Santa Rosa vigil marks Pelaez-Chavez shooting anniversary; family, police reform organizers call for answers
More than 80 people gathered this weekend in Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square to mark 365 days since a Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed 36-year-old David Pelaez-Chavez following a foot chase through a rural corner of Knight’s Valley.
“For the family it feels like it was just yesterday, because they took away a piece of us,” Jose Pelaez, the dead man’s brother, told the crowd during the Saturday night vigil.
On July 29, 2022, Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Dietrick shot Pelaez-Chavez — who behaved erratically, called out for aid, shouted in Spanish his fear deputies would kill him, and according to toxicology testing done later had methamphetamine in his system — three times following a 45-minute pursuit in which Pelaez-Chavez ran barefoot through creek beds and over ridges.
Deputies were called to the area after Pelaez-Chavez broke the window of a rural home and stole a truck.
Authorities’ investigations into the shooting — both criminal and administrative — are still underway, as Saturday also marked 206 days since Santa Rosa Police handed their work over to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office for review and a decision about whether Dietrick broke any laws.
Pelaez-Chavez’s relatives, police reform advocates from the North Bay Organizing Project and pastors from local churches called Saturday on the DA to wrap up its inquiry and file criminal charges.
“Maybe they’re forgetting, but we’re not,” Jose Pelaez said of officials.
Earlier in the day, North Bay Organizing Project activists hung banners from four Highway 101 overpasses in Santa Rosa with slogans that called for charges against Dietrick, as well as a conclusion to the DA’s investigation.
During the Saturday night event, speakers urged attendees to write directly to the district attorney, reiterating those same requests.
The DA’s guidelines for prosecutors say they must try to conclude examinations into police shootings within 90 days.
Sonoma County District Attorney Carla Rodriguez, who took office in January, told The Press Democrat earlier this month that she had brought in an outside expert in law enforcement use of force to review the case.
On Saturday, KQED reported that a DA’s office spokesperson said the expert, whose name has not been publicly released, was expected to take 2-3 weeks to finish the review.
It was not clear if that would conclude the investigation, and the DA’s office did not immediately respond to a Press Democrat request for comment sent Sunday morning.
On July 6, Rodriguez told the newspaper she sought to conclude the review “as soon as possible,” but did not want to rush the case.
Rodriguez’s predecessor, Jill Ravitch, who is now retired, criticized California Attorney General Rob Bonta for declining to take up the case.
The California Department of Justice is responsible for investigating law enforcement uses of force that result in death or serious injury of a civilian who is not armed with a deadly weapon.
Bonta decided the relevant state statute didn’t apply to the Pelaez-Chavez case, saying the man was holding a rock, which his office has labeled a deadly weapon, when Dietrick fired.
Family members dispute the belief Pelaez-Chavez posed any kind of threat or even that he held a rock at the time of the shooting.
“We want there to be justice so this doesn’t happen again to another family,” Alfredo Pelaez, another brother of David Pelaez-Chavez, said Saturday in his remarks to the crowd.
Pelaez-Chavez was an undocumented immigrant from the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, where his wife, mother and two young children still reside.
Jose Pelaez told The Press Democrat on Saturday that authorities sought to paint his brother as a drug addict and “bad person,” but noted that it was Dietrick’s second fatal shooting on the job. The first came in 2016 when Dietrick served as an officer with the Clearlake Police Department.
The Lake County District Attorney determined Dietrick was justified in killing Joseph Louis Melvin, who had hit Dietrick with a foot-long steel flashlight as the officer tried to arrest him.
The family does not want Dietrick to remain a law enforcement officer, Pelaez said.
Dietrick, and the actions of his partner Deputy Anthony Powers, the second deputy involved in the chase, who fired his stun gun at Pelaez-Chavez at the same time Dietrick pulled the trigger of his handgun, are also the subject of two administrative reviews.
The Sheriff’s Office’s Internal Affairs investigators are conducting one in tandem with an outside investigation by Sonoma County’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach. Those investigations began in May.
Pelaez-Chavez’s family have also sued the county in federal court.
In a news release, the North Bay Organizing Project said nine months have passed since the shooting, without any discipline for the officers or departmental policy changes.
“The delay threatens simultaneous accountability efforts by forcing all ongoing cases to proceed without complete information,“ the organization wrote.
Sheriff’s representatives did not respond to an emailed request for comment Sunday.
You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or email@example.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88.