People started gathering at around 5pm, last Tuesday, at the 1400 block of Nisson Road; the site where Robert Villa was fatally shot by Tustin Police Department officers on Monday February the 10th.
Families of victims of police brutality from all over Southern California were among the first ones to show up with their characteristic energetic solidarity and ready to march towards Tustin City Hall, where Robert Villa’s family expected to address the city council and ask for clarifications on the police department allegations that Villa was armed with a knife when he was shot by police officers.
“We want to know why the Tustin Police Department is making this untrue statement. We are also reaching out for a complete and transparent investigation by the County of Orange, District Attorneys office.” Read a press release sent out by the Law Offices of Humberto Guizar, Villa family’s attorney.
Before the march started, police on motorcycles rode by the site on several occasions.
At around 6pm the march started. After about a 1-mile walk through some of the busiest streets of Tustin, the crowd of around 100 people led by Leticia Villa, Robert Villa’s mother, arrived to City Hall. To the chants of “ No justice, no peace!” they filled up the lobby of the city council chamber where various city officials and police officers were present. Some showed contempt for the protesters and some even smirked every now and then as the demonstrators entered the room.
A man who said to be a “city official” named Steven Lewis seemed particularly amused by the passionate demands. He was later identified as Captain Steven Lewis, head of the TPD Community Policing Bureau (CPB) and current president of the Tustin-Santa Ana Rotary Club, a non-profit organization.
An improvised rally in the room followed. The chants were then directed at the police officers “guarding” the room with their hands resting on their butt-guns the entire time.
But not only adults expressed their disgust with the police. A young relative of Robert Villa also vented his anger.
“Every time, every time you guys always stop me! Every time, every time I’m outside playing with my toy guns, you guys have to roll up and say something to me! … I never do anything to you guys, I respect you! …I never do nothing to you, I don’t even know what you guys are here for! I thought you guys were here to protect the people… not [to kill]!” The boy said.
The tension in the room augmented when protesters demanded to know where the chief of police was. TPD, Chief Charles Celano, hesitantly identified himself. The protesters began asking why the police lied in the official report to which he responded with the typical, “It’s under investigation, I can’t give answers.”
Finally, the councilmembers appeared and occupied their chairs at the council dais. After a fanfarious flag salutation and pledge of allegiance the meeting started.
The city council, headed by Mayor Elwyn A. Murray, decided that it was more important to follow the “orderly fashioned” protocol than listening to the grievances of Tustin residents, especially Mrs. Villa’s whose son had just been shot and killed by city employees.
The first order of business was to recognize and honor a police officer for his outstanding work, which came as a slap in the face of the demonstrators who interrupted the congratulatory speeches and photo ops with sporadic chants, “Justice for Robert, jail killer cops!” They shouted.
In a forced conciliating tone, Mayor Murray pleaded, “Like I said earlier this evening, I’d like to proceed in as orderly a fashion possible later on when you speak, but we’re certainly here to listen to you. So please try your very best. I know it’s not difficult –it’s difficult- it’s difficult for me just seeing all of you this evening and um, just understanding the loss. When you have a family member loss in you family is tough for all of us.” He said.
He then proceeded to introduce a presentation by Chief Celano.
Celano began his “National Night Out” presentation bragging about the good work his police officers did on the corporate sponsored event last year, and presented some of his officials with even more awards.
Pressured by the demonstrators to give answers to Villa’s family, Celano started out by reading the report that claims Villa had a knife at the time of contact between him and the police officers.
“… Immediately upon arrival, officers were confronted by a male subject, later identified as Robert Villa, who was armed with a knife. Shortly thereafter an officer involved shooting ensued. Officers immediately rendered first aid to Mr. Villa and called for paramedics. Mr. Villa was transported to Western Medical Center where tragically he succumbed to his wounds.” As he continued explaining the process of “investigation” in officer involved shootings, Mrs. Villa burst into tears, “One minute is all I’m asking” she said as her supporters began chanting, “Let her speak! Let her speak!” Visibly irritated Mayor Murray banged his gavel and asked for composure.
“One minute is all I’m asking.” Repeated Mrs. Villa as the chants grew louder.
At the suggestion of Chief Celano, Mayor Murray ordered a recess until “the crowd calmed down.”
All five council members walked out on a weeping mother who only wanted to address her city’s government. They left the chamber in the midst of the commotion caused by their display of blatant lack of empathy.
“What the fuck is wrong with you? She just wanted to speak before the cop!” some protesters yelled at the council members as they exited through the backdoor.
With an empty council dais, Mrs. Villa started reading a statement in tears and a broken voice.
“My son was a loving son, he was a loving father, and he was a loving brother. Twenty years ago, my son lost his father. Now my grandson lost his father. My grandson asks everyday ‘Where’s my daddy?’ You guys took him away from us. I want to know who killed my son, … because it was more than one police officer. I want to know all their names… I can’t stay here and hear this man making excuse of why they took my son’s life away. I have to live in this planet for the rest of my life and watch you, Tustin police, execute my son. I just can’t handle this; it’s sick, it’s wicked.”
Mrs. Villa then left the chamber accompanied by her noticeably agitated husband who seemed to be breathing heavily.
At that point, some protesters began to exit the chamber as well just to encounter baton-wielding Gang Unit police officers in riot gear posted outside the lobby who, citing “security” reasons, ordered the people to exit through the door they had come through earlier. “We’re asking everyone to leave that way please, for everybody’s safety.” Said Sgt. James Brabek, as he was seemingly giving or receiving orders over his radio.
After being confronted by the protesters about the ridiculous show of force, the officers backed down.
The meeting resumed after about 10 minutes of recess and the public comments session started.
“You ask a cop to speak first on an issue where [they] don’t have credit, they have no credit with our community at all. And for you to listen to them first –of course they’re gonna say whatever they wanna say to make it seem like they’re actually good people.” A supporter of the family said.
Arthur Salas, Robert Villa’s uncle, directed his comments specifically to Mayor Murray.
“I’m just an individual, just like you. Right? I’m Mexican, you’re black. Right? There’s racial profile towards me, racial profile towards you. Right? At this moment as I speak there’s so much racial violence towards our children. In the past two years can you tell me how many children or how many people have got killed by the police? Can you tell me? You’re the Mayor. Do you know the answer? … I know the answer. I can tell you exactly what street, what motel, what gas station, and what apartment building they got killed at. What freeway they got killed at. And all these people didn’t have a gun.”
He then turned to Chief Celano, “Hey chief, I know you’re new… get your shit together man. Put your boys on check” He advised.
The public comments session ended with a timid statement by Mayor Murray.
“I would ask that you please be patient and allow the judicial process to move forward. Again thank you all of you for sharing your thoughts, and again offer my condolences on behalf of our city council and our community. Good night, thank you very much.” He said.
None other of the city council members offered individual condolences or made any statements regarding the case up to that point.
On a side note, The Rebel Press members noticed a familiar face in the crowd. Among the city council meeting attendees was James Armendaris, Community Police Reconciliation Program director at the OC Human Relations, a non-profit organization that has received more than $60, 000 from the Anaheim Police Department as payment for helping pacify unrest in neighborhoods where police killings have occurred, Ana Drive in Anaheim most recently.
Armendaris also serves on both, the Anaheim and the Tustin Police Chief Advisory Boards.
The Rebel Press contacted Rusty Kennedy, OCHR Executive Director, via e-mail to enquire if members of his staff were on official OCHRH business at the meeting. To publishing time we haven’t received a response.