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San Diego Activists Demand District Attorney Prosecute Past Police Shootings

A woman decorates her car in the San Diego Zoo parking lot before a car caravan protest calling for justice in police shootings, Jan. 18, 2021.
KPBS Staff
A woman decorates her car in the San Diego Zoo parking lot before a car caravan protest calling for justice in police shootings, Jan. 18, 2021.

Racial justice activists in San Diego want to reclaim Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a call for more police accountability by asking District Attorney Summer Stephan to prosecute police officers for past shootings.

They held a car caravan throughout the county on Monday to visit places where people had been shot and killed by police officers.

San Diego Activists Demand District Attorney Prosecute Past Police Shootings
Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

At the start of the caravan, Anthony Carolino spoke about his brother Dennis, who was shot and killed by San Diego Police in 2019. District Attorney Summer Stephan later cleared the officers for the shooting, saying it was justified because Dennis Carolino was armed with a shovel.

San Diego Activists Demand District Attorney Prosecute Past Police Shootings

“Shot seven times, it's too much, that's a lot of hatred,” he said. “We have to correct this mistake in our generation.”

Activists including Yusef Miller with the Racial Justice Coalition of San Diego say they want Stephan to bring justice to people like the Carolinos, who lost family members in police shootings.

“There are families in North County, East County, South Bay, Central San Diego, inland and coastal that have experienced the same thing, and all we hear over and over is officers are exonerated,” Miller said.

A spokeswoman for Stephan said in a statement that “Officer-involved shooting reviews conducted by the District Attorney's Office are independent, objective and thorough. When the evidence and facts support criminal charges in a use-of-force incident, we file them.”

She pointed out that last summer, Stephan charged a former Sheriff's deputy with murder after he shot a suspect who was fleeing the downtown jail.

But Darwin Fishman, a professor at San Diego State who also is part of the Racial Justice Coalition of San Diego, said that move isn’t enough.

“If you used that same standard she used, you'd have literally hundreds of officers who would have been prosecuted and arrested,” he said. “So if it’s not a stunt, and she was serious about it, then she’d go back and look at these other cases.”

He pointed out that in 25 years, no police officer was ever prosecuted for a shooting in San Diego County, with the exception of the Sheriff's deputy last summer. While Stephan has only been in office since 2017, Fishman said she could have changed course from her predecessor Bonnie Dumanis, but didn't.

A KPBS analysis of nearly 130 records from police departments dating back to 2001 shows that when local police use force on a suspect, if the suspect is a person of color they're more likely to shoot. If the suspect is white, police are more likely to use alternative methods of force, including Tasers, beanbags, police dogs or tackling the suspect.

San Diego’s racial justice activists call on the District Attorney to prosecute police officers for past shootings. Meanwhile, local San Diego climate leaders react to the incoming Biden Administration’s climate action plan. Plus, the Trump administration is looking to remove protections for millions of acres of California desert.