Thursday, July 30, 2020

Justice for Vanessa Marquez

"When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something." John Lewis

"You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty." Jessica Mitford

Vanessa Marquez was an actress best known for playing Ana Delgado in the classic movie Stand and Deliver (1988) and Nurse Wendy Goldman on the hit television show ER. She appeared in such movies as Twenty Bucks (1993) and Blood In, Blood Out (1993), as well as such television shows as Wiseguy, Culture Clash, Seinfeld, and Nurses. Vanessa also happened to be the dearest friend I ever had. We were in daily contact on various social media sites, and regularly talked on the phone and texted. Sadly, on August 30 2018 Vanessa was shot in the back and killed by Gilberto Carrillo and Christopher Perez, officers of the South Pasadena, California Police Department.

It was on March 2 2020 that the Los Angles District Attorney's Office released their report on Vanessa Marquez's death in which it was concluded that the officers acted in self defence. To say that I have serious issues with that report would be an understatement. It was on June 24 2020 that a Complaint for Damages was filed with the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles, Central District on June 24, 2020 on behalf of Vanessa's mother. The complaint has brought to light further facts regarding Vanessa's death and sheds further doubt in my mind that the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office's report was fair or unbiased.

To begin with, I have to question why armed police officers were sent to Vanessa's apartment to begin with. On August 30 2018 I called Vanessa Marquez and when I didn't receive an answer I texted her, thinking she could answer when she wanted. Vanessa texted right back and she asked me to call the paramedics as she was having severe seizures. I then called the paramedics at 11:48 AM Pacific Time. In the Los Angeles District Attorney Office's report it claims that a woman from Alabama. who identified herself as a friend of Vanessa, called the paramedics and said that Vanessa was "not acting right." It has since come to my attention that apparently they were confused and this "woman from Alabama" is actually me. Now I don't think my voice sounds the least bit feminine and, given the fact that I had to give them my home address (which is in Missouri), I don't understand how they could get that I am from Alabama, but what upsets me is that at no point did I say that Vanessa was "not acting right." I stated in no uncertain terms that Vanessa was having severe seizures and asked that they send paramedics over to give her medical assistance. I did not ask for police officers to perform "a wellness check." I would have protested if I had known that they would send police.

It is for that reason that I want to stress that at no point was I connected to the South Pasadena Police Department and at no point did I ever speak to a police officer. Despite the fact that I had asked for paramedics to be sent to Vanessa's apartment,  my call was apparently referred to the South Pasadena Police Department. According to the Los Angeles District Attorney Office's report, the officers arrived at 11:49 AM Pacific Time. I find this curious as I had made my call at 11:48 AM Pacific Time. I can only guess one of two things. Either someone called before I did and that call has yet to be acknowledged by the City of South Pasadena, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, or the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office, or their timeline is wrong. Anyway, you can see from this screenshot from my phone's call log exactly when I called (the times here are in Central Time). For obvious reasons, I have blurred my bank's name.



If someone else had not called before me, not only do I have to question when the police officers arrived at Vanessa's door, but why they were sent there at all. I stated that she was having severe seizures and I asked that they send paramedics. Given Vanessa was having a medical emergency, it seems fairly obvious to me that she needed paramedics, not cops. Obviously paramedics have training to deal with medical emergencies, whereas the average police officer does not. Even if I had asked for a welfare check to be made on Vanessa, it would have made more sense to have sent paramedics than police officers. Indeed, I believe that if paramedics had initially been sent to Vanessa's apartment instead of police officers, she might still be alive today.

Here I must digress and discuss Vanessa's mental state at the time of her death. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office's report on the death of Vanessa Marquez seems written so as to give the impression that she was suicidal. Let me say this as adamantly as I possibly can--Vanessa was not suicidal. In our last conversation Vanessa and I discussed an X-Files marathon that BBC America was holding in conjunction with that show's 25th anniversary, a John Williams concert that was being held in Los Angeles County, and the day that I could one day visit her. With another friend she discussed a sale at Sephora that weekend. People who are suicidal do not discuss the future, because as far as they are concerned they do not have a future. Vanessa was still very much enthusiastic about life and still maintained her sunny disposition, despite having been ill much of the summer of 2018. Vanessa had refractory coeliac disease and regularly had seizures, among other medical problems, yet she was cheerful more often than not.

This brings me to the matter of how the police officers in Vanessa's apartment on August 30 2018 comported themselves. It is my firm belief that they behaved neither professionally nor appropriately. To begin with, they entered Vanessa's apartment without her consent, and they were heavily armed when they did so. Vanessa had committed no crime and did not present a danger to herself or others. She was having a medical emergency that none of them were qualified to treat. Vanessa was quite naturally startled, as anyone would be who was expecting paramedics instead of heavily armed police officers.

As further proof of the police officers' unprofessional conduct, they remained in the apartment even after Vanessa had declined to be taken to the hospital, as is her right under California law. They did this even after a paramedic had informed Vanessa that it was her right to refuse medical treatment. The moment that Vanessa declined to be taken to the hospital, the police officers were then obligated to leave. That they remained shows to me that their conduct was not only unprofessional and inappropriate, but in violation of California law.

As if the police officers remaining in Vanessa's apartment after she refused to be taken to the hospital was not bad enough, apparently someone at the South Pasadena Police Department, who was not present in her apartment and had not even spoken to her, placed Vanessa on a 5150 hold. For those of you wondering what a 5150 hold is, it refers to Statute 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code whereby  a peace officer or other professional so designated under the law can involuntarily place someone in a mental institution for 72 hours for evaluation and treatment if they believe that person to be a danger to themselves or others. The person  placing an individual under a 5150 hold must have spoken to the individual in person and at length. This means that the 5150 hold placed upon Vanessa was entirely unlawful, as it was applied by someone who had not spoken to her in person and was not even in her apartment at the time. Furthermore, the 5150 hold was unlawful because Vanessa was not a threat to herself nor anyone else. I would be willing to swear to that under oath in a court of law.

As if the police officers remaining after Vanessa refused to be taken to the hospital and the unlawful 5150 were not enough, it seems to me that the police officers showed little interest in de-escalating the situation. According to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office's report, Vanessa informed two of the police officers that in her last stay at the hospital she had been sexually assaulted. While the report does not say so, it seems to me that the officers must have dismissed her claim. Knowing Vanessa as I did, I have no doubt that Vanessa's claim was true. Earlier in the summer she had gone to the hospital to be treated for heatstroke. Her experience was such that afterwards she refused to go to the hospital, even after I begged her to go to the hospital if she ever had another instance of heatstroke. While Vanessa never told me that she had been sexually assaulted, it would explain why she did not want to go to the hospital. That the police officers present in her apartment that day apparently did not seem to take her claim of being sexually assaulted seriously shows to me that they had little concern in de-escalating the situation.

As further proof that the police officers present in Vanessa's apartment that day showed little concern in de-escalating the situation I also have to point out that at no point did it occur to any of the police officers to call one of Vanessa's friends to talk to her. I would think that they would have the phone number of her emergency contact and, having called the South Pasadena Fire Department, I would think they would have my number as well. I do not know if one of Vanessa's other friends or I could have accomplished anything in talking to her, but I know I would have liked to have at least had the opportunity to do so. It would have been much better than having her simply gunned down by police officers.

According to the Complaint for Damages filed on June 24 2020, Gilberto Carrillo falsely claimed that Vanessa pointed a BB gun at the officers and used that as a pretext to open fire on her. I find it notable that in the Los Angles District Attorney Office's report on Vanessa's death that while other individuals present in Vanessa's apartment that day heard Carrillo yell, "Gun! Gun! Gun!, " Carrillo is the only person who claims to have actually seen Vanessa point a gun. As far as I am concerned, if Carrillo's claim that Vanessa pointed a BB fun a officers is indeed false, not only does it bring the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office's claim that the officers acted in self defence into question, but every single thing that Carrillo has said regarding Vanessa's death. Curiously, in the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office's report, Carrillo also claimed that Vanessa told him that she was having suicidal ideation, a claim that no one else made, not even the paramedics or the mental health professional present that day (whom one would think would be the most likely people Vanessa would have told if she was having suicidal thoughts, given they are medical professionals).

As I pointed out above, if the claim that Vanessa pointed a BB gun at the officers is indeed false, then it would put the conclusion that the officers acted in self defence in serious doubt. Putting this further in doubt is the fact that the Los Angles County Department of the Medical Examiner-Coroner's autopsy report as of September 3, 2018 makes it clear that Vanessa was shot in the back. Both the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office's report and the Complaint for Damages make it clear that she was shot at from a distance. Given Vanessa was shot in the back and from a distance, I then find it incredulous to claim that the officers acted in self defence and in defence of others.

Not only do I find it impossible to believe that the officers acted in self defence, but I firmly believe that they used excessive force in dealing with Vanessa. Vanessa was only 5'3" and weighed all of 87 pounds at the time of her death. As near as I can tell, the officers shot fifteen times, six of those shots going into Vanessa and nine of them into the wall. I seriously have to question why the officers saw fit to fire so many times at a petite, disabled, non-threatening woman. Of course, for that matter, if the officers truly felt threatened by Vanessa, then why did they not use non-lethal measures to deal with her? Today's police officers have access to more non-lethal weapons than ever before. They could have used pepper spray. They could have used a Taser. They could have used BolaWrap.  Now many of these non-lethal alternatives could have seriously injured Vanessa or may have even killed her, but they would have shown that the police officers were trying to preserve Vanessa's life. As it is, it looks to me as if the officers had absolutely no concern for Vanessa's life, that they were intent on killing her.

Here I want to say that even if the police officers present in Vanessa's apartment that day felt threatened by her, that is insufficient reason for them to have opened fire on her. Quite simply, being "scared out of one's mind" is not sufficient reason to shoot someone. If a civilian shot someone and used the excuse that they were "scared out of their mind," that civilian would find themselves arrested and charged with murder. Given they should have the training to deal with such situations, police officers should be held to a higher standard than civilians. "I was scared out of my mind" is not sufficient grounds for a police officer to even draw their weapon, let alone fire upon someone with it.

Of course, this points to one of my many problems with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office's report on Vanessa's death. Quite simply, it relies too much upon the words of police officers who would have a lot to lose if it were decided that they did not act in self defence, while omitting evidence that would contradict one of the report's foremost claims. Quite simply, it appears to me that a good deal of effort was put into the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office's report on Vanessa's death to make it appear that she was suicidal. Despite this, I know for a fact that in the course of their investigation the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department interviewed some of Vanessa's friends. Insofar as I know, not a one of them said that Vanessa was suicidal. On August 31, 2018 at 6:12 PM Central Time and again at 8:26 PM Central Time, I was interviewed by a sergeant with the Los Angles County Sheriff's Department. Among the questions he asked me was whether Vanessa had ever expressed a desire to kill herself and whether she had ever expressed a desire to harm herself. In each instance I said, "NO," so strenuously that the sergeant was taken aback.  Curiously, none of these interviews are referenced in the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office report. Here I have to point out that if Vanessa had truly been suicidal, she could have simply taken an overdose of her seizure medication at any time  She would not have chosen "suicide by cop." I also have to point out that if Vanessa had intended to commit suicide, she would have told someone first, if not me, then someone else.

While the Los Angles County District Attorney's Office's report does not include interviews with Vanessa's friends who denied that she was suicidal, it does include specifically chosen social media posts (apparently all from Facebook) taken entirely out of context to give the appearance that she wanted to end her life. With the exception of one I cannot deny that Vanessa made these posts, but I can explain them. As noted above, Vanessa was not a very physically healthy woman. On those days when she felt particularly unwell and she was having seizures, she might well complain. Most people complain when they are feeling unwell. They might even say something to the effect of "I just want to die."  I have done exactly that when I've had a severe toothache or a severe case of the norovirus. Did I want to kill myself? No. And neither do most people.  Neither did Vanessa. As I pointed out above, Vanessa was not suicidal, and I would be willing to state that under oath.

This brings me to a Facebook post that the Los Angeles County District Attorney's report claims Vanessa made that I do not believe that she in fact did. The report claims that at 1:48 PM Pacific time, right before the officer involved shooting began, Vanessa posted, "there shooting me pour ashes over Hollywood sign." Now on Facebook I had it set so that I received a notification any time Vanessa posted. I also have to point out that on the afternoon of August 30, 2018 I was frequently checking Vanessa's Facebook profile as I was worried about her. Somehow I never saw this alleged post. Furthermore, none of Vanessa's other friends I have talked to remember seeing this post either. It is not now nor has it ever been visible on Vanessa's profile. Now it seems very unlikely that any of Vanessa's other friends or I would not have seen this post. Furthermore, I find the post's grammar rather curious. Even under duress I am convinced Vanessa would have written the correct, "They're shooting me" and not "there shooting me."

Because I, nor Vanessa's other friends to whom I have talked, ever saw this post and because of its improper grammar, I find the claim that this was Vanessa's final Facebook post very dubious. Now I know some might question how the actual author of this post would have known that Vanessa wanted her ashes scattered at the Hollywood sign. Quite simply, this was pretty much public knowledge. I had known about it for years, as had many of Vanessa's other friends. I do believe she even posted about it to social media, so it would not take much research for someone to discover this. At any rate, until I see a screenshot of that post and can have it definitively verified as not being a forgery, I am always going to have serious doubts as to whether she posted it at all.

Ever since her death, I have written a great deal about Vanessa Marquez. It is no secret that Vanessa and I were very close, and that I have very strong feelings for her. She was both my dearest friend and a woman I adore. For that reason there may be those that would argue that I am so consumed by grief and anger that I cannot see things clearly. That having been said, I think the evidence of misconduct on the part of the City of South Pasadena and the police officers present in Vanessa's apartment is so great that anyone can see.

Indeed, it seems very clear to me that the City of South Pasadena and the South Pasadena Police Department showed very little concern for the life of Vanessa Marquez. When I called and asked for paramedics to be sent to Vanessa's apartment because she was having seizures, they sent police officers instead, individuals who are not qualified to deal with a medical emergency. Once there it appears that those police officers showed little concern for Vanessa's life and made no real effort to de-escalate the situation. Sadly, one of those officers decided to yell "Gun! Gun! Gun!" and fire upon Vanessa, after which another officer fired upon her as well. They killed Vanessa Marquez by shooting her in the back. In sending police officers instead of paramedics to respond to a medical emergency and afterwards taking no responsibility for those officers' actions, the City of South Pasadena should be held accountable. As for the officers who killed her, it is my firm belief that Gilberto Carrillo and Christopher Perez belong in prison. It is my firm belief that they did not act in self defence.

Sadly, the death of Vanessa Marquez at the hands of police is not an isolated case. Latinos, Native Americans, and African Americans are killed at disproportionately higher rates by police officers than whites or Asian Americans. And while some of these cases have generated a great deal of outrage on a national level, as of yet Vanessa's death has not. As far as I am concerned, it is time for people nation-wide to begin speaking out about the death of Vanessa Marquez. It is time for people to boycott the City of South Pasadena, California until they assume responsibility for her death. It is time for people to protest that Vanessa Marquez, a petite, non-threatening Latina who had committed no crime, was shot in the back and killed by heavily armed police officers in her own home. It is time for people to write the Attorney General of California, the Governor of California, and anyone else willing to listen so that those who killed her might be held responsible for her death. Vanessa was a warm, loving, kind-hearted, intelligent, and beautiful woman who was dealt an injustice by the very people sworn to serve and protect her. It is time that Vanessa Marquez received justice.