Stories of police brutality seem to have proliferated over the Internet and in daily newspapers over the last several months. In April, peaceful student protesters in Santa Monica were pepper-sprayed by police. In May, Fullerton police beat a homeless man, apparently for no reason, which led to his death. In July, an unarmed man was shot when he ran away from officers in Anaheim. In August, a skateboarder in Venice was stopped for skating in traffic and was beaten by officers after allegedly resisting arrest.
Ventura County has also seen its fair share of violent interaction with the police. In June, Robert Ramirez, a 26-year-old Oxnard resident, was allegedly beaten by officers while they were trying to subdue him after he ingested several grams of methamphetamine. Ramirez died, apparently due to the overdose, and had bruises all over his body.
This month, Denny Fields, a Ventura resident, alleged in a federal lawsuit that officers severely beat him over a stolen iPad in 2010.
For the Santa Monica, Fullerton and Venice incidents, video and photos of the police aggression went viral. In Anaheim, the unarmed man who was shot lived to tell how he was fired at with at least three rounds before one bullet hit his stomach. The Ventura County events, though similar in nature to the others and to each other, are playing out very differently in the public view without video or photos to refer to.
Those following the Ramirez case are polarized in their opinions over police conduct. During the 911 call made by a friend of Ramirez’ sister regarding Robert’s behavior, the caller stated: “Yeah, you guys got to get, send someone to him because I’ve never seen a person act this way. I mean, I, you know, he needs a, he needs (unintelligible) medical attention. … He’s in shorts, and I think he’s ripped off his shirt. Believe me, when the cops get here, they’ll be able to see him. … No, it’s, it’s, he can’t lay down because he’s actual … it, it must be the meth. Because he’s just like bouncing off the walls. … It looks like he’s having a, like a, like a fit.” Police reports say that when officers arrived, they tried to calm the man, and then tried to restrain him. Those efforts resulted in a struggle. Once they finally cuffed Ramirez, they realized he was unconscious and paramedics began lifesaving measures. Ramirez was pronounced dead at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard. He had bruises all over his body at the time of his death. The family claims to have a video of the incident but has not released it to police or the public. The Ramirez family said that Robert had struggled with drugs in the past and had spent time in prison. Seven officers were placed on administrative leave, though shortly thereafter they returned to work.
Where people become polarized on the issue is fairly obvious. Ramirez was, according to the caller, out of control and overdosing. Ramirez had a criminal past and was known to do drugs. There is no evidence thus far that indicates whether the bruises on Ramirez’s body were due to his behavior while overdosing on meth or strictly due to the officers’ acts. Also, it is unclear what kind of force the officers would need to apply when trying to restrain a man overdosing on meth. The family claims officers unnecessarily beat him and that they were negligent in getting him medical treatment to save his life. Certain Latino leaders in the community cry foul and have been holding demonstrations and protests over police brutality. Others remain skeptical, stating they feel the police didn’t overstep their boundaries, given the circumstance, and that there are too many unknowns regarding Ramirez condition before the officers showed up. The incident is currently under investigation internally and by the FBI.
In Ventura, however, Fields’ story has left most people with their mouths agape. According to the lawsuit filed at the federal courthouse last week, Fields, a black man, stopped by his girlfriend’s house to drop off Christmas presents for his children. Four or five police officers came to the door and talked to him about an iPad that had been reported stolen, which they said GPS indicated was inside the residence. Officers ask him for an ID and apparently found that Fields had drug charges filed against him — the case was still open and Fields had not been convicted of a crime. The police began to further question him about the iPad, which Fields denied knowing anything about. The officers then, according to the lawsuit, rushed in on him and beat him, used a Taser on him and unleashed a police K-9, which bit him. The officers arrested him on suspicion of mayhem but the district attorney declined to prosecute him two days later. According to the lawsuit, Assistant Chief Quinn Fenwick and Ventura risk management representative Ellis Green allegedly apologized for the incident and offered Fields cash and Christmas presents for his children to make it all go away. Fields declined the offer and got an attorney. Fields’ attorney said his client suffered a nasal fracture, Taser wounds, lacerations, nerve damage, a dog bite and pain in his torso. And all of this was over a stolen iPad, which apparently was not recovered from the scene. It’s curious to think that four or five officers and a police dog were needed to talk to a person about a stolen iPad.
When it comes to police brutality and excessive force, most people are on the fence without sufficient evidence. When videos go viral, it becomes clear what officers have done wrong. When police reports indicate no evidence of a weapon but a man is shot anyway, the public fears what officers could do to them. When it takes four officers to talk to a man about a stolen iPad that resulted in a severe beating, it makes the public question everything — could Fields be telling such an egregious lie or did officers really attack him that way?
Unfortunately, the story of Ramirez, a man overdosing on meth, leaves a lot of gaping holes and, of all the stories of police brutality, this is the one for which so many people have united together with few details to support the claims.
When it comes to a united front against excessive police force, the facts should remain in the forefront of our cries. If we want change, we must be certain that the crimes against humanity are in fact crimes and not necessary force. The last thing we would want to do is enact laws and regulations limiting what officers can do to protect the public at large, which in turn may leave us vulnerable and defeat the purpose of protecting our civil rights in the first place.