Almost one year after Steven Juarez died in Gilroy Police custody, the district attorney’s office has concluded that officers acted lawfully in detaining and using force on the 42-year-old local man, while acknowledging that force contributed to the death.
The county medical examiner’s office found that Juarez died from “severe drug intoxication complicated by his exertion to escape arrest and the police officers’ less-lethal efforts to detain him,” reads a report released Friday and compiled by Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Brian Welch.
The report describes Juarez as a “methamphetamine-high man who was terrifying residents with his bizarre behavior” the night of his death Feb. 25, 2018.
The DA’s 43-page report on Juarez’s death includes details of interviews with officers and witnesses of the Feb. 25, 2018 incident. It was released with body camera footage from one of the officers who responded to the disturbance report. The video depicts graphic images and profanity.
Juarez died after a struggle with Gilroy Police officers who used a variety of force techniques—including Tasers and a carotid hold—to detain him. The incident occurred about 10pm Feb. 25, 2018 on the 7400 block of Chestnut Street in Old Gilroy. An unnamed “terrified” woman who lives on the street called 911 to report that a man fitting Juarez’ description was lurking on her property, the DA’s report says.
Gilroy Police officers arrived and Juarez fled as soon as he saw them, according to authorities. Juarez leapt over fences and hid on the roof a shed and a nearby house in his efforts to evade police on foot. When Gilroy Police Officer Jason Greathead confronted Juarez, he refused commands to stop running, at which point Greathead used a Taser on him “to little effect.”
Other officers tried to handcuff Juarez, who continued to fight with police, by using a Taser again and other restraint techniques, reads the DA’s report. Finally, Greathead used a carotid artery restraint on Juarez, rendering him unconscious. Juarez was pronounced dead on the way to the hospital.
A total of seven Gilroy Police officers ultimately participated in Juarez’ arrest, officers have previously told a reporter.
Welch’s report notes that Juarez has a history of arrest and confrontation with Gilroy Police, and had a felony warrant out for his arrest at the time of his death. He had “violently resisted arrest numerous times” before the night he died. In one past incident, Juarez dragged a police K-9 who was biting him, breaking the dog’s tooth.
The DA’s office also noted that on the night of Feb. 25, 2018, Greathead recognized Juarez from previous police contact, and feared he was trying to pull a hidden weapon from his clothing. Police later found a knife in his back pocket and possible burglary tools in his jacket, according to the DA’s office. Gilroy police have previously reported that Juarez also had methamphetamine on him at the time of his death.
Juarez is survived by five sons. His family filed a claim for damages in August with the city of Gilroy in relation to Juarez’s death. The claim, which the city denied, alleged that officers unlawfully detained Juarez and used excessive force during the Feb. 25 arrest. Family members have said that Juarez was well-known and generally liked in the Chestnut Street neighborhood, and have questioned whether he was really causing a disturbance before police were called the night he died.
The DA’s office investigates all fatal law enforcement encounters in Santa Clara County to determine if the force was legal. Officers are legally allowed to use a variety of “reasonable” use of force techniques when arresting a suspect who is resisting, the DA’s report noted. Greathead, the officer who applied the carotid hold on Juarez, had been previously trained to use the technique, according to the DA’s office.
The three-minute police body camera video released with the DA’s report was the clearest of all the responding officers’ footage, Welch said. He reviewed all the involved officers’ body cameras of the incident as part of his investigation. Due to the nighttime darkness, other footage was not clear enough to show the public a distinct picture of what happened, Welch claimed.
The graphic, profanity-laden video shows numerous officers surrounding and on top of Juarez in front of a home on Chestnut Street at the end of the foot pursuit. The officers repeatedly told him to stop resisting and reveal his hands. The clicking sound of a Taser can be heard numerous times during the video. An officer can be seen hitting Juarez with a baton several times.
“I’m going to hit you again if you don’t stop (expletive) moving” yelled one officer. “You’re going to get Tased again,” exclaimed another.
Juarez can be heard screaming profanities at the officers while they attempt to handcuff him. At one point Juarez yelled, “Please help me!”
Toward the end of the video, an officer announced he was going to apply a carotid hold. A few seconds later, Juarez went silent. Officers then applied handcuffs to him.
The end of the footage shows Juarez unconscious and handcuffed as the officers propped him up into a “recovery position.” One of the officers said Juarez was still breathing as they propped him up.
Seen briefly in the video is a puddle of blood where Juarez had been prone on the ground.
Welch wrote in his report: “Juarez’s behavior demonstrated a determination to resist and flee the police at any cost. There is no evidence that any officer intended to cause Juarez’s death, and there is no evidence that any officer acted with ‘conscious disregard for human life.’… The officers’ actions as captured on their body cameras and described for investigators were entirely focused on securing control of Juarez, whom the officers feared was holding a weapon under his body.”
“Of course it’s not shocking,” Juarez’s cousin, Gilroy resident and activist Rebeca Armendariz, said of the DA’s conclusion. “I’m not surprised the district attorney wouldn’t find anything; they never do. Their own brethren are never guilty of anything.”