Inquest reveals details of Richmond police shooting
on December 12, 2014
Working the graveyard shift that September night, Officer Wallace Jensen pulled his police cruiser over on Stege Avenue and parked out of sight of Uncle Sam’s Liquors.
He’d heard reports that locals hung around Uncle Sam’s drinking after dark. His lieutenant had asked him to pass by and disburse crowds. Jensen left his car around the corner to catch potential loiterers off-guard.
He never expected what would come next.
In the shop, he encountered 24-year-old Richard “Pedie” Perez III, who was drunk and unarmed.
The men exchanged words briefly and then their altercation turned physical. Jensen attempted to handcuff Perez, before losing control of the situation and radioing for help.
Within minutes he’d shot Perez three times and the young man lay dead on the liquor store floor.
The details trickled out in a courtroom Wednesday morning where four witnesses, including Jensen, testified as part of a coroner’s inquest into the circumstances surrounding Perez’s death, the first fatal officer-involved shooting in Richmond since 2007.
It was the officer’s first time speaking publicly about the events of Sept. 14.
As expected, jurors unanimously ruled that Perez’s wasn’t an accidental death, but an intentional killing at the hands of the Richmond cop.
Jensen is back on duty, and investigations by the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office and an independent investigator retained by police are ongoing. Perez’s family has retained Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris and plans to sue the city.
During his testimony, Jensen said he realized after the shooting that his radio had been switched to the wrong frequency, which explained why police backup never arrived.
“Nobody on our primary channel had heard what had just occurred,” Jensen said.
Jensen, a K-9 patrol officer and 7-year veteran of the department, said Perez was intoxicated but initially compliant when a store clerk at Uncle Sam’s flagged the officer down as he walked by.
The clerk said that a man was “causing problems” by trying to take alcohol from the store on credit. He pointed inside to Perez.
“I could tell he was unsteady, he was swinging from side to side,” Jensen said of Perez. “His speech was slurred.”
Toxicology reports indicate that Perez’s blood alcohol level was .247, roughly three times the legal limit for driving, and that he had low levels of Benadryl, an anti-depressant and an anti-seizure medication in his blood, Dr. Arnold Josselson, a forensic pathologist, testified.
Jensen said he told Perez to sit down on the curb outside and asked him for identification.
Perez had had several previous run-ins with police, including a weapons charge that was later reduced in court. He complained that another officer had taken his driver’s license the night before, after a DUI stop.
“He was very talkative,” Jensen said. “He was very animated with his hands.”
Jensen said he called Officer Lane Matsui, who’d worked the previous night’s patrol, to verify Perez’s story. As he did so, Perez began to wander away.
“Fuck this, I’m out of here. I’m done,” Perez said, according to Jensen.
Jensen ordered Perez to stop walking. When he didn’t, Jensen pursued, grabbed Perez from behind, and swept his legs out from under him.
“I fell on top of him, I was struggling to gain control of his hands,” Jensen said. He called for backup, not realizing his radio was still on the private channel he’d used to call Matsui.
Perez writhed free from beneath Jensen and managed to rise to his feet.
Using a judo-style throw, Jensen brought Perez down on his back and fell on top of him once more.
Face-to-face this time, Jensen said Perez used his right hand to grab a hold of Jensen’s left. The officer felt Perez’s left fingers wriggle into the right side of his service belt, near where his gun was holstered.
“That’s when I began to feel something pulling,” Jensen said. “I then looked down and I could see Mr. Perez’s left hand on the grip of my gun.”
A second time, Perez pushed Jensen off of him.
Upright again and standing several feet apart, the men looked at each other. Jensen drew his gun.
“Mr. Perez had his hands out in front of him…. [he] lunged towards me with his arms extended,” Jensen said. “I fired one round.”
Twice more, as Perez advanced, Jensen shot him.
The officer estimated that the scuffle lasted only one minute from start to finish, when Perez buckled over, stumbled into Uncle Sam’s and died.
“I was afraid he was going to take my gun and kill me,” Jensen said.
Josselson, who performed the autopsy, confirmed that Perez was shot three times in the front of his body.
Two bullets to the left side of his chest punctured several internal organs and his aorta. These were the wounds that killed Perez, Josselson said.
A third, non-fatal shot entered his abdomen and exited through the back of his right thigh. Perez also had bruises and scratches consistent with a physical altercation on various parts of his body, according to Josselson.
Only hearing officer Matt Guichard questioned Jensen, who spoke softly and gazed down at his hands throughout his testimony.
Guichard did not ask if Jensen carried any non-lethal weapons, such as a taser, baton, or pepper spray, all of which are standard issue for Richmond police officers.
He did question Jensen on whether he was accompanied by a K-9 partner on his solo patrol. Jensen said he had locked his dog in the car with windows closed when he set off for Uncle Sam’s on foot.
Jurors also heard statements from Richmond Police Officer Hector Esparza, who is president of the local policeman’s union, and Jeff Soler, an investigator for the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office.
Esparza and Soler were assigned to interview Jensen in the aftermath of the shooting while he was sequestered at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Concord.
They corroborated the statements made by Jensen, who left the courtroom promptly after delivering his testimony.
The jury returned a verdict in less than 20 minutes.
Friends and relatives of Perez poured out of the packed Martinez courtroom just before noon. The dead man’s father, grandfather, and uncle walked into the hallway in silence, while several female relatives stopped to sob and embrace.
Georgette Duperval, a friend, rejoiced.
“God is good, god is good,” she said, issuing gasps of relief through her tears.
“What’s it mean?” asked another of Perez’s friends.
“Finally somebody will be held accountable for these actions,” Duperval said. “He was in the wrong.”
But outside the courthouse, Burris cautioned the group that criminal charges against Jensen were unlikely.
He described the inquest as a pro forma procedure and warned that it determined only a cause of death, not criminal liability or likelihood of prosecution.
“If they were going to file a complaint without pressure, they would have done it,” Burris said. “Now the question is, will they do a complaint with pressure? Probably not… I don’t think the DA in this county has ever filed a case against a police officer.”
In a statement released after the inquest, Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus said the official investigation into the incident is still ongoing.
“Our understanding is that the criminal investigation/review of this death by the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office is almost complete, but there is still an administrative investigation underway being conducted by an outside investigator retained by the Police Department,” Magnus said. “We remain committed to providing as much information to the family and the public as we can legally disclose.”
Burris did not dispute the autopsy findings, but took issue with the fact that no cross-examination of Jensen was permitted. He cast doubt on Jensen’s self-defense argument.
“Police officers always cover. It’s always ‘my life was in danger,’” Burris said. “I expect cops to say this stuff whether it’s true or not.”
Many relatives have said that Perez was not the type to grab a cop’s gun and several witnesses to the incident have said that he never did.
“I think [Jensen] was lying through his teeth, because he never looked up,” said Perez’s grandmother, Patricia Perez.
“I want to know everything there is to know about it. That’s how you find out the truth,” she said. “He didn’t have to die.”
Burris said he plans to move forward with a lawsuit against Officer Jensen and the City of Richmond, seeking money damages on behalf of Perez’s parents. The suit will argue that their son’s shooting was an excessive use of force and a civil rights violation.
The attorney also urged Perez’s loved ones to join in actions against police violence.
“Speak out about the wrongs that you have felt and the sense that Pedie’s life was taken wrongfully,” Burris said.
Referencing recent protests following non-indictments in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York, Perez’s father wondered why this Richmond case wasn’t getting more attention locally.
“I wish there were a few signs out there… with ‘Justice for Pedie,’” said Rick Perez Jr., who wore a t-shirt bearing a picture of his son.
“I don’t know if he’s the wrong color or what, but my loss is just as great,” he said. “White lives matter as much as black lives. All life matters.”
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