Stockton, Calif. — James Earl Rivera was only 16 years old and unarmed when he was shot to death by two Stockton police officers, Gregory Dunn and Eric Azarvand, and San Joaquin County Sheriff John Nesbitt. A total of 48 rounds hit the van that James was driving on July 22, 2010, including 18 that pierced his body. The coroner’s report found that the lethal shot was to his head.
Carey Downs, Rivera’s stepfather, recounted to Workers World what the family has been able to piece together about that awful day. Police claimed they were chasing a suspected carjacker: “The initial report was five people and one guy jumped in a van and took off. They claimed [Rivera’s] car fit the description, but James didn’t fit the description of the carjacker. They initially stopped him and let him go.”
Downs continued, “When they started chasing him again, police did a ‘pit’ maneuver and smacked [his vehicle] through two mailboxes and two garages. Police claimed that he appeared to be backing up and feared for their lives, but clearly James was already injured. … There were several different agencies out there, including highway patrol. They’re claiming they had to put the van in ‘park’ after they no longer detected movement in the vehicle. They claimed they tried to revive his lifeless body by slapping him in the face.”
Downs described how Dion Smith, Rivera’s mother, received a call “that the police are chasing one of your sons. As she rushed to the scene, she heard the shots as she was approaching, initially thinking they were just fireworks.” The officers wouldn’t acknowledge her as they put Rivera into the ambulance, and later Smith was threatened with a ticket for following it. Downs said they have never released Rivera’s personal property, dash cam videos or the police report to the family.
Downs said of the coroner’s report, “No details were included on the type of ammunition used. The huge hole in his head was evidently shot by a larger gun. The family has a picture of Officer Azarvand putting an AR-15 back in a vehicle.”
Fighting for justice
The family has held numerous speakouts all over the East Bay. “We have blown up the morgue pictures and shown them to people, wanting to demonstrate the brutality used against our son. We have worked with other families [victims of police killings], like the Duenezes and Kenneth Harding’s family. We went to Anaheim [for a statewide protest against police killings]. We are working with other families struggling to find funds for funeral arrangements and deal with their grief.
“On Aug. 31,” Downs continued, “we had a barbecue and backpack giveaway with over 200 kids, talking about issues and injustices in the community. When we then tried to march, police formed a line with riot gear, slapping their billy clubs against their hands.”
He added, “Our son is innocent; they shot him unlawfully; we want to know why. We’re going to keep fighting until we get some answers. We stand with others, too. We want the families to know they have some other support. It’s not easy, but we’re there for them as well.”
When asked about their objectives for participating in an upcoming Oct. 22 statewide protest against police brutality, Downs said the family wants to “bring to light that the officers had cameras, and how they need drug testing; limit the police bill of rights; [and demand] an oversight committee to investigate officer-involved shootings. We need someone on the community side involved, so it’s not just them in the room. Whatever story they spin, it’s their law and that’s what happened. Protection for whistleblowers as well.“