More than 100 people rallied Monday evening at Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa, protesting alleged police brutality on the part of local law enforcement.
The rally, partly organized by Cop Watch groups in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, coincided with similar demonstrations elsewhere protesting police shootings and in-custody deaths.
Sonoma County has had four officer-involved shootings and three deaths in custody this year, including two controversial shootings involving people having mental health crises.
Sheriff's Capt. Dave Edmonds said allegations of brutality by local law enforcement are unfounded and inflammatory. The groups organizing the rallies are "anti-law enforcement," he said.
"To blame law enforcement for doing its job in protecting the public and drawing conclusions that law enforcement is baseline wrong anytime we use force is very unfair," Edmonds said.
The Santa Rosa rally followed a march from Southwest Community Park, with participants stopping at the Roseland house where Richard DeSantis, an unarmed, bipolar man was shot and killed by Santa Rosa police April 9. Flowers were laid at the site.
Adrianne DeSantis, Richard's mother, participated in the march and rally dressed in black. She brought with her large portraits of her son. One of them was of DeSantis' casket carried by pallbearers. "I'm here because I believe in marching against injustice," she said.
DeSantis has filed a $10 million federal lawsuit against the city and the officers, alleging use of excessive force.
Other family members in the march included relatives of Ryan George, a 22-year-old inmate with sickle cell anemia who died July 9, six days after being sent back to jail from Sutter Medical Center.
The family blames George's death on law enforcement, and health professionals at Sutter Medical Center.
George's sister-in-law, Myisha George, said she was surprised to see so many other people with similar stories.
"I didn't realize there were so many deaths out here," she said. "You don't realize it until it happens to you."
Ann Gray Byrd, chairwoman of the Sonoma County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said at the rally: "The families of those shot down in our communities have not been heard."
Byrd called for greater police accountability. "What is police accountability?" Byrd asked. "Simply stated -- all sworn officers will be held responsible for their actions and treat all citizens in a respectful and lawful manner, without regard to race or ethnicity."
Edmonds, the sheriff's captain, said law enforcement critics have been unable to substantiate claims of brutality.
"We have made it clear in our meetings with many of these groups if you are aware of any incidents we want to know about it," said Edmonds. "It's not something that is permitted in this community or tolerated by law enforcement."
Edmonds said the only examples of police misconduct that are raised are "these recent shootings, which are under investigation or are being investigated thoroughly."
"They are definitely tragedies that are being appropriately and lawfully dealt with and investigated," he said.
At the rally, organizers handed out fliers for a forum on "community-police relations" scheduled for 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday in Santa Rosa. The forum will be held at the Carpenters' Labor Center at 1700 Corby Ave.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.