Angelo Fernandez had just gotten into the back of his brother’s car after they bought a few things from a discount store at Peach and Belmont. With his brother in the front and his friend next to him, he was expecting an uneventful ride back to his brother’s apartment.
From out of nowhere, two large unmarked vehicles ran into the front of their car and another car blocked them from the back. Fernandez jumped out of the car and ran from the men, who were not in uniform, had guns and began to chase him.
Dashing across the parking lot, Fernandez says he heard no orders to stop as he was knocked to the ground by a large caliber hollow point bullet that entered his back, smashed through his kidney and lodged in his stomach. Almost immediately, he was surrounded by his pursuers, who according to witnesses and Fernandez, began kicking him. One of the men was heard to say “why are you acting like a little bitch?” as Fernandez cried out in pain.
Back at the car, Robert Fernandez was on the ground with a gun to his head. “You hear that (the gunshot), that is the sound of your partner being smoked,” said the man with the gun.
“He dared me to move so he could blow my brains out,” Robert said.
The Fresno Police Department immediately went into PR mode and soon Chief Jerry Dyer was speaking to the public through the mainstream media. Dyer said that Angelo Fernandez was a violent validated Bulldog gang member who was wanted for a carjacking and firing a weapon at somebody. Dyer’s public information officer was busy e-mailing the media a mug shot of a heavily tattooed Fernandez.
Dyer explained why Fernandez, who was unarmed, was shot in the back by an officer. “When Fernandez turned and started running towards the store, the officer felt that if he was allowed to get away, possibly armed, get inside of that store, that he could create a hostage situation,” Dyer said. “It is our belief at least at this point in time, that the officers’ actions were reasonable under the circumstances.”
But several witnesses to the incident say they did not see Fernandez turn to run into the store. Bao Le, who works at the 96 Cents store, said he saw Angelo run across the parking lot, about 90 feet from the entrance of the R-N Market. He said that Angelo was running parallel to the market. Neither Le or any of the other witnesses I spoke with saw Angelo turn to run into the store. They all say he was running toward an open field at the other end of the parking lot.
Catherine Campbell, a local attorney, says that the police do not have the right to shoot an unarmed person in the back because they think he might commit some crime in the future.
Fernandez was taken to Community Hospital where his family was not allowed to visit him, but they did receive a bill for more than $100,000. A few days later, he was transferred to the Fresno County Jail and charged with a drug offense, not the carjacking or weapons charges for which he was allegedly being pursued. When he arrived at the jail, he was put into a cell with several White inmates who beat him up. It is the policy at the jail to separate members of rival gangs because violent incidents do take place when this protocol is not followed. It is unclear why this protocol was not followed with Fernandez.
In an exclusive jailhouse interview with Fernandez, the Community Alliance learned that he believes the police were attempting an extra-judicial execution. “I believe in my heart that they were out to kill me,” Fernandez said. He said that he believes Dyer has a vendetta against the Bulldogs because of an incident involving Christina Dyer, Jerry Dyer’s niece, who Fernandez said was a Bulldog involved in a robbery/murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Fernandez questioned why the police didn’t just grab him as he walked out of the store. He said “it reminds me of the Joaquin Figueroa case,” where the police shot and killed his friend in a car. Figueroa was the subject of a massive manhunt in August 2008, when he was wanted for shooting a police officer. When the police found Figueroa he was in a car, which they surrounded, similar to how Fernandez was stopped. Figueroa got out, tried to run, was blocked and then jumped back into the car where he was shot and killed. Dyer at the time said his officer thought Figueroa was looking for a gun in the car. No gun was found.
In September 2009, Lonnie Graham was shot to death by Fresno police officers when he stepped out of a house with a cell phone in his hand. The officers involved said they feared for their lives. Graham was found to be unarmed. At a press conference after that shooting, Dyer said Graham was a gang member, that someone might have seen him armed recently and ad an extensive criminal record.
There is a clear pattern of Dyer discrediting the people shot by his officers. Shortly after each incident, Dyer holds a press conference and justifies why his officers shot the person. Dyer knows the value of winning public opinion, and the mainstream media will use whatever he says.
For example, Dyer said that Angelo Fernandez had said he would not be taken alive. When asked about that, Fernandez just put his hands up, saying, “I never said anything like that.” He also insisted that he had not been involved with a carjacking or a shooting incident. The fact that the chief of police said these things about Fernandez will be what most people in Fresno remember about this incident. Fernandez, until now, has not been able to tell his side of the story.
Angelo Fernandez was released from state prison on March 31, 2011, and was on three years’ parole. “My parole agent didn’t like me and wanted to send me back to prison,” Fernandez said. She told me “all Bulldogs should be locked away.” Fernandez is a Bulldog gang member, but he is also a son, a brother and a father who was looking forward to a life outside of the Prison Industrial Complex.
The trouble with his parole agent happened almost immediately. “She (his parole agent) came to my house five times in the first seven days, after my release.” Fernandez was living with his parents in a house in southeast Fresno. “She came one day and I wasn’t there. I was out looking for a job and taking care of business, trying to get food stamps and stuff like that. I think she was mad I wasn’t there and told me to be there the next day, so I waited all day for her, but she did not show up. So, the next day I went out looking for work again and she came. She was very angry that I was not there when she arrived.”
Fernandez was concerned that his parole agent was going to “violate” him and send him back to prison, so he went to visit her supervisor to request another parole agent. Instead of finding someone more compatible, Angelo was ordered into a “life skills” Turning Point program on G Street south of Ventura.
Fernandez described that facility as being like a minimum security prison. He believed that his parole agent was going to find one way or another to send him back to prison, and he said, “I just wanted to be free.” He hopped the fence and didn’t go back. Living with friends, doing odd jobs like landscaping and air-conditioning work, he thought he could live under the radar and slowly get his life together.
All of that changed when he went to his brother’s apartment and drove to the discount store to buy some odds and ends. Questions remain about the tactics used to arrest Fernandez; was the use of deadly force appropriate under the circumstances? Eddie Aubrey, the director of the Office of Independent Review, said he will look into the incident and a report should be forthcoming. The Central California Criminal Justice Committee (CCCJC), which pushed the city hard for an independent police auditor, seems to be looking to Aubrey for guidance.
Rebeca Rangel, co-coordinator for the CCCJC, wrote in an e-mail, responding to this incident, that “it is not our job to decide how Aubrey will respond. That is why he was hired. We wouldn’t think to micromanage him. However, I believe it is important to communicate community concerns. He has made it very clear, several times, that he wants lines of communication to be open, especially when there are issues or concerns.”
Just before going to press, the Community Alliance learned that the City of Fresno is eliminating Eddie Aubrey’s job. The City Council agreed to fund a graffiti-prostitution prosecutor with the money saved by shutting down the Office of Independent Review. The removing of Aubrey and the elimination of the OIR removes any credible argument that there is any independent oversight of police shootings in Fresno.
Longtime community activist Gloria Hernandez takes a different approach than the CCCJC. She said that “the FPD [Fresno Police Department] are stepping over the line if they think they can predict the future ability of someone to commit a crime and think they can get away with shooting the person in the back. So then in order to cover up their inability to prove their prediction that Fernandez was going to commit a crime (violently take hostages) they start tampering with the jury pool and the public by lying about him about a supposed crime of car-jacking and shooting at people that supposedly took place a week before the attempted assassination of Fernandez. So, if that is true why is he booked under possession and not the car-jacking?”
Although the ACLU has not committed directly on this case, it was a previous lawsuit they filed that forced the Fresno Police Department to quickly release the name of the officer involved in this incident. Carl McKnight, the officer who shot Fernandez, is one of several FPD officers who has been involved in multiple officer-involved shootings. McKnight shot and killed Vue Xiong in 2002 and Garland King in 2003. Several officers in the FPD have shot more than one suspect. Ali Winston wrote an interesting article about this phenomena last year for Color Lines magazine, which was reprinted in the Community Alliance newspaper titled “Dozens of Fresno Cops in Repeated Brutality Cases.” What Winston found was that several FPD officers were involved in multiple shootings from 2002 to 2009 (see sidebar).
The District Attorney’s office, due to budget cutbacks, no longer investigates officer-involved shootings, unless requested to do so by the FPD. Nobody is holding their breath for the FPD to make that call. Few observers expect the Office of Independent Review to shake up the FPD pattern and the practice of officer-involved shootings, and the Internal Affairs department historically has not been a source of relief for community members who have concerns about the FPD’s use of excessive force.
Community activist Hernandez said that “repeat shooter Carl McKnight will never be charged with the crime of shooting an unarmed Angelo Fernandez because it’s business as usual under Dyer’s 10-year leadership.”
She added that “a transparent and thorough investigation will not occur because the powerful forces in the city do not want the truth to be told. We will never know why the FPD and Dyer publicly lied about why the department wanted Fernandez so bad…dead or alive!”
The time is right for the progressive community to demand a full investigation into this shooting and for those results to be made public. The goal of this effort is to achieve justice for Angelo Fernandez and to reduce the number of officer-involved shootings in Fresno.
Fresno Police Department Multiple Officer-Involved Shootings
Name and Number of Shootings
- Daniel Astacio — 2
- Andre Benson — 2
- Tom Canales — 2
- Alfred Campos — 2
- Alfonso Castillo — 2
- Paul Cervantes — 2
- Stacie Colby — 2
- Christopher Cooper — 4
- Christopher Desmond — 2
- Rick Harrell — 2
- John Herring — 2
- Justin Hoagland — 2
- Daniel Gonzalez — 3
- Carl McKnight — 2
- Paige McQuay — 3
- Gunter Meiss — 5
- Richard Nadeau — 2
- Michael Palomino — 3
- Kennan Rodems — 2
- Louis Sanchez — 2
- David Surabian — 2
- Brian Sturgeon — 2
- Marcus Tafoya — 4
- Rudolpho Tafoya — 2
- Allen Taliaferro — 2
- Matthew Vincent — 3
- James Young — 2
Source: Color Lines magazine
The Community Alliance newspaper received (just before going to print) this poem from Angelo Fernandez, the victim of the police shooting described above.
A poem by Angelo Fernandez
As the flashes of my life pass my thoughts,
I’m forced to bear the pain.
I lay on the pavement with sirens around,
but family memories help me to sustain.
Each breath I take, I hear screams
and paramedics telling me to hold on…
I see my mom and dad crying and a
small voice saying “daddy be strong.”
I finally resume consciousness and tubes are
being yanked out my throat without care,
I find my body torn open, handcuffed and
the people I love weren’t right there.
Tears streamed down my face as I questioned
loved ones’ absences and found out no one knew.
I lay in the trauma center with no strength,
violated of every human rule.
Then the doors open and I see the tears
on my mother’s and big brother’s face.
I smiled to my family ’cause God knew my place.