Wednesday, February 9, 2011

This observer won't remain "mum" on this real life tragedy

After two weeks, there is still no follow-up information provided by the local media in regard to the Walmart shooting that killed a Utah man, a 13-year-old girl and wounded two police officers. “Officially” the Pierce County Medical Examiner is being “mum” on the case, although this contradicts a statement from a Salt Lake City television station last week that reported that they were informed by the medical examiner that Astrid Valdivia had been shot multiple times by police fire when she ran to the aid of Anthony Martinez after he was shot. The local media here claims that there was a “shootout,” although police have only said that after Martinez took off running while he was either being questioned or escorted to a police van, he fired a weapon over his shoulder without aiming. Obviously this tragedy would not have occurred had Martinez willingly allowed himself to be detained, but this case is more complicated than it would first appear, both locally and in Utah.

If in fact Valdivia was killed by indiscriminate police fire, it also stands to reason the possibility that the two officers were also wounded by police fire. This could explain the delay in releasing information on the case; local law enforcement have had their share of bad publicity lately, not just in regard to the John T. Williams case and other instances of shocking police abuse, but the $10 million civil judgment against King County and its sheriff’s department after a deputy’s actions causing permanent brain damage to an innocent man. I have also observed that there has been a great deal of misinformation and demonizing on various crime victim websites that have been allowed to shape the perception of the case. Martinez was being described (mainly on the parents' word) as violent and dangerous, with no detailed information to justify this claim.

I discovered a newspaper story in Utah dated this past December that shed a little more light on the case. Martinez and Valdivia had just been discovered in California and returned to Utah. Both appeared in court concerning the relevance of a charge of kidnapping; Valdivia had in fact written a note to her family stating that she was leaving home and staying with a “friend.” Until 2010, Valdivia had not seen Martinez since she was 4 or 5 years old, when he had helped watch over her and her siblings when he had a relationship with her mother. Martinez—who back then had not known that Valdivia’s mother was married until one day the husband showed-up unexpectedly and he was forced to hide in closet—presumably encountered the girl one day and was made of aware of her identity. After talking to her, he told his brother that he had the impression that she was “troubled” and “suicidal” and wanted to leave home, and he wanted to help her. Martinez’s brother has stated that his brother had a “good heart,” and likely understood given his previous experiences with the parents.

It seems likely that the girl did in fact have a troubled home life, given what occurred in the courtroom: The judge admonished the parents several times to show their daughter more “respect,” and after the father derided her “hair,” the judge tossed him out of the courtroom and told him not to return (That reminds me of something I observed in a barbershop when I was younger; a boy was getting a haircut while his mother was malignantly instructing the barber. The boy was clearly in distress, with tears in his eyes; the barber, realizing his distress, would only snip a little off each time the mother ordered him to cut more off. It couldn’t have been a comfortable experience for the barber, seeing how much the mother was enjoying the boy’s misery). Rather than return the girl back to her family, the judge ordered her placed in a foster care facility; Martinez, meanwhile, was released on bail; and from there we have this tragic shooting.

Instead of telling the truth of a tragic tale, the local media has been “mum,” allowing people only the comforting “knowledge” of yet another unfortunately “justified” police killing. But this is real life about real people we are talking about here, not just another “unfortunate” incident.

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