Steven Juarez’s family and friends gathered at the scene of his death Monday evening to remember the Gilroy native who died one year ago while in police custody.
The attendees reiterated their intent to hold Gilroy police accountable for Juarez’s death, just a few days after the Santa Clara County District Attorney announced his office had completed an investigation that exonerated the officers involved in Juarez’s arrest.
About 20 people gathered at a makeshift memorial for Juarez in front of a home at 7461 Chestnut St. The front yard of the home is seen in a police body camera video released at the end of last week by the DA. The video shows Juarez pinned to the ground with several officers on top of him as they try to gain control of his arms so they can handcuff him. The footage is from the night of Juarez’s death, Feb. 25, 2018.
At the memorial event, friends and family members said prayers and spoke about the need to continue their activism in order to hold police accountable. Stephanie Sambrano, Juarez’s cousin, said they need to keep pressure on public officials and police agencies in order to prevent future officer-involved deaths.
“It could happen to anybody,” Sambrano said. “It’s happening all over the world.”
Sally Armendariz, a local activist and relative of Juarez’s, criticized the DA’s office for not communicating with the family during the investigation. DA Jeff Rosen’s first phone call to Juarez's family since Juarez's death was the morning of Feb. 22, several hours before the DA’s report and arrest video were released to the public. In an emailed statement, Rosen expressed empathy for families bereaved by fatal police encounters.
“The pain of the families in these tragic incidents is real,” he said, “and they deserve to hear the truth directly from me. I strive to be respectful and professional.”
Juarez’s mother, Martha Silos, and sister, Monica Juarez, were among those at the vigil. From there, the group traveled up Sixth Street to City Hall to address city council members at their scheduled meeting.
Some of the demonstrators held handmade signs protesting the Gilroy Police Department, and police misconduct in general.
Monica Juarez was among those who spoke to the council at the meeting. For the first time in a year, council members addressed Juarez’s death and offered their condolences to his family and friends. “He did not deserve to die the way he did, by what they call ‘reasonable force,’” Monica Juarez told the council.
Mayor Pro Tem Marie Blankley admitted the three-minute officer body camera video released by the DA’s office Feb. 22 “was very uncomfortable to watch.”
The city attorney and city manager said that now that the DA’s investigation is complete, the police department and city staff will review previous requests for public records related to the arrest and inquiry. Until now, the police department has said it cannot release the records because the investigation was still underway.
Mayor Roland Velasco also expressed sympathy for the family.
“There’s really nothing we can say or do that will make your pain go away,” Velasco said. “I want you all to know that as mayor, I value everyone here in our community.”
Jaqueline McCool contributed to this report.