Saturday, March 14, over 200 people participated in a “Walk for Justice” in East Bakersfield to honor the many victims of Bakersfield Police and Kern County Sheriff’s Department. The demonstration was unprecedented, according to Bakersfield residents I talked to.
The march revisited scenes of the deaths of David Silva, David Turner, James De La Rosa, and Ronnie Ledesma, which were just blocks apart from one another.
David Silva, 33, was killed in 2013 following an interaction with seven sheriff’s deputies, two CHP officers, and a police dog. Silva was sleeping on a front lawn when sheriff’s deputies responded to a call about an intoxicated person. They woke him with a knuckle rub, a controversial practice, and beat him repeatedly with batons; a police dog was also deployed and bit Silva multiple times. Witnesses recorded the brutality and even called 911 to report the beating. Silva died less than an hour later. Five witnesses have since filed a federal lawsuit claiming deputies unlawfully detained them and improperly seized their personal property after recording the brutality. One witness says video was deleted from her phone before it was returned. The Silva family is also currently involved in a civil lawsuit against the sheriff’s department.
Ex-NFL star David “Deacon” Turner, 56, was shot to death in 2011. Sheriff’s Deputies Wesley Kraft and Aaron Nadal were investigating teenagers asking people to buy them booze and cigarettes at the “Faststrip” when they stopped Turner who had just exited the store. The Sheriff’s office said Turner initially complied with the investigation but then decided to leave. When deputies struck Turner from behind with their batons, he allegedly defended himself by swinging a bag containing two tall cans of beer at the deputies. Wesley Kraft pulled his handgun and fired twice, killing Turner. The Sheriff’s Department ruled the shooting justified, but in 2014, Kern County quietly settled a wrongful death suit for the amount of 1.8 million dollars to Turner’s family on the basis that police didn’t have probable cause to detain David in the first place.
James De La Rosa, 22, is one of the latest victims of Bakersfield law enforcement. November of last year, James was allegedly involved in a high-speed-chase when he crashed his Jeep into a pole. James got out of his car and he was shot multiple times in the head. He was unarmed.
Ronnie Ledesma, 39, was beaten to death by Kern County Sheriff’s Department in 2013. His case is almost identical to that of David Silva and Jose Lucero. The sheriff’s department was responding to a call of “two men acting strangely” when the confrontation began. Ledesma was beaten with batons, bitten by a dog, and died nine days later. The Sheriff’s Department says he died of medical complications, that apparently, didn’t have anything to do with being brutalized.
The Walk for Justice ended at Heritage Park where there was a bounce house for the children, food, drinks, and entertainment.
Speakers included family members of Jorge Ramirez and Christopher McDaniel. Ramirez was a confidential informant working with the police when he was fatally shot by them in 2013. McDaniel was killed by sheriff’s deputies in 2014.
Also present were family members of Alfred Ramirez, James Moore, Frank Ramos, Jose Lucero, Daniel Hiler, Chrystal Cleavenger, Maria Rodriguez, David Garcia, and Joe Whitehouse of Anaheim.
Organizers vow that they will continue to mobilize and hold Bakersfield police accountable. A citizen review board, better training, and an independent coroner were common talking points among speakers, but the most prominent reoccurring theme was standing united against police terror as a community. The people of Bakersfield are building a foundation for systemic change in local law enforcement.
The size of these marches and rallies has been growing,” said Ben Meiselas, an attorney with the Los Angeles firm Geragos & Geragos, which is representing the family of James De La Rosa as well as the family of Jorge Ramirez.
“The community has lost trust in the police,” Meiselas said. “This is a very critical moment for these families and for the entire community. There has to be reform.”