Richmond Chamber Honors Difference Makers of 2015


By Malcolm Marshall
A woman who worked in the male-dominated construction industry and a man who introduced young people to nature were among the individuals honored by the Richmond Chamber Of Commerce this year.

At its annual business meeting and “Thanks for Giving” luncheon, the Chamber Of Commerce recognized businesses, leaders and volunteers who have made a difference in the community in 2015. About 60 people gathered at the Richmond Country Club Nov. 19 for the ceremony.

“It’s about honoring people that have given of themselves in extraordinary ways,” said Chris Phipps, Chamber office manager. “This is the event Chamber members look forward to as the feel-good event of the year.”

The public relations firm J Majors & Associates took home the award for small business of the year, with its owner Jacqueline Majors honored for her work in the male-dominated field of construction, as well as for her Majors Foundation, which helps city youth travel out of the Richmond area through baseball.

Eric Aaholm, executive director of the ecology group YES Nature To Neighborhoods, accepted the award for non-profit of the year, for his organization’s work with Richmond youth and families that emphasizes leadership development in the outdoors. Entering its 17th year, the group recently celebrated the 5,000th young person it has hosted at outdoor camps, providing a learning space in nature for urban youth who would not otherwise get such an opportunity.

Louise Green of Fisher Realtors received the award for Ambassador of the Year, recognizing her work in the community and honoring her long career — including work as a medical transcriber at Veterans Affairs offices and hospitals in the Bay Area, a brief stint with the Richmond Police Department, time spent supporting the U.S. Navy and finally at the Social Security Administration. After 25 years working for the government, Green became a successful real estate broker.

Outgoing Chamber Of Commerce Chair Vernon Whitmore received special recognition for strengthening the chamber’s relationship with the city and state governments, local business and the non-profit community.

Also acknowledged were the winners of the 2015 Barbara Obele Community Service Award, given to local advocates in honor of longtime Chamber General Manager Barbara Obele, who died in 2009.

“We miss her greatly because she loved the city, the hard working people and especially the volunteers in the community,” said former City Council member John Ziesenhenne, who served as master of ceremonies for the event.

Recipients of the award included Cesar Zepeda of the Hilltop District Homeowners and Stakeholders Association, Menbere Aklilu of Salute e Vita Ristorante, community activist Naomi Williams, and Kyra Worthy, executive director of the non-profit group For Richmond.

Zepeda received recognition for creating change in the community through his homeowners association and the Hilltop District Neighborhood Council. Aklilu, a survivor of and activist against domestic violence, was honored for starting what has become one of Richmond’s most celebrated traditions, an annual Thanksgiving event for the needy in Contra Costa County.

The Chamber honored Williams for her decades of service in Richmond with the Pullman Neighborhood Council, Richmond crime prevention program, Richmond Police Commission, the Neighborhood Black Alliance and more. She has attended Richmond City Council meetings for the past 43 years.

Worthy, meanwhile, received honors for her work with the Chevron-funded non-profit For Richmond. Her accomplishments include the Job Barriers Removal Program, which prepares residents for employment and connects jobseekers to available positions.



With Prop 47, A Release from the Stigma of a Past Felony









News Report, Nancy DeVille

For Kerry Walls, carrying the weight of a decade-old drug related felony was exhausting.

He got sober in the late 2000s after years of battling a crack cocaine addition and alcoholism, and tried to put his troubled past in the rearview mirror. He applied for jobs. Some called him in for interviews, while others skipped over him when they noticed his felony record. And even finding quality housing was a struggle.

For Walls, it felt like his past was winning. The stigma of being labeled a felon seemed to follow him everywhere and he eventually was diagnosed with depression.

“But even though I accumulated these felonies, I still always had the desire to do better,” Walls, 54, told dozens of people gathered at Richmond’s Living Hope Neighborhood Church at a Prop 47 forum last month. “But these felonies held my self-esteem and confidence to a low.”

A recent call to the Contra Costa Public Defender’s office offered a ray of hope. Walls was told he was eligible to have his two drug-related felonies cleared through California’s Prop 47, a measure passed last year that reduces some nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors.

“It takes the stigma away and boosts your confidence. To have that removed is just overwhelming,” he said as tears welled up in his eyes. “I’ve struggled so long with this. I now feel like I’m not being labeled. It’s like a new-born freedom.”

In Contra Costa County, hundreds of people like Walls have taken advantage of the initiative. More than 500 people have been released from custody and over 1,000 people have had felonies, many stretching back decades, reduced in the county since California voters adopted the initiative last November.

Ellen McDonnell, a Contra Costa public defender, says her office’s goal is to reach the nearly 10,000 people who are eligible to get their felonies reduced before the November 2017 deadline.

“Prop 47’s reclassifications of felonies can often be a critical catalyst to putting people back to work, helping them qualify for certain government benefits, for housing and student aid,” McDonnell said.

Known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, Prop 47 allows those convicted of certain nonviolent crimes, like drug possession and petty theft when less than $950 is involved, to have the charges reduced. Those with a history of violence or sex offenses are ineligible.

With the record of his felonies behind him, Walls now works as a post office custodian, is married and regularly attends drug and alcohol support groups to make sure he stays clean.

“I went to jail and did the time, but I still had these felonies,” he said. “This is just the beginning for the betterment of my life.”

Walls hopes to help other law-abiding citizens remove their felony records and show them they don’t have to be defined by their past. He also hopes to start a housing program to help recovering drug and alcohol addicts get back on their feet. It’s something he might not have even considered a few months ago because of his criminal record.

“There are a lot of people out there suffering who don’t have a clue on how to get help,” he said. “I’ve been passing out flyers at shelters and other places in the community to help get the word out [about Prop 47]. I know it takes determination and many people can’t do it alone.”

Residents of Contra Costa County with questions about Prop 47 can contact Ellen McDonnell, Contra Costa County Deputy Public Defender, at 925-335-8075 or

Rosie the Riveter – Still Inspiring Women in Richmond


Story, Nancy DeVille | Photos, David Meza

They came from all over the Bay Area. Hundreds of women in navy blue coveralls, knee high red socks, black work boots and red and white polka dot bandannas. All to be a part of history and pay homage to the woman known as Rosie the Riveter.

The Rosie lookalikes gathered at the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park to attempt to break a Guinness Book world record for the most Rosies gathered in one place since World War II. The previous record of 776 Rosies was set in Ypsilanti, Mich. last year.

For Yenni Velazquez, the Rosie rally was an opportunity to educate her seven-year-old daughter Yennell, who met one of the original Rosies at the event.

The original Rosies were workers at Richmond’s Kaiser shipyards who took jobs during World War II that were traditionally held by men. They earned the nickname Rosie the Riveter and worked as buckers, welders and electricians. The Rosies are renowned for redefining the women’s role in the workplace and inspiring women of all ages.

“The minute we got out of the car it felt like we were part of a scene back in the ‘40s, because there were Rosies everywhere,” Velazquez said. “It empowered my daughter for her to hear one of the original Rosies tell her, ‘You can do anything you want to do.’”

Ellen Seskin, a Richmond resident, said the event brought together a diverse group of women. “For just a few hours, there weren’t black women and white women and Asian women, old women and young women,” she said. “We were all just Rosie the Riveter, [coming] together for a common cause, just as I imagine the real Rosies did.”

Guinness must still validate the head count and ensure the women were dressed in the official Rosie attire before the record is official. But Rosie officials believe the record was broken because they sold more than 800 of the famed polka dot bandannas before the rally. During the event, organizers announced that 1,084 attended.

“It was important for me to get involved for something that was bringing positivity to Richmond,” added Velazquez. “We have some pretty awesome women that can come together and break a world record. It gave me hope that we can get together and continue to bring out the best in Richmond.”

Remembering Fontino Jr. Hardy


By Corey Monroe

When I heard that Fontino Jr. Hardy was shot and killed in Richmond on July 15, at 29 years old, I cried, big time. Losing this cool, young brother hurts.

I first met Hardy in 2004, when he came through Omega Boys Club, a youth development and violence prevention organization in San Francisco with some friends. He and his buddies were from Richmond and they bought a new flavor to Omega. A few of us soon became like big brothers to him.

Hardy’s energy, attitude and big heart drew people to him. He cared about getting his friends out of the neighborhood and he went on to bring more people through the club than anyone else I knew. He always brought three or four people to attend meetings with him, rarely coming alone.

In 2005, with the support of the Omega Boys Club, I went with Hardy and his friends on a trip to visit colleges in the South. Dr. Joseph Marshall, executive director and co founder of the program, paid for the tour. Hardy and his buddy were part of a group of 20 youth we took to on the tour in the hopes that they’d be inspired to get out of the Bay Area and into schools.

I remember the look of amazement on Hardy’s face when we stopped at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia and he saw all these black people going from class to class. At Spellman College he kept saying, “I have to go to college in the South.” We also visited Morehouse and Morris Brown College. Hardy was blown away, he said he liked the food, he liked the way everything was green, not to mention all the beautiful sisters walking around and the brothers with books in their hands.

After the tour, he didn’t even want to come home. I’ve never seen anyone so excited on a college tour. He said it helped him see black people in a whole new light, he saw black people motivated to go to school and take their time achieving their life goals.

Eventually, Hardy achieved part of his dream, graduating from Tennessee State University with a degree in criminal justice.

He used to call me on the phone and say, “Monroe, let’s go speak to the youngsters and encourage the youth to go to college and get a trade.”

When he spoke at community colleges or conferences he would pack the rooms. He also had a way with getting women to attend our groups. He would walk around saying, “Come to our group.” I would cry from laughing.

Over the years, we grew apart and though I heard from him occasionally we were never as close as in the early 2000s when I was helping to show him around colleges. I’m not sure what happened in the in-between years, but I wish he had stayed in the South.

Q&A: How Principal Evans Helped De Anza Set the Gold Standard

Interview • Malcolm Marshall

photo credit: De Anza High School

photo credit: De Anza High School

EDITOR’S NOTE: Richmond’s De Anza High School recently received a Gold Ribbon Schools Award from the California Department of Education. The award recognizes schools that have made gains implementing the academic content and performance standards adopted by the State Board of Education.

According to the West Contra Costa Unified School District website, De Anza has seen significant improvement in several key indicators in recent years, including a nearly 5 percent increase in its graduation rate and a nearly 10 percent reduction in its dropout rate.

Richmond Pulse interviewed De Anza principal Robert Evans at a recent school board meeting where he and members of his staff were honored for the achievement. Evans says teaching remains his first love. He arrived at De Anza five years ago to “give back to the Bay Area community and try to help raise kids the proper way.”

Richmond Pulse: What is the most important thing you brought to De Anza?

Robert Evans: The biggest thing we lacked was developing relationships. My philosophy is once you’ve built relationships, then we collaborate to have communication. I don’t care how smart a kid is, I don’t care how difficult a parent is; once you break down the walls and develop trust, everybody can work together to collaborate and you come out successful, because then you develop into [a] community as a team.

RP: How do you define success?

RE: We talk about teaching the full student. It’s got to be academics, obviously; but you have social skills, athletic skills, you’ve got to find out — whether it be music skills, visual performing arts — what drives a kid, each kid. That means you’ve got to get personal, to understand what drives each child and what those strengths are, their passions. Why do they want to come to school? You have to give children a reason to want to come to school every day, so [that] it’s exciting. When we did that, we saw our attendance rate go up. The kids want to be there.

With teachers, my philosophy is to point them [to] their passion — because if it’s their passion, it’s not work for them. All I do is just kind of corral them and point them in the right direction and let them go.

RP: What has changed the most on campus?

RE: I see a change in the culture, kids focusing on their academic grades, because now on campus it’s cool to be smart. It’s not cool to be dumb. They’re like, “I’ve got my 4.3, I’ve got my 3.8.” Struggling kids going, “Mr. Evans, I got a 1.9, I got to get to a 2.” Having over 50 percent of your kids make honor roll and the principal’s list, that means over 50 percent are over 3.0 and 3.5. Those are the things I’m excited to see.

RP: So many teachers and administrators burn out over time. Where do you get your passion from?

RE: It’s just been very exciting for me. I just go 100 miles an hour, whether it’s in the morning or late at night. We do a lot of things at football games, basketball games, soccer games — you try to be at all of those different types of things. Then you’ve got to focus on them in the classroom as well. You look at every single kid and say, “Which way do they learn? What’s their learning modality?” Then you have to take an array of teaching strategies and match those things.

It’s the same thing with my staff. I look for staff that that have excitement. You’ve got to be motivated. I tell teachers all the time it’s like being on stage: You’ve got to go 100 percent all the time, because you’re “on”. It takes a lot of energy, a lot of strength — but whatever it takes, you’ve got to do that.

RP: You are now moving on to work in the district office. What’s next for you?

RE: Since I just officially got a new promotion into the district office, my role now is to help move the [entire] secondary program of West Contra Costa in the same direction that we took De Anza. I’m going to be the coordinator of educational services in the secondary schools.

RP: Is it bittersweet to leave De Anza?

RE: Yeah, it is. When you’ve had a family that you’ve really been excited for, you don’t like leaving. But at the same time, it’s an opportunity to help more of the district. It was like when I left teaching: I was a teacher, and then I became an assistant principal to help the school overall. So now [it’s] just a larger role, and I can help more people.

Firebrand: How a San Pablo Mom Became an Education Advocate


By Edgardo Cervano-Soto

On Jan. 6, 2015, Petronila Fernandes’ son, a kindergarten student at J.O. Ford Elementary, felt ill during school. When she checked in on him during the day, Fernandes noticed the milk carton the school had given him. The expiration date said Dec. 31, 2014. The next day, Fernandes says her child was again served milk with a Dec. 31 expiration date, despite the food services staff saying they had no inventory of milk from the end of December.

“I felt bad because my son is only five years old. He doesn’t know how to check a milk carton for the expiration date. I asked myself, ‘Why would they serve expired milk again? Was it intentional?’ I believe we have the right to see what is being served to our children,” said Fernandes in Spanish. “That’s when I took action.”

What she did next is what any parent would do. She started asking questions.

Fernandes wrote letters to the principal and food services staff, asking why her child had been served expired milk. When she didn’t get a response, she enlisted the help of the Building Blocks for Kids Collaborative in Richmond, an initiative that supports healthy development and quality education for kids and leadership for parents. The group helped Fernandes form an oral presentation, and Fernandes presented her story during the open comment section at a school board meeting.

“Just because we are humble, it doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to ask questions and advocate for our children’s education,” said Fernandes.

It wasn’t the first time Fernandes had spoken out. Since August 2014, Fernandes had been volunteering at the school. She noticed that the K-5 school had no consistent or formal parents’ committee, and that staff had very little engagement with parents. She also observed that very few materials were translated into Spanish, despite the fact that 83 percent of the 491 students are Latino, and 68 percent are English Learners, according to 2013-2014 School Accountability Report Card.

Most importantly, Fernandes saw that there was no clear structure for parents to give their input on school decisions, including student support services and budgets.

“I appreciate the education they provide our children. They make an effort,” said Fernandes. “But more communication is lacking. Realistically, every school needs to engage staff, directors, parents and families – that’s key.”

Troublemakers or concerned parents

Dulce Galicia, a lead organizer for families in the Iron Triangle, facilitated the Building Blocks for Kids workshops that Fernandes took.

“I’ve witnessed how schools label well-intentioned moms advocating for their children, like Petrolina, as a nuisance,” said Galicia.

Galicia says it takes a lot of preparation to empower parents to break through a culture of conformity when it comes to engaging with the school district.

“A lot of the parents we work with, they don’t know how to get better classrooms, better teachers, an improved school- so they take it as it is,” said Galicia. “The number one thing that is difficult for parents to do is write a letter in English, and that’s the number one way that this district reviews complaints.”

Parents are also more powerful when they work in groups, said Galicia, which is one of the main reasons that Petrolina has been fighting to create a parents’ meeting group at her son’s school.

Changes at school

Fernandes was able to meet with the food service director of the school district, Barbara Jellison. As a result of the incident, Jellison says a memo was sent to all food service staff to reinforce an existing spot checking procedure for the district that requires food staff to not only check the exterior date on boxes when opening food, but check each item for expiration and quality. In addition, every member of the food services staff must pass a Serve Safe test, and the Food Services Department will revisit policy and procedural issues at all school sites, utilizing Fernandes’ case as an example in trainings.

“We want to be even more diligent and aware of everything that goes on. It becomes routine and it’s something that shouldn’t be routine,” said Jellison in a phone interview. “We really have to make sure the quality and food safety is there.”

West Contra Costa Unified School District served 5.5 million meals last year, according to Marcus Walton, the school district communications director. He said one of the steps the district is taking with the food vendors is to include more clear text detailing expiration dates on the food boxes. “While we are sorry the student received expired milk,” Walton said, “the food services department has taken steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“I’m glad she [Petronila] is involved. We need more parents like her involved in the education of their children,” said Walton.

The fight continues

A second case at J.O. Ford made it clear for Fernandes that her advocacy work was not over. In April, her son’s kindergarten teacher called in sick. Instead of dispersing the class of 25 kindergarten students to other kindergarten classrooms, J.O. Ford elected to combine the kindergarten class with a sixth grade class. Fernandes believes this was an uninformed decision from staff.

Kindergarten children need more socialization and preparation in order to interact with sixth graders, said Fernandes. Some of the kindergarten children, including her child, were scared, according to Fernandes.

Fernandes collected signatures from parents to call on the school to revisit such policies.

Because of her advocacy work, in January 2015, Fernandes was elected president of the J.O. Ford Elementary School Site Council, a group composed equally of school staff and parents or students who are elected by their peers. Her goal is to increase communication between Latino parents and school staff, establish a parents’ meeting where parents can talk to one another, and to establish formal procedures that allow parents to become involved in decision making.

“Many parents don’t have the opportunity to get involved, not because they don’t want to, but because their work and their schedule doesn’t permit it,” Fernandes said. “But when my children were born, I realized I needed to inform myself. I thought, how could I educate myself to better support my children?”

Galicia said that parents like Fernandes are key to improving local schools.

“Those parents who are asking question are asking the best questions in order to make school the best it can be,” said Galicia. “In Petrolina’s case, she will grow into a much bigger leader and she doesn’t know how powerful she is yet.”

When Richmond Men Read, Kids Listen

By Nancy DeVille

When Ron Shaw stood up to read the children’s book, “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears,” his audience — second-graders at North Richmond’s Verde Elementary School — stared, giggled and raised their hands to ask questions.

Shaw thumbed through the pages of the West African tale, reading the colorful story about a mosquito who tells a lie to an iguana and annoys him. By the end of the story, the youngsters tugged at Shaw’s leg, their way of thanking him for coming to their class.

Shaw joined about 15 others who gathered at Verde for the Real Men Read program, in which men from a variety of professions, many who grew up in Richmond, have signed up to read in classrooms once a month. The program, part of a national initiative, has entered its second year at Verde.

The volunteers, mostly African American, offer a familiar message: Reading represents the foundation for all learning.

“This is nourishment for the kids, and letting them know that men do read and reading is fun,” Shaw said. “I always have a very good experience with the young people and I’ve been doing this the last two years.”

This year readers have visited the same class each month, allowing them to forge relationships with the students, while teachers select the books to reinforce what the students are already learning. Organizers say the volunteers become instant heroes for the children, who may not have someone to read to them at home, and that the program shows boys that men in all professions read for both work and relaxation.

“This is my responsibility,” Shaw said. “We are supposed to serve our kids, and whatever is going to make it better for them, we need to do it. Reading is a gift, and we’re letting students know that it can be fun and exciting.”

The program at Verde, launched by Rev. Cassandry Keys of the Davis Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, intends to put more men into the schools and in front of kids, some of whom lack positive male role models.

“Hopefully these readers will become mentors and give them hope that they can have a future outside of their current environment,” Keys said. “If we can get them interested in reading in elementary, those habits will continue in junior high and high school.”

She said she hopes other churches will consider partnering with Richmond elementary schools to continue the initiative across the city.

This school year, administrators have committed to improving literacy after testing revealed that student lagged two to three years behind grade level in reading skills. The Real Men Read program represents additional support, and school officials say students are checking more books out of the library and want to read more.

In February, Verde students read 2.4 million words — up from 1.2 million the month before. In March, students read 4.5 million words. Teachers say the students are voluntarily reading more books and that classroom disciplinary actions have declined.

“This is really showing my students that reading is a part of your life,” said Merrill Pierce, who teaches fourth and fifth grades at Verde. “They are just listening and there is no need for behavioral management. This year so many people have come together to make reading the focus of the school, and the kids are so into it. My students care about how many words they are reading.”

Khalid’s Corner: I Speak for Them

Wisdom from Community Leader, Khalid Elahi

I am the voice for all the brothers that don’t have a voice. Maybe they are in the bowels of one of these prisons, confined to a cell for a long period of time or for the rest of their life. Or maybe they are underground in a hole with six feet of dirt on top of them.

I speak for them! I say what I know they would say if they were here.

They would tell you to live instead of die. They would tell you that all that the street mentality leads to is a dead end. They would tell you it’s not worth the inhumane treatment that you receive once your feet touch the ground of one of these prisons. The buck-naked strip search is so dehumanizing and mind blowing. You go from thinking you are a boss on the streets to being a first-class slave once you are in their grip.

The brothers in the grave will tell you that it cost about $10,000 to run around and play with guns in the streets, or to be in the way in the streets, because when you get killed, that’s how much it costs to have a funeral for you.

If you don’t have that type of money, why would you put your people through that stress to try and come up with that type of money, on top of the agonizing grief that they already have?

This is why I write from time to time because I am the voice for people that don’t have a voice.

ER Nurse: Closure of DMC Will Be ‘Catastrophic’

By Nancy DeVille | Photo by David Meza

As the threat of Doctors Medical Center’s shutdown draws closer, Maria Sahagun says she still hasn’t given up hope.

An emergency room nurse at DMC, Sahagun and her colleagues have spent months urging the West Contra Costa Healthcare District to come up with a solution to save the financially strapped hospital from closing. She posts updates on Facebook to inform residents of the latest hospital news and she regularly attends community and city council meetings advocating for resources to keep DMC afloat.

Her latest campaign is a series of YouTube videos offering warnings of the dire effects the hospital’s closure will have on the San Pablo and Richmond communities.

DSC_0048“I cannot let this go without turning [over] every stone,” she said recently following her shift in the hospital’s ER. “There are so many families out there that will be affected because of the lack of access if this hospital closes.”

For Sahagun, the fight for quality accessible health care is personal. She vividly remembers watching her ailing mother, who was battling terminal cancer, wait for 12 hours in a Compton, CA. emergency room just to see a doctor. That experience is the drive that keeps her fighting, she said.

“If this hospital closes,” she said, “there will be increased waiting times at area hospitals. And it hit me that so many families with a great matriarch will be affected like I was because of lack of access to the medical system.”

“The impact is going to be catastrophic,” she said.

Sahagun says residents are already seeing an impact since services at DMC have been discontinued. Former DMC patients are now forced to ride public transportation to chemotherapy appointments three times a week, she said, while others have complained about relatives being transported to Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley since DMC no longer accepts ambulance service.

Shuffling these residents around could have “devastating” effects on their health, Sahagun said.

“Because of the increase in transport time, there will be death and disability,” she said. “If you have a stroke or heart attack, every minute counts.”

Sahagun, who lives in Richmond, started working for DMC seven years ago. Despite its financial woes, she said, she believed that the hospital played a crucial role in the community.

As the hospital’s board continues to debate its future, Sahagun says she has no plans of walking away.

“We’re really serving a population in need,” she said. “I am committed to staying until the end.”

Six Months Later, Family of ‘Pedie’ Calling for Officer to Be Charged

News Report, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

The family of 24-year-old Richard Perez III marked the six-month anniversary of his death with a protest March 17 at a Richmond City Council meeting, demanding that prosecutors charge the police officer who shot him, despite a conclusion by the District Attorney’s office that the officer had acted in self-defense.

Perez, better known as “Pedie,” died Sept. 14, 2014 in an altercation with Richmond police officer Wallace Jensen, who shot him three times during a fight at Uncle Sam’s Liquors on Cutting Boulevard after what the officer described as Perez’s attempt to take the gun from his belt. Perez had been intoxicated, and according to investigators had told family members he expected to be killed by police by the age of 25.

But Perez’s family said that focusing on such statements amounted to an attempt to discredit their loved one and to divert attention from what they say were the officer’s lack of training and mistakes made during the fatal events.

“We don’t approve of their police brutality, we don’t appreciate their lies, we don’t appreciate their lack of training, their lack of accountability, and their lack of transparency,” said Perez’s father Rick, at an hour-long rally after the council meeting. “They sit there at the table and yet they hide so much, [and] they misrepresent the rest of it… it’s not right for them to do that, but they get away with what they want.”

A canine patrol officer with seven years on the force, Jensen said he had patrolled the liquor store even though it wasn’t on his beat because it had repeated issues with loitering. He said he entered the store when called out by a store clerk. Jensen testified he attempted to detain Perez for public intoxication — and that when Perez resisted, his calls for backup never went through. According to Richmond Confidential’s report of the inquest, Jensen’s calls for support never went through because he had mistakenly set his police radio to a private channel.

IMG_7184Perez’s grandmother Patricia, who picketed the plaza outside the council chambers with other family members and supporters, wore a black T-shirt with her grandson’s picture on it. “He deserves to be in jail,” she said. “He murdered Pedie, plain and simple. There is no way to explain it.”

A coroner’s Dec. 10 inquest to determine the manner and mode of Perez’s death took testimony from homicide detective Hector Esparza, president of the local police union, along with Contra Costa County District Attorney investigator Jeff Soler, who had interviewed Jensen after the shooting, and from Jensen himself. The prosecutor’s office in January declined to file charges against Jensen, who had re-entered the police force in early October after a two-week paid administrative leave.

“It is not possible to prove Officer Jensen did not act in self-defense,” Deputy District Attorney Barry Groves wrote in a letter to Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus. “The facts and circumstances indicate that the officer acted in lawful self-defense.”

At the protest rally, however, Perez’s family criticized the inquest for excluding eye-witness accounts. Furthermore, according to the Huffington Post, the inquest didn’t feature any video footage from a witness’s cell phone camera.

Rhonda Reeder-Perez, Perez’s aunt, also criticized Jensen’s lack of preparation and crisis training. “As a canine handler, wouldn’t it be your first nature to push that button on your lapel to let your dog out if you are in fear of your life?”

“But he didn’t do that,” Reeder-Perez said. “He just stepped back and blew my nephew away.”

Kris Kelly, sister of Mario Romero, a 23 year old Vallejo resident killed by Vallejo Police in September 2012, spoke at the rally in solidarity with the Perez family.

Kris Kelly, sister of Mario Romero, a 23 year old Vallejo resident killed by Vallejo Police in September 2012, spoke at the rally in solidarity with the Perez family.

Roberta Shriver, a family friend, spoke during the public-comment portion of the council meeting, and urged council members to take action.

“Something could get a white, conservative, FOX [News]-watching woman off her couch, and that’s when a friend of her son is killed,” Shriver said. “Pedie and his family are precious to us. I was also married 19 years to a police officer, have a degree in criminal justice and worked for the LAPD, so I know about the brotherhood of the badge. I sat in that coroner’s inquest and I listened to every detail.

“At several points that officer could have used non-lethal force, and chose not to,” she said. “It’s up to you to do the right thing.”

The Perez family has hired civil rights attorney John Burris and has filed suit against Jensen and the city, arguing excessive force and violation of civil rights. Police Chief Chris Magnus, in an emailed statement to Richmond Pulse, reiterated the District Attorney’s conclusion that Jensen had acted in self-defense.

“We realize the Perez family has experienced a huge loss and appreciate that Pedie’s death was incredibly tragic to those close to him,” wrote Magnus. “In fairness, however, I need to remind our community that following a lengthy and thorough investigation into this incident, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office determined that the officer acted in self-defense and that the shooting was justified.

“It is understandable that Pedie’s family and friends are unable to accept this finding,” he continued. “We support the family’s right to pursue their case through the civil court process and believe a courtroom is the appropriate venue to reach a just resolution to this matter.”