Looks as if the murder and manslaughter charges against Fullerton police officers for the fatal beating of homeless man Kelly Thomas may have inspired the family of another officer-involved-shooting victim to challenge the actions of local law enforcement in nearby Pomona.
Andres Avila, 26, a former student at Mt. San Antonio College, was gunned down on a Sunday morning in an alley outside the Super Inn on West Holt Avenue. According to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, who is now handling the investigation (along with the District Attorney), Avila and his girlfriend had spent the night of October 15 in his car, as she was sharing a hotel room with her family. When two officers approached the vehicle at 8:40 a.m. …
… they claim Avila got out of the car and became violent. So they shot him dead.
The victim was completely unarmed, according to Luis Carrillo, the attorney now representing his family in a lawsuit against the city of Pomona. Avila's relatives are asking for “unlimited damages.” The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin outlines the allegations:
In the claim Carrillo alleges police have made false statements about Avila, violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force, and subjected him to false arrest, false imprisonment, battery, negligence, state civil rights violations and wrongful death.
Avila's own history with Pomona police may have put him on defense the morning he was shot. Strangely, he's the same young man who filed a personnel complaint after friends videotaped him getting beat up by cops at a Fourth of July house party.
Here are three videos of the beatdown we found on YouTube.
Today, at the 6:30 p.m. Pomona City Council meeting, Avila's family plans to take the weighty accusations on behalf of their lost loved one to an institutional level: They're asking that the city itself (who, remember, is already being sued for Avila's death) call in the feds to investigate the larger implications of the shooting/beating.
According to the Daily Bulletin, their attorney has already asked as much of the U.S. Department of Justice. From his letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder:
“A Federal investigation is needed into the Pomona Police Department 'pattern and practice' of excessive use of force against the minority communities, and the pattern and practice of 'racial profiling' of Latino residents, for the sole purpose of towing their vehicles.”
In the immediate aftermath of Avila's death, nearly all crucial details of the October 16 incident — like whether Avila was armed, or otherwise threatened the lives of the officers — were concealed.
And in the weeks since, the Pomona Police Department has remained tight-lipped, saying only that the sheriff and D.A. “will make a determination as to the legality of the the shooting at the conclusion of their investigation.”
We've contacted sheriff's homicide Detective Gene Okada for updates on that front. As for the D.A.'s office — a recent ruling that Long Beach cops killed resident Douglas Zerby out of self defense isn't too encouraging. But in that case, both cops and neighbors mistook the water nozzle in Zerby's hand for a gun. Pomona police seem to have a less obvious argument for killing Avila.
In the meantime, Pomona residents, share your thoughts: Has a culture of racism and brutality been brewing at the police department, or are these isolated incidents?