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Activists involved in ongoing protests over last year's shooting death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez say they've become the targets of police intimidation and harassment.

Two of the activists, 15-year-old and 13-year-old girls, aired their complaints Monday evening during the first meeting of a community task force aimed at recommending changes to law enforcement oversight, including the establishment of a civilian review board for officer-involved shootings.

Lisbet Mendoza, 15, related a story that other activists circulated in printed format to participants at the meeting: That dozens of units from the Sheriff's Office and Santa Rosa Police Department went into the Moorland Avenue neighborhood where she lived last Thursday and, at gunpoint, detained her and several teenage activists and arrested youth leader Jose Godoy.

Police said Monday they were investigating a report that Godoy had brandished a firearm to the driver of another vehicle while the two vehicles were stopped in traffic.

But Mendoza, who said she was with Godoy in the car, said there was no gun, only a stapler, and that Godoy never pointed it at anyone. She added that she and the other youths were simply walking from one of the girls' homes to the other, on their way to make posters, when officials detained them.

"We just want you guys to look into this more thoroughly," said Nicole Guerra, another young woman who stood with the girls as they spoke. "They are harassing Andy's Youth."

The task force listened attentively but did not discuss the matter in depth at the advice of a county attorney that the matter should be saved for another meeting, when it can be placed on the agenda.

Sheriff Steve Freitas did not attend the meeting and County Board of Supervisors Chairman David Rabbitt left after giving opening remarks where he thanked the task force and charged the it with creating "good policy based on data and facts. What can we do better and how?"

Sheriff's Lt. Mark Essick, a task force member who spent several years working in the Roseland area where Andy Lopez was killed, said later, "I felt my role tonight was just to listen, keep an open mind and carry the message back to the command staff."

But one task force member, Caroline Ba?elos, said after the girls spoke that the matter concerned her, as she was there with the goal of addressing the interaction between law enforcement and "communities of color."

And the girls' comments drew support from many of those present in the audience. During a heated public comment period, one Santa Rosa resident, Elaine Holtz, said, "I cried when those kids talked," adding that the police and sheriff's departments needed to "back off a bit."

Such concerns represented just one of the matters that the 21-member task force, created by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, discussed at its first meeting Monday night, which drew a crowd of about 50 people.

In a session that spanned more than four hours, the members struggled to create a plan for the next year, in which they're tasked with making several specific recommendations to the County Board of Supervisors about the establishment of an independent board that would review officer-involved shootings; community policing; the possible separation of the coroner's office from the sheriff's office; and other feedback gathered from the community.

Many members of the task force, as well as the public, spoke of wanting to restore confidence in law enforcement; others of creating a better understanding between Latino and other communities.

"We've heard a lot about wanting to create accountability in a police-related incident; that's the main thing community wants," said task force member Judy Rice, who also chairs the county Commission on Human Rights. "But that may not be the main task we have before us. (The need for that) occurs when there's an officer-involved shooting, and we're hoping that through some of the work of this task force that that won't happen, hopefully ever."

"The issue," she added, is "how do we establish trust between law enforcement and citizens of the community?"

The conflict activists described at Monday's meeting is an example of growing tensions between Lopez activists on the one hand and law enforcement officials and local city and county officials on the other.

Prior to Monday's meeting, activists said they felt they were being targeted by law enforcement for their aggressive criticism and protests spurred by the Oct. 22 shooting of Lopez.

"Last week, the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department launched a war of intimidation on the Latino community and activists in the Justice for Andy Lopez movement," said Jonathan Melrod, a Sebastopol resident and organizer with the Justice Coalition for Andy Lopez.

Melrod echoed Mendoza's contention that the weapon that Godoy was accused of brandishing was actually a staple gun that he and other youth activists were using to make posters and signs for a fundraiser rummage sale that was held Sunday.

Melrod said that on the following day, Friday, sheriff's detectives went to both Godoy and Cairo's homes to talk to them about "alleged death threats" that were made against Supervisor David Rabbitt during last week's supervisors meeting.

"It was statement made at a public forum," Melrod said. "He said (to Rabbitt) how would you feel if it was your child. It's a sad day in America when a speaker at a public forum, such as a Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting, is intimidated and harassed for exercising his First Amendment rights to redress police wrongs at a governmental meeting."

Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Due?s confirmed that the Sheriff's Office was investigating an allegation of death threats in violation of California Penal Code 422. But Due?s would not identify the nature of the threats, the suspects or the the supervisor who was threatened because it is an "ongoing investigation."

The police response to Godoy allegedly brandishing a weapon happened on Robin Way, between Eddy and Barbara drives, off Moorland.

Some residents of the Moorland Avenue neighborhood where Godoy was arrested Thursday described a massive show of police force aimed at young people who were simply walking down the street.

Kathy Estebanez, who lives on Eddy Drive, said Monday that she was crossing the street to a friend's house when the police action took place.

"There were seven or eight patrol cars within the first minute and a half and they just kept coming," Estebanez said. "There were kids out there playing and they didn't care, they just flew, one right after another. It was crazy, I've never seen anything like it."

Another resident who lives on Barbara, who asked that her name not be used because she said she feared law enforcement reprisals, said she saw numerous law enforcement units respond, including sheriff's deputies, police officers and CHP officers.

"Their guns were drawn and they were screaming and yelling, I mean screaming," the resident said.

She said one of the youths was carrying what looked like a large poster board. Neighbors said a sheriff's helicopter also quickly arrived at the scene.

Santa Rosa Police Lt. Clay Van Artsdalen said police first received a call from a woman who reported seeing someone later identified as Godoy pointing a firearm at her while she was stopped in traffic next to Godoy.

The woman got part of Godoy's license plate, and left the scene. Van Artsdalen said she went to a safe location and called the police, who put out a description of the vehicle and partial license plate.

While police were doing their investigation, a sheriff's deputy located Godoy's vehicle in the area of Barbara Drive. Van Artsdalen said that at around the same time, police were investigating a robber in the area of Bellevue and Dutton avenue, which is not far from the Moorland neighborhood.

Van Artsdalen said he didn't know how many police units responded to the scene.

"I'm not sure how many of our officers responded," he said. "We had two things going on at the same time. We had that robbery."

Van Artsdalen said Godoy was arrested but no gun was found. He said there was a period of about an hour and a half between the time the woman reported Godoy brandishing a firearm and when he was stopped.

The next meeting of the task force is on Jan. 27.

For more information, visit <a href="http://sonoma-county.org/communitylocallawtaskforce/" target="_blank">sonoma-county.org/communitylocallawtaskforce</a>.

You can reach Staff Writer Marin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com and Staff Writer Jamie Hansen at 521-5205 or jamie.hansen@pressdemocrat.com.

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