They said he was asleep in a car with his girlfriend when the cops arrived.
“They were asleep. In an automobile. Sunday morning. Two squad cars arrived, and they ordered both of them out,” said Luis Carrillo, an attorney. “Andy was unarmed.”
What happened next remains a mystery to family members of Andres “Andy” Avila, a 26-year-old former student of Mt. San Antonio College, whom a Pomona police officer shot and killed just before 9 a.m. on Oct. 16.
“The sheriff claims that he got out violently; the girlfriend contradicts that,” said Carrillo, who is representing Avila’s family in the investigation of the incident. “The point is that in a matter of seconds, one of the officers drew his gun, shot two bullets, and shot [Andy] dead. So how is it that two trained officers waking up someone who was sleeping cannot peacefully subdue them, but instead resort to deadly force?”
This question and others have spurred members of Avila’s family and the community, including some 5C students, to rally for a fair investigation into the incident surrounding Andy’s shooting, which Carrillo and others have said is turning into a cover-up for the Pomona Police Department.
“No one called us; no one notified us of the incident. We found out through the news,” said Adriana Avila, Andy’s sister. “This happened on a Sunday morning; we didn’t find out until ten o’clock that evening.”
“The car [Andy was in] was registered to my dad, so they knew where he lived,” Adriana added. “He had his ID, and nobody came and told us anything.”
On Monday, Adriana and several members of the Avila family, as well as nearly 100 supporters from the community, gathered at the Pomona City Council meeting to urge the Council to call for a federal investigation of the incident. Although the L.A. Country Sheriff’s Department is conducting an investigation of its own, Carrillo and others have questioned the neutrality of such an investigation based on the history of racial profiling and corruption that they say pervades that department.
“For too long the Pomona Police Department, in my opinion, has treated this community like a little Mississippi town, with all the racist connotations that it implies,” Carrillo said. “So the fact that a so-called independent agency like the Sheriff’s department is investigating—it’s going to be a total white-wash.”
Carrillo and others cited several examples of racial profiling and targeting of Pomona’s Latino community in recent years, most notably the infamous DUI “checkpoints” that allowed police officers to stop vehicles of their choosing at various locations across the city to check for sobriety and a valid ID. Critics of the checkpoints argued that they were disproportionally set-up in Latino neighborhoods, where residents often could not produce a valid ID, leading to the towing of several vehicles and additional revenue for the city.
“We have here serious issues with law enforcement that have been ongoing and historical, starting with the towing policies and now ending in this [shooting],” Carrillo told the City Council.
According to Jesús Avila, Andy’s brother, Andy was directly involved with police officers in an incident on July 4, when officers responded to a report that there were unlicensed fireworks being set off at a family function. Officers later reported that upon their arrival, Andy resisted arrest, so they restrained him. Witnesses say officers beat Andy, who received serious bruises from the incident, which is partially viewable through two videos posted on YouTube. On July 27, Andy filed personal complaints over the incident with the Police Department.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, several students from the area turned out to support the Avila family and push the Council to call for a federal investigation.
“It’s all over the Internet; it’s all over Facebook. Since we’re from the area, you’re going to know people who knew Andy personally,” said Victor Campos, a junior at the University of La Verne, who attended the Council meeting. “[I want the Council] to go through a full investigation of the matter, because it’s just a tragedy, something you don’t want to see, especially around our community or any community.”
When asked if other students from his school were organizing around the Avila shooting, Campos said few students were.
“I tried to bring attention [to it], but it’s actually kind of sad that not many people will actually come out and support, even though they will ‘Like’ my posts on my status on Facebook, but they won’t do anything about it,” he said.
Carrillo said students could play a crucial role in advocating for social justice in the community.
“I was here a couple of years ago in connection with the towing policies of the City of Pomona, when many felt that the police officers did engage in racial profiling,” Carrillo told the Council. “And I remember when I spoke here, there had been a lot of students who were expressing their points of view in an exercise of democracy.”
“Students are a force for good. And students can really articulate and express the need for change,” he added. “That’s what’s required here. That’s the kind of help the family needs now.”
At least one member of Pomona’s seven-person City Council pledged to pursue a federal investigation of the incident at Monday’s meeting, but the city attorney was asked to investigate that possibility before it went to a full Council vote. The Council will revisit the issue at its next meeting on Nov. 21.