Last Wednesday Michael Barrera, 30, died after police responded to a report of a disturbance on Matmor Road in Woodland. Reports had Mr. Barrera carrying a large knife, a golf club and a pair of scissors when he was hit with a Taser twice, and later stopped breathing and died.
But members of the family, meeting with the Vanguard on Monday, disputed many of these accounts, stating that they believed he was unarmed. They have been given conflicting stories as to what happened.
The family has said: “We have been told lie after lie, they have lied to our community, and they are covering something up. At this point we have been told numerous different versions of the story and lies from WPD and Yolo County Sheriff’s Dept,” with the family telling the Vanguard that they only had a chance to see his body on Monday, five days after the incident.
Lt. Anthony Cucchi of the Woodland Police Department had no further information on the incident and referred the Vanguard to the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office, which is heading up the investigation. Calls to a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson were not immediately returned on Monday.
Meanwhile, the family is calling for an independent investigation into the incident. They believe multiple agencies were on the scene at the time of Mr. Barrera’s death, including Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputies, which would call into question the ability for sheriff’s office investigators to complete an objective investigation.
On Monday evening, the family, along with friends and activists from across the region, held a vigil in front of the Woodland Police Department. The group then marched down Main Street, chanting and briefly blocking intersections.
Marissa Barrera, the sister of Michael Barrera, told the Vanguard, “We are out here because my brother was murdered by the Woodland Police Department on Wednesday the 8th and we need answers.”
“We know my brother was unarmed when he was killed and we have reason to believe that there is shadiness going on,” she said. “The Sheriff’s Department are investigating Woodland PD. We believe sheriffs were on the scene when it happened.”
“We want justice, we need answers. They have not given us any answers at all,” she said, stating that she had personally been told many lies.
During the vigil, the family was joined by activists from Sacramento, including Black Lives Matter Sacramento. One of the activists, Ana Maria, told the assembled group, “We all know how many lives have been stolen, how many lives have been taken from mothers, fathers, wives, fiancés.
“Michael was a person,” she said. She said it was not right the way his life was taken.
Fatima Garcia, a labor organizer, said she has been an organizer since the age of 16, as “something in my heart said the system is not made for all of us.” She noted the 2009 shooting death of Luis Gutierrez on Gum Avenue in Woodland, which also involved a Mexican brother. “We supported the family. We helped them get through. We helped them mobilize.
“Police brutality is an issue,” she said. “It seems like people of color are a target but everybody is living in fear because … the police have the power to kill somebody and not go to jail. That is not okay. We need to hold the police officers accountable.”
Michael Barrera was 30 years old, living with his father at the time of his death. The family told the Vanguard that he has a ten-year-old daughter and he was engaged to a woman, pregnant with another child.
While the Woodland Police Department released information that Mr. Barrera had a history of violence in Woodland, his family told the Vanguard that he had not committed a crime in ten years. His only criminal record was an assault arrest, which they contend was actually in self-defense and he has only had minor traffic infractions since.
The family does not believe he was on drugs or currently using drugs. They did have some concern about his mental state, as his uncle had taken his own life last fall and Mr. Barrera took it hard.
Marissa Barrera told the Vanguard that the police story has constantly changed. She said a police sergeant “told us that my brother was unarmed, that there was a lot of cops.” She said, “I repeated to him that you’re telling me that my brother was unarmed and it took a whole lot of cops and (they) had to use deadly force on him? And he said yes, he didn’t have all the details yet.”
The family has done their own investigation, talking with neighbors and other potential witnesses to try to piece together what happened. They are also looking into hiring an attorney.
The family is not sure what started the incident at the apartment. But, at that point it turned into a foot chase and they said that, by the point at which he died, he was nearly three-quarters of a mile from his apartment.
The family believes he was in fear of the police. The police said he was acting irrationally. The family believes that he was reacting out of legitimate fear. “He was scared,” his father told the Vanguard.
In the police initial account they said that the subject was located on Garfield Place, still with the golf club. “The subject was acting erratically and swinging the golf club around. Officers on scene repeatedly told the subject to put the golf club down and attempted to negotiate with him.”
Ms. Barrera told the Vanguard, “They took the attacked them with the golf club statement back. They said they got him to drop it. And that then he still attacked them.”
The police Tased him twice. At this point his pulse stopped. This is according to what the family says the hospital told them.
The police claim, “The subject charged at and assaulted officers causing injury to one officer. Officers used a Taser to gain control of the subject. The subject was handcuffed and, soon after, officers discovered the subject was not breathing and began CPR, as well as calling for emergency medical assistance.”
The family was told by a neighbor that he was hit with the Taser when he was already on the ground, face down, with handcuffs on.
According to the family, “They were just standing there, they knew he was already deceased. They just stood around and didn’t try to help him.”
The coroner found no sign of trauma, but the family when they saw his body believe they saw extensive bruises. Regardless, they are skeptical that a healthy 30-year-old man would die after being Tasered twice.
“So many men have been killed by the police, and it needs to stop,” Marissa Barrera told the Vanguard. “We want people to hear us and we want people to know my brother’s story.”
She added, “We want these cops to be investigated and we want them to be held accountable for what they are doing.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
Other photos from the vigil: