Staff writer shares personal story of loved one lost at the hands of those who ‘protect and serve’
By society’s perspective, my uncle Ernest Duenez Jr. wasn’t a model citizen. He made mistakes. But those mistakes weren’t who he was to my family.
Need help fixing your car? He was there in minutes. Need someone to protect you? He was your guardian angel. Need someone to make your long days shorter? He was there with his infamous jokes and pranks, with his dumb laugh.
To me, he was the golden child of the family. He was a family man who lived for his loved ones and would lay down his life for them in a heartbeat.
He was a man searching for redemption and hunting for the path to an upswing in his life.
That search was cut short on June 8, 2011.
That day, Jr. was killed in an officer-involved shooting. He was shot 11 times by a Manteca Police Officer John Moody.
I remember where I was and what I was doing the moment I heard he died. I remember the immense pain and confusion my family and I were left with. We had been robbed the life of a loved one. Not a chance to say goodbye was given.
We were angry that one man could be judge, jury, and executioner; deciding another person’s fate in a matter of 4.2 seconds.
The hurt and confusion, though, only grew when the person who killed our loved one was a person who is supposed to protect and serve.
Before this, I never thought about the issue of alleged police brutality or officers manipulating the law for their own interests. Now, it weighs heavy on the hearts of my family and I everyday.
In December 2012, a year and a half after my uncle’s death, the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office issued its findings on the murder. They told us that it was justified.
In response, my family released the dash-cam video from the patrol car of the officer who fired the fatal shots. The video reveals the officer approaching, yelling “put your hands up” followed by a quick succession of other commands.
My uncle is shown trying to get out of the vehicle. Multiple shots ring out. Out of 13 total shots, 11 strike Jr’.s body and head. As he lay on the ground, his wife comes out of the house, screaming at the cops. “Help my husband, he’s dying.” No attempt to help by police was made. Instead, the cops turned their guns toward her.
To our family, the video shows Jr., a man we all loved, being treated like an animal. Manteca Police took his dying body and threw him from his back onto his face before handcuffing him.
To us, the report wasn’t justice.
To us, the Manteca Police have played the victim, taking no responsibility for what we feel are the unlawful acts committed by one of their own.
Instead, our family has seen the department change its story multiple times.
This gruesome, graphic, and personal video was released in hopes of receiving a larger investigation into the shooting, as well as find the true story that lead to Jr.’s death.
Nearly two months later, the video is on multiple websites.
It is also now in the hands of the United States Department of Justice. Still, we have yet to see any kind of response.
A column in The Modesto Bee by Ralph Shaffer, a retired professor from Cal Poly Pomona, on Dec. 17 called my uncle’s death “only one in a staggering death toll racked up by police and sheriff’s deputies.” The “body count” in a six-year period was 700, according to the article.
Shaffer writes: “As usual, the justification was that the officer ‘feared for his life.’”
This was a hard truth I had never realized or paid attention to until the issue hit close to home.
The number of police officers taking advantage of their power continues to end in unjustified deaths, and they get away with it because of the power they have as officers of the law.
Consider the case of Oscar Grant in Oakland, or that of local teenager James Rivera who was shot by Stockton Police in 2010 after stealing a vehicle and leading police on a chase through North Stockton. His family is still seeking answers.
It upsets me that our justice system now seems anything but just.
My family is disturbed everyday by the fact that the man who killed our son, brother, uncle, husband, father and friend is still patrolling the streets as a man of peace.
It saddens me that people on the streets are more willing to help and protect one another, than the officers who are paid to do just that.
When is enough, enough? I now realize that Jr. wasn’t the first victim of police brutality. It worries me that he won’t be the last.
It’s an overwhelming thought that today it was my loved one. Tomorrow it can be yours.
All of this happened because of a parole violation, a domestic dispute call to police and the assumption that he had a knife on him .
The report provides inconclusive details about the knife.
Regardless, no accusations made and/or previous records pulled against my uncle give a man the right to empty a whole clip on another man.
Let us remember that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.