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  • Writer's pictureAntonio Gonzales

Homicide by Police: Finding justice in the death of Richard Frederick Tis'Mil Estrada

Several cases involving police use of deadly force have received widespread scrutiny during the last year: the July 17 strangling death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York; the Aug. 9 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; the April 4 shooting in the back of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina; and the recent beating death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

Eyewitness testimonies, video evidence and street protests have made these deaths into a matter of national outrage. But the overwhelming majority of homicides by police happen with minimal and slanted coverage, and inadequate public accountability.

Take, for example, the case of a young man killed a few months ago in a remote part of Northern California.

At this point, only one fact has been established: In the middle of the night on Dec. 18, a confrontation took place between 17-year-old Richard Estrada, a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, and California Highway Patrol officer Tim Gray in the small town of Willow Creek, about 50 miles east of Eureka. Estrada died on the spot and Gray was injured.

What happened, how it happened and what led up to the tragedy is not yet known. According to Melva Paris of the Humboldt County Sheriff's legal office, the matter is currently under investigation by Sheriff Mike Downey, whose completed report "will be referred to the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office for review." In 2011-2012, a coalition of regional law enforcement agencies signed off on a protocol for a Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT), to be initiated when an officer is involved in the death of a civilian. The goal of CIRT is to make sure such cases are "fully and fairly investigated," especially when "questions arise about the propriety of a law enforcement agency conducting an investigation wherein one of its own officers is involved."


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