Seeking justice for a father
With family members and their supporters keeping up the protests, the police story about how Victor Ortega died is steadily unraveling, reports.
FAMILY AND supporters of Victor Ortega, a father of two who was shot and killed by San Diego police, gathered on February 6 at the Hall of Justice to demand that the city charge officer Jonathon McCarthy with murder.
Friends and family say the 31-year-old father of a 5-year-old girl and 1-and-a-half-year-old boy was an easygoing man, and a warm and affectionate husband and father. But tragically, on the morning of June 4, he and his wife Shakina got into a domestic dispute over who should take the kids to school. Shakina called 911, and Victor fled the house.
When police arrived at the family's home in the Mira Mesa neighborhood of Northeast San Diego, Shakina was standing outside the door, calm and in no immediate danger. But instead of speaking directly with Shakina--the person who made the 911 call--Officer McCarthy, drove off by himself in hot pursuit of Victor, who was on foot.
Several blocks from the Ortega home, McCarthy left his car and began to pursue Victor on foot himself. According to police, they met in a walkway adjacent to a parking area attached to some nearby apartments.
Initially, the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) told the media that Ortega and McCarthy got into a struggle for the officer's gun, and Ortega pointed it at McCarthy. In the time it took for the local newspapers to disseminate this lie, the police recanted this story.
Then they claimed that McCarthy's backup gun fell out of its holster, and Victor, who was partially handcuffed, reached out to grab it. This second story contradicted the results of Victor's autopsy, which placed Victor's hands in a position where the claim about reaching for the gun would have been physically impossible.
While local media like the San Diego Union-Tribune compounded these lies by smearing Victor in the days to come, Victor's and Shakina's family united in their common conviction that, no matter what the police or media said, they knew Victor was murdered. In the following months, family and community members organized downtown rallies calling for justice for Victor.
The family sought out the deputy medical examiner, Dr. Othon Mena. They found out that the angles of the entry wounds indicated that when he was shot, Victor's head was slightly bent down, and there was a slight bend at his stomach as well. After several protests, the family were finally able to get a copy of the full autopsy report.
In the meantime, a witness came forward to say that he heard Victor's last words. The witness said that he heard the officer command Victor, "Get down! Get down!" and he heard Victor reply, "Are you kidding me? I am going to sue you," suggesting that Ortega was already complying with the officer's orders and intended to protest what was happening through legal channels.
Recently, two brothers who were near the scene where the shooting occurred say they clearly heard handcuffs being clicked around Ortega's wrists before they heard the shots.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
AT THE February 6 protest, some 75 family members, friends and local activists came together to formally demand that District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis press charges against McCarthy. Local media were there in force to cover the rally.
Family members wore T-shirts with Victor's picture on the front, while on the back were the words, "SDPD: Are you kidding me?" Activists held signs that read, "SDPD is the biggest gang in SD" and "McCarthy should be in jail." One protester held up a poignant collage of Victor with his wife and kids.
Victor's mother, Roberta, spoke with the local news and revealed publicly the explosive findings of the autopsy: Victor's hands were cuffed behind his back when McCarthy shot him.
In order to further dramatize the findings of the autopsy, a number of supporters kneeled silently at the foot of the stairs and clasped their hands behind their backs. They wore signs around their necks that said, "We are all Victor Ortega."
Later, the coalition went to the 13th floor to Dumanis' office to present the district attorney with 500 of the more than 1,000 petitions that had been gathered by local nonprofit Canvass for a Cause demanding that Officer McCarthy be put on trial.
Neither Dumanis nor anyone from her staff was willing to come out from behind closed and guarded doors to accept the petitions, so Naomi, speaking on behalf of the family, delivered a powerful mic-check that was echoed by the room full of supporters. It began: "We are here on behalf of Victor Ortega. He was executed by a police officer on June 4, 2012" and it ended with the declaration, "We demand Justice! We are the people!"
Protesters left the DA's office chanting, "We are all Victor Ortega!" and emerged minutes later onto the steps of the Hall of Justice, chanting "Justice for Victor Ortega! Put McCarthy on trial!" Two community members gave speeches connecting the Ortega family's struggle with the larger struggle of people of color against systematic police racism and terror.
The following morning, the district attorney, who couldn't take five minutes to meet with the family on Wednesday, found the time to make an appearance on a local news station to talk about the case.
Victor's supporters see this as a sign that the city is concerned enough about the power of protesters' message that they felt compelled to say something about Ortega's death. This is a victory to build on. As family and community members chanted when leaving the DA's office, "We'll be back, and we'll be bigger!"