Sonoma County residents will march in Santa Rosa Oct. 22 to demonstrate concern about the recent deaths of inmates, the mentally distressed and others in confrontations with local law enforcement officers.
The rally occurs on a day designated for protests nationally about perceived police abuses.
The Sonoma County deaths, described by rally organizers as a ?terrifying epidemic of deadly force,? include those this spring of 16-year-old Jeremiah Chass and Richard DeSantis, who both were suffering mental illness prior to officers? responses to emergencies at their homes.
Chass was shot outside his Sebastopol home by two Sonoma County Sheriff?s deputies March 12 after a volatile effort to subdue him with non-lethal means. Sheriff?s officials have said Chass, while clutching a Leatherman-style tool, was endangering his 6-year-old brother?s life and the lives of the two deputies who sought to disarm him.
In August, Chass?s family filed a claim against Sonoma County alleging wrongful death and negligence in the fatal shooting.
Last month, DeSantis?s mother filed a $10 million suit against Santa Rosa Police and the city, alleging excessive use of force by officers who responded to an April 9 911 call from the bipolar man?s wife. It was similar to a lawsuit filed in June by DeSantis?s widow,
She?d told dispatchers DeSantis was firing a gun in their Santa Rosa home because he thought he was hearing noises in the attic. Police who ordered DeSantis to the ground outside his home fired on him after he rose and charged officers, failing to respond to less lethal tactics, investigators said.
Officers had reason to believe DeSantis was armed and fired to defend themselves, city officials have said.
Deaths that have drawn the attention of critics also include Oakland homicide suspect Haki Thurston, Luis Sanchez and others. ?We think that the sheer number of people who have been killed indicates that there is a larger problem,? said Robert Edmonds, one of the rally organizers.
Captain Dave Edmonds of the Sonoma County Sheriff?s Department disputed the claims as inflammatory.
?There isn?t any abuse of police powers here. The community wouldn?t stand for that, and neither would we,? he said. ?The Sonoma County community will always let law enforcement know what they think. When the bright lights are turned up, generally the better we look.?
Santa Rosa Copwatch, the local Committee for Immigrant Rights and the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County are among groups supporting the Oct. 22 march, which begins at 4 p.m. in Southwest Community Park and culminates with a 6 p.m. rally in Old Courthouse Square.
Details are available at www.scdirectaction.org/copwatch.