scheduled a forum on “violence, the community and law enforcement” on May 31 in the Santa Clara County Board Chambers at 70 West Hedding St. in San Jose. At that time the Commission will hear public testimony.
The Defense Committee spokespersons ask that people who have experienced grief at the hands of law enforcement officials “not suffer in silence and ask that they get involved.” The Committee has been very clear in stating that they do not believe all law enforcement officials are brutal but that either a small group of individuals are most likely responsible for the problems or perhaps that there is need for better training and alternative strategies in dealing with disruptive, disorderly or strange behavior.
The Committee meets every Sunday from 5-7 p.m. at the Unitarian Church at 3rd and St. John streets in downtown San Jose.
For more information contact the Defense Committee at 271-0157. © La Oferta Newspaper.