Friday, March 6, 2020

In Defence of Vanessa Marquez

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

Many of you may realise why I have not made a post this week. Others of you may be wondering why I have not. It was this past Monday, March 2 2020, that Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey released her findings in the officer involved shooting of Vanessa Marquez (curiously, this was also the day before the Los Angeles District Attorney election). The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office is attempting to justify the shooting of Vanessa, while at the same time portraying her as suicidal. As might be expected, I have serious issues with the report because of this. To say that the report has upset and angered me is an understatement.

To begin with, the report does not explain why police were sent to Vanessa's apartment rather than paramedics. As many of you already know, on August 30 2018 Vanessa asked me to call the paramedics because she was having severe seizures. I then called the fire department to request that paramedics be dispatched to Vanessa's apartment to treat her for the seizures. Apparently, before my call, a woman from Alabama, who identified herself was one of Vanessa's friends, called the paramedics and said that Vanessa was "not acting right" and was concerned because of Vanessa's history of medical problems. This call was then referred to the South Pasadena Police Department for a "welfare check." The police then arrived at 11:49 AM Pacific Time (I made my call at 11:48 AM Pacific Time). Here I want to stress that in my call I only told them that Vanessa was having severe seizures. I did not ask for a wellness check. I did not ask for the police to be sent to her apartment. In no way, shape, or form did I indicate that she was a danger to herself or anyone else. My call was not referred to the South Pasadena Police Department and I would have protested if it had been.

Now I do not know who this woman from Alabama was and I have no idea what the contents of her phone call may have been, but I think it was a mistake for the call to be be referred to the South Pasadena Police Department for a welfare check.  Instead, paramedics should have been dispatched right away, particularly given Vanessa's medical history. Obviously paramedics have the training necessary to deal with medical issues. The average police officer does not. For that reason, even for a welfare check, the paramedics should have been dispatched instead of the police. I think if paramedics had initially been sent to Vanessa's apartment on that day, then the whole situation may have played out very differently.

Not only do I have issues with the police having been sent to her apartment instead of paramedics, but I have serious objections to a portion of the report that uses specially selected posts from Vanessa Marquez's Facebook account out of context to make it look like she was suicidal. Vanessa was not a physically healthy woman. She suffered from  stage 2 refractory coeliac disease and fibromyalgia. She regularly experienced seizures. Despite this Vanessa generally kept her sunny disposition, discussing classic movies and TV shows, joking around, and generally enjoying her friends and life. Like many of us, however, there would be those times when her illness would get her down. Like many of us, she might say things to the effect of "I just wish I could die" or even, rarely, post them to Facebook. I am sure all of us have done that. When I have had particularly bad toothaches I have been known to say, "I just want to just die." That having been said, I didn't mean it when I said it and I certainly was not suicidal. All of us, when we are sick and in pain, sometimes say these things and we never mean them. Vanessa did not mean it when she made those Facebook posts and she certainly was not suicidal.

Among Vanessa's few Facebook posts included in the report is one that I find very questionable and has aroused my suspicions regarding the whole investigation. They claim that Vanessa's final Facebook post, allegedly made around 1:46 PM Pacific time, was "there shooting cremate me pour ashes over Hollywood sign." Now I had Vanessa set to notifications on Facebook so that I saw every post she made. On top of that, on August 30 2018, I was very worried about Vanessa. After all, the South Pasadena Fire Department never bothered to call me back to let me know what was going on. I was then checking her Facebook profile constantly to see if she had posted any updates. I then find it very curious that I do not remember seeing this Facebook post at all. What is more, it is not now visible on her Facebook profile and has never been visible on her Facebook profile, at least not to me. Vanessa's other friends I have talked to do not remember this alleged post either. Now it is possible that Vanessa made the post so that only specific friends could see it and I was not among those friends.  While Vanessa made nearly all of her posts publicly, I cannot rule this out as a possibility. That having been said, 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 made it at all.

The fact is that not only was Vanessa not suicidal, but she still had a good deal of enthusiasm for life. Despite her illness, Vanessa could be very lively and animated, and she took enjoyment out of the things she loved. Even shortly before her death, Vanessa was still very much looking forward to life. In our final conversation on the phone, we talked about the 25th anniversary X-Files marathon that was going to be on  BBC America that September. She was also very excited about an upcoming John Williams concert that was going to be in the area. As always, we talked about me visiting her one day. She talked to another friend about a sale at Sephora that weekend. Individuals who want to commit suicide do not talk about the future because as far as they are concerned, they have none. Vanessa was still enthusiastic about life and she thought she still had a future.

This brings me to another issue that I have with the Los Angeles District Attorney's report regarding Vanessa's death. I know for a fact that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department interviewed some of Vanessa's friends. I know that I was among them. When I was interviewed I was asked if Vanessa had ever expressed a desire to commit suicide or a desire to harm herself. In each instance I told the deputy "NO" so strenuously that he was taken aback. I cannot say what every single one of  Vanessa's other friends may have said in their interviews, but I know that many of them also said that Vanessa was not suicidal. Despite this, none of these interviews are included in the District Attorney's report. I cannot say for certain why the interviews of Vanessa's friends were not included in the report, but my suspicion is that they were not included because they would have refuted the District Attorney Office's claim that Vanessa was suicidal. I am guessing the District Attorney's Office thought that a woman committing "suicide by cop" would play better than police officers killing a disabled woman, who had been having seizures all day, in her own home. Here I have to point out that, insofar as I know, Jackie Lacey has never prosecuted an officer involved shooting. I know for a fact that in the past police unions have contributed millions of dollars to political action committees supporting Jackie Lacey and she has also been endorsed by police unions.

As to the issue of whether the police officers were justified in shooting Vanessa, even after reading the report I am convinced that they were not. What is more, given the sheer number of shots fired, I personally think they may have used excessive force. As to the police officers feeling threatened by Vanessa, I cannot see how they possibly could have been. She stood all of 5'3" and weighed all of 87 pounds. Even if they had felt threatened by her, I do not think a police officer being "scared out of his mind" is reasonably sufficient grounds for them to even draw their firearm, much less respond with gunfire. If a civilian killed someone and claimed they felt threatened, even if they said that they were "scared out of their mind," that civilian would be charged with murder. Police should be held to the same standards as civilians. I also have to question why the police officers did not use non-lethal measures to deal with Vanessa. As tiny as she was, they could have simply taken the gun from her. 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--they may have even killed her--but they would have shown that the police officers were trying to preserve Vanessa's life. From the way the report reads to me, it sounds like they made little effort at all to defuse the situation or, for that matter, try to preserve her life.

Here I also have to question why the police officers or anyone else present that day did not call one of Vanessa's friends to talk her down. I would think that they would have the numbers of the woman from Alabama and myself. I would also think they would have the phone number of her emergency contact. They called none of us. I don't know if I could have talked Vanessa down or not, but I would at least liked to have had the opportunity to do so. It would have been much better than allowing her to be senselessly killed by police officers. Here I have to also point out that when Vanessa died, they did not call any of Vanessa's friends for whom they had numbers. I had to learn about Vanessa's death from the website The South Pasadenan that night.

I do have my own theory as to what happened on that terrible day. I know for a fact that Vanessa had been having seizures all day. Individuals having seizures often experience a period of confusion and even psychosis following a seizure. Vanessa was then not thinking clearly to begin with. On top of this I think it is likely that she was startled by police officers bursting into her apartment (I know I would be, and I have friends who are police officers). Beyond even this, one has to consider that Vanessa did not want to go back to the hospital, because she had bad experiences there. I know in July, after she had experienced heatstroke, that I begged her go to the hospital if she felt even a little bit odd, but she wouldn't listen. Although I have no proof of this, I also have to wonder if the disposition of the police officer on the scene did not make matters worse. Anyway, between experiencing confusion or even psychosis due to her seizures, possibly being alarmed at police officers barging into her home, the officers' insistence that she go to the hospital, and her fear of returning to the hospital, Vanessa took the only course she felt she had left to her. Ultimately, I have to wonder if things would have gone differently if paramedics had been sent instead of police officers or the police officers had handled the situation more responsibly.

I know there are those who will claim that I am so consumed by grief and anger that I am not seeing things clearly. And I cannot deny that I am consumed by grief and anger. Vanessa was the dearest person in my entire life, a woman I will always love, and even one year and six months following her death my grief is still palpable. That having been said, I think neither my grief nor my anger invalidate many of my points here. There are many things about the Los Angeles County District Attorney Office's report that do not make sense. In many ways it brings up more questions than it offers answers. It is because of this that I still honestly believe that Vanessa did not have to die. I am still hopeful that we can still get justice for Vanessa Marquez.