Dozens of family and friends of a man shot to death by a Richmond Police officer gathered outside Uncle Sam’s liquor store Saturday to announce a federal wrongful death lawsuit.
Before a crowd holding signs declaring “Hands Up, Don't Shoot” and “Justice for Pedie,” Civil rights attorney John Burris announced the suit in front of the liquor store where 24 year-old Richard “Pedie” Perez III was killed in September after a confrontation with RPD officer Wallace Jensen.
“Our allegations are that Pedie’s civil rights were violated when he was killed by the officer, and that the circumstances are woefully unjustified,” Burris said.
The federal complaint names Jensen among its defendants and claims an unspecified amount of damages. Perez’s father and mother stand as plaintiffs.
The lawsuit alleges that Perez did not commit a crime before Officer Jensen asked Perez to sit on the curb in front of the liquor store. When Perez failed to comply, he was tackled by Jensen. Perez then scrambled out of the officer’s grip and moved forward five or six feet before Jensen pulled his gun and fired three times. “Don't shoot,” were among Perez’s last words, according to the lawsuit.
Officer Jensen claims that Perez — who was visibly intoxicated and registered a .247 blood alcohol level upon the pathologist’s investigation — failed to comply with his orders and that Perez attempted to reach for his gun.
“The defense that Pedie was going for the officer’s gun is a common refrain and a popular narrative that police officers use to justify a shooting,” countered Burris. To the attorney, use of deadly force was entirely unjustified given Perez’s blood alcohol level. “There were other alternative means of force available to [the officer] — there was a taser, there was a canine, a baton — this was a moment where he did not have to shoot this young man.”
To the family and friends of Perez, this shooting highlights a failure of the city’s community policing tactics. “If the officer really knew Pedie, he would have known that he was a good boy,” explained Perez’s aunt Jenine Ball. “Pedie had been coming to this store since he was 3 years-old. This was his neighborhood and his community.”
Perez’s family operates a business a few blocks away and is a prominent part of the community. According to Perez’s family, the slain 24 year-old was misunderstood and has been defamed by police since his death.
Looking over the rally from a distance, Richmond Police Captain Mark Gagan said he respected the event. “I value people’s abilities to be heard. I view the family gathering and organizing as appropriate and actually the right way for people to get clarity on cases like this,” Gagan said, referencing recent events of civil unrest that have turned violent.
Supporters of the Perez family stood at the rally demanding justice and vowing to be heard. As the rally came to a close, the group marched down Cutting Boulevard and chanted calls for police accountability.
The rally this past Saturday was just the first step in a long judicial process. As national protests calling for the end of police violence continue, this local suit will serve as a test of the relations between officers and the public in Richmond.
UPDATE: Shortly after this article was published the Contra Costa Times reported that the District Attorney will not be moving forward with charges against Officer Jensen, stating that Jensen's actions were justifiable given the circumstances. Click here to read the article, which includes the DA's letter.