Our modern culture in America has long castigated and ignored the poor and unhoused. Many people just want the unhoused to go away, disappear or become invisible. Fresnans are no different.
And sadly, when unhoused persons are hurt or killed, they are treated as if they never existed and oftentimes their killers are not brought to justice. I recall attending a vigil on Sept. 25, 2020, for 51-year-old Jose Pulido, who was hit and killed by a Fresno Police Department (FPD) detective who was texting while driving. The detective, Benito Soto, was initially charged with vehicular manslaughter but was never convicted and remains on the force.
Another example of a potential vehicular manslaughter incident is a recent accident involving an unhoused man and an FPD officer. On Aug. 1, at about 3:30 p.m., eyewitnesses say that an FPD vehicle might have run over a prone unhoused man on the sidewalk in front of the downtown police department.
What these witnesses saw was a prone man under a police vehicle in between the front and rear wheels. It appeared to them that he had just been run over. The witnesses work in a building with a full view of the sidewalk where the man was lying. They heard tires screeching, then ran to the window and saw the police car over the man.
The identity and condition of the victim are still not known. Witnesses report that the victim appeared to be young and was moving. FPD Lieutenant Bill Dooley responded to the claim that the victim was run over at a recent press conference. He said that “we are aware of an incident that occurred on August 1, 2022, involving a police vehicle and a pedestrian. An investigation immediately commenced and is still ongoing.
“We believe it’s in everyone’s best interest to await the completion of that investigation. Based on the outcome of that investigation, appropriate actions will be taken, if necessary.”
Shawna Haymond was one of the witnesses watching from a nearby building with a full view of the sidewalk where the man was under the police vehicle. She said, “I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing…a police officer had apparently run over a person. My colleagues and I were pretty alarmed that someone was hurt.”
Haymond said she was disturbed about several things she saw that day. First, “the officer didn’t even touch him (the victim) or offer any kind of aid, never got down on the ground to talk to him and didn’t take his pulse. He just stood there making a call on his cell phone.”
When the office workers immediately called 911, the dispatcher said someone had just called in the incident. It appears that the officer might have made the call on his personal cell phone and not the police radio. This might have been the first attempt to cover up this incident. Police radio is monitored by the local media, and the media would have come to the scene and reported on it.
Haymond was also bothered immensely by what she saw when the ambulance arrived. “The ambulance arrived quickly. The first responders touched the man’s feet, and he was moving his feet. Then, the emergency medical technicians picked him up by his armpits and knees instead of using a backboard that was clearly within reach.”
“He was taken away quickly, [and] he was still alive and grimacing in pain,” she said. “I didn’t see any blood or broken bones.”
She was also disturbed when “a sergeant arrived and approached several witnesses on a nearby bench. The officer that appeared to have run over the man then joined the sergeant. Both officers stood close together and interviewed these witnesses.”
Such behavior is totally out of compliance with FPD policies and procedures. To interview witnesses in this case, unhoused witnesses, with the perpetrator of a potential crime is simply outrageous and was an obvious attempt to intimidate the witnesses.
“Another troubling issue was how they interviewed witnesses from our office,” Haymond said. “My friend waited 20 minutes to be interviewed. She finally left and came back to our office. I urged her to go back down. She was finally interviewed.
“The police did not take detailed statements from us but did offer us chaplain services if we wanted them. When I saw what I saw, I just couldn’t understand it. I was horrified and upset. I wasn’t properly interviewed, and it was cleared up so quickly.
“It’s such a power imbalance. [The FPD] can do whatever they want to do. This time, however,” Haymond continued, “a group of well-educated women with Ph.D.s and master’s degrees witnessed it. Potentially, this young man had no one to fight for him.
“If I was run over by the police, my family would use all the necessary resources to fight for me. It looks like this is being swept under the rug, and [the victim] is being treated like garbage.”
This alleged incident occurred on Aug. 1. An inquiry to the FPD public information officer on Sept. 14 regarding the investigation had received no response as of our press deadline.
A month after the incident, on Sept. l, a press conference was held by homeless advocate Dez Martinez (We Are Not Invisible) and attorney Kevin Little.
At the press conference, Martinez said, “This should have been addressed. I have never seen a human being run over by a Fresno police officer and [yet] the crime scene was cleaned up in 30 minutes.”
Little said, “This incident should have been made known to the public immediately, investigated aggressively and not in silence, shrouded behind the walls of the police department. This individual, like most of the unhoused, remains nameless and faceless.”
Haywood concluded, “It makes me wonder if this has been swept under the rug as a PR attempt to make things not stick to the police department’s reputation. It’s like this incident and this person’s health are a sacrifice so that reputation can stay strong.”
It’s been more than seven weeks, and there is absolute silence from the FPD on this incident. Is there really an investigation? The reputation of the FPD, the mayor and the City Council are on the line. Express your outrage and contact them to demand full transparency now.