The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 35      October 6, 2014

(front page)
Calif. protesters won’t let cops
‘sweep killing under the rug’
Militant/Carole Lesnick
Residents of Half Moon Bay, Calif., march Sept. 6 to demand arrest of Sheriff’s Deputy Menh Trieu for killing of 18-year-old Yanira Serrano. Leading march is Yanira’s brother Tony Serrano.
HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — “The killing of Yanira Serrano was a senseless and unwarranted act of police abuse,” alleges a federal civil rights lawsuit announced Sept. 9 by Serrano’s family at the spot where Sheriff’s Deputy Menh Trieu gunned down the 18-year-old June 3.

Serrano suffered from schizophrenia, lead attorney Arnoldo Casillas told the media.

“She was a sweet girl with a beautiful smile,” said Yanira’s mother Carmen Serrano. “The only reason we called 911 was because she wasn’t taking her medicine. There was no need to shoot her.”

Flowers were arranged in a circle around the site, which officials had repaved to cover bloodstains. The killing has shaken residents of Moonridge Housing Apartments, where Yanira Serrano lived. The complex was built for workers in local flower and mushroom greenhouses.

“I told them it wasn’t an emergency,” Yanira’s older brother Tony added. “The DA, the officer and the government don’t care about us. They don’t care about the mentally ill. When they killed Yanira, they killed the entire family.”

Trieu responded to the call before the paramedics arrived. Claiming Serrano threatened his life with a knife, Trieu killed Serrano with a single gunshot to the chest — 30 seconds after he arrived at the house.

The civil suit — filed after authorities refused to file criminal charges against officer Trieu — charges Trieu, the County of San Mateo and 10 employees of the San Mateo Sheriff’s Office with violating constitutional protections guaranteed under the 14th and Fourth amendments. It states that the killing “was willful and done with deliberate disregard for the rights and safety of Yanira Serrano” and the rights of family members.

According to the suit, Serrano was cutting up fruit with a paring knife and hobbled toward Trieu with the knife in her hand as he approached the house. “She was five feet, two inches tall and weighed 200 pounds,” the suit pointed out. “She was born with a congenital defect of her left calf and foot. … Because of her obese condition and her atrophied left foot/leg, she could not meaningfully run and limped badly.”

On Aug. 18, San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe declared the case closed. Ignoring calls to arrest and prosecute Trieu, Wagstaffe ruled that “Trieu’s use of lethal force on June 3, 2014, which resulted in the unfortunate death of Yanira Serrano-Garcia, was justifiable under the provisions of Penal Code section 196.” The report quotes Trieu saying, “I felt bad, but I felt relieved that I wasn’t the one laying on the ground.”

About 100 people turned out for a march down Main Street Sept. 6 organized by the Serrano family in response to the report. The protest was the latest in a series of vigils and marches since Serrano was killed.

“I know firsthand what the family is going through,” protester Dolores Piper told the Militant. “I am here to give strength to the fight to stop these police killings.” A South San Francisco cop killed Piper’s nephew Derrick Gaines in 2012. He was 15 years old.

Matt Chang was at the front of the march. The police killed his brother Errol Chang, a paranoid schizophrenic, during a psychotic episode March 18. The local SWAT team parked an armored personnel carrier outside the Chang home in Pacifica, a few miles up the road from Half Moon Bay. Cops threw flash grenades into the house where Errol Chang had barricaded himself. Witnesses said he attempted to surrender with his hands up before police shot him multiple times.

“Police are trying to sweep it under a rug,” Matt Chang told the Militant. “Yanira’s killing happened so short a time after what happened to my brother. I try to come down to help.”

Tony Serrano has spoken before the Half Moon Bay City Council demanding the arrest and prosecution of Trieu and calling for a resolution making June 3 an official day in honor of her memory and the mentally ill. Serrano’s memorial service drew hundreds to Our Lady of the Pillar Catholic Church, as did her funeral in a small town in Jalisco, Mexico, where she was buried beside her grandfather.  
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