Families of men shot by police want transparency from law enforcement
The families of people shot by local police gathered Tuesday morning to ask the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to be more transparent in investigations of use of force, as records have either not been released after years or were heavily redacted.
“We feel that justice only works for the police,” Maria Martinez, aunt of 15-year-old Juan Carlos Bojorquez, who was fatally shot by Glendale police on July 6, 2022, told reporters. “Apparently, 11 bullets into a 15-year-old child is justifiable.”
Martinez, along with others, decried the slow process through which MCAO investigates police use of force and how families are left waiting for answers. Martinez noted that it has been over a year since the shooting and the family has not received all the body camera footage, the police reports or even the final investigation report.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Prosecutors and the Buckeye Police Department investigated the shooting and determined that no charges would be filed against the officer who shot Bojorquez.
Glendale police have not disclosed how many times Bojorquez was shot, but have stated that the officer involved is still employed with the department.
In a response to questions from the Arizona Mirror, an MCAO spokesperson said that the audio and video recordings from the shooting are still “in the queue for processing” to undergo the necessary redactions. The spokesperson also stated that MCAO is not the main investigatory agency for police use of force but reviews investigations submitted by law enforcement agencies to decide whether to file charges.
Further MCAO claimed that it only received the public record request related to Bojorquez on Aug. 16, five days ago.
“Requests that seek this volume of records typically take months, not weeks, to process to ensure that this Office complies with Arizona Public Records Law, including the need to redact or withhold sealed records, personally identifiable information (like dates of birth, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and some addresses), legally privileged records, other privacy-related information, and criminal history information,” the spokesperson said.
Officers were responding to reports of a stolen vehicle on July 6 when they said a struggle ensued. However, two witnesses have said that Bojorquez’s hands were up when he was shot. Officers at the scene contend that Bojorquez reached for a handgun that was later found in the car.
The family of the man killed in a similar police shooting also spoke about their experience with MCAO and having their public records requests stonewalled.
Denice Garcia, the mother of James Garcia, said that she finally received a “heavily redacted” version of the MCAO report on her son’s death on Monday. Her son was shot and killed by Phoenix police while he was sitting in his parked car on July 4, 2020.
Police had woken Garcia, who was experiencing homelessness and battling drug addiction at the time, who then reached for a gun in his car. Police then fired at Garcia, later saying in interviews that he did not point the gun at them or anyone else.
“What we are wanting is to be treated like everyone else,” Garcia said, adding that the family wants “complete transparency” from MCAO and the police departments. Garcia said she had called MCAO between 50 to 100 times before she began emailing them, finally eliciting a response. When she finally got the report, which she said she is still reading, she noticed entire pages were redacted.
“The redactions are consistent with the requirements of Arizona Public Records Law, including the need to redact or withhold sealed records, personally identifiable information,” a spokesperson with MCAO said to the Arizona Mirror. “This Office released the written records associated with this public records request. In general, public records requests are processed in the order in which they are received.”
Garcia said MCAO never notified her that it had completed the report. Instead, she was notified by a community organization.
Garcia’s death sparked outrage in 2020 and caught the attention of people such as state Sen. Anna Hernandez, whose brother was shot by Phoenix Police in 2019, which compelled her to run for office, she said.
“There will be a new family looking for answers who will not get those,” Hernandez told reporters, noting that 22 people have been shot this year by the Phoenix Police Department and 16 of them have died.
Hernandez said that creating a legislative solution to police transparency and accountability could be possible, but will likely be difficult given the current political climate at the legislature and the influence of police unions and lobbying groups at the Capitol.
Hernandez also said that she wants to look into possible reform or adjustments to the state’s public records law. The Phoenix Police Department has yet to release records related to shootings in 2020 and has been accused of attempting to hide reports from the public, even using encrypted self-deleting messaging applications in communications in violation of public record law.