On May 6, 2015, the Yolo County District Attorney’s office announced via Twitter that Deputy DA Frits van der Hoek had been sworn in as the newest member of the YCDA’s team. The announcement might have seemed routine at the time, but unbeknownst to many in Yolo County, Mr. van der Hoek was involved in an extremely contentious and controversial shooting as a member of the San Jose State University Police Department.
Just over two weeks after the May 6 announcement, Mr. van der Hoek was officially cleared of his part in the fatal February 2014 shooting death of 38-year-old Antonio Lopez, just off campus.
This was an early test for officer body-worn cameras, which captured the incident – however, the department declined to release video except to a small contingent of people.
Mr. Lopez’s partner, Laurie Valdez, and others have voiced disappointment in the lack of charges and filed suit against the university police in federal court. That lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge, however, today they will have a hearing before an appellate court to see about reinstating the lawsuit.
While the video has not been made publicly available, the prosecutors created a limited viewing for a relative of the family, Ms. Valdez’ attorney, local NAACP chapter president the Rev. Jethroe “Jeff” Moore, and Asian Law Alliance executive director Richard Konda.
After viewing the video, Mr. Konda told the media, “I did not see Antonio make any aggressive move in the video. I think charges should be filed in this case.”
According to the report released by the Santa Clara District Attorney’s Office, Mr. Lopez was shot twice during the confrontation with Officer van der Hoek and Sergeant Mike Santos, who ultimately shot him. The campus had received a 911 call to report that someone was walking through campus acting erratically “with some sort of knife like stabbing the air and doing a bunch of crazy stuff.”
The autopsy reported that Mr. Lopez had methamphetamine in his system when died, though Ms. Valdez believes that “finding was tantamount to authorities trying retroactively to justify his killing, and contends that Lopez would not confront officers because of a general fear of police.”
Officer van der Hoek ordered Mr. Lopez to “drop to the ground” while Sgt. Santos told him to “put that on the floor,” in reference to the knife (which may have been a drywall saw). At this point, van der Hoek tried to fire his Taser, but the prongs could not penetrate Mr. Lopez’s clothing.
Next, Mr. Lopez allegedly advanced on Officer van der Hoek, who yelled to his partner to “shoot him, shoot!”
Sgt. Santos told investigators, “I thought for sure this guy was about to stab him,” before he opened fire. Both of his shots hit Mr. Lopez in the back and he died at the hospital.
But there is controversy in this account.
In the first image you see Officer van der Hoek, weapon drawn, then moments later the police claim that Mr. Lopez charged at van der Hoek, who then shouted for Sgt. Santos to shoot and Santos shot Mr. Lopez twice in the back.
But Ms. Valdez challenges that assertion. She believes that the footage supports her case, with the last image showing Lopez attempting to get away rather than charging the officer.
Again, after watching the video, Mr. Konda told the media, “I didn’t see him make any aggressive move toward any person.”
Ms. Valdez told the Vanguard that she believes, even though the report had not been released publicly at the time of Mr. van der Hoek’s hire by Yolo County, they were probably aware that the officer would be cleared in the fatal shooting.
She also said she believed this was an effort by the local officials to find a landing spot for Mr. van der Hoek.
—David M. Greenwald reporting