Closing arguments in The People vs. Francisco “Chavo” Romero were made on October 6th last week at Ventura County Superior Court in Oxnard. Francisco is charged with 5 traffic violations totaling $1000 mailed to him after the supporters of the Limón family called upon the Todo Poder Al Pueblo Collective to help organize a protest march.
Assistant Chief Eric Sonstegard testified to the Oxnard Police Department (OPD) preparation leading up to and following the Oct. 13 2013 protest that included a briefing on contingency plans for various levels of police action. Engagement levels ranged from observation to dispersal orders. Up to 90 officers including riot squads and a Bear Cat tactical vehicle were either actively assigned or on call the day of the protest. Sonstegard’s testimony revealed that he and another undercover officer were assigned to follow and to take video of the march, taking place to commemorate the 1 year anniversary of OPD’s killing of Alfonso Limón, an innocent bystander gunned down in an OPD standoff.
Sonstegard stated that he had been familiar with Romero due to Francisco’s years of community involvement. Thus, Romero was identified in undercover video and citations were mailed to his mother’s home address in Oxnard. Sonstegard did not identify an individual officer responsible for the decision to cite Romero, stating that it was a “collective decision.” Nor did he explain sufficiently why Romero was cited and not the handful of other participants who were identified by OPD.
Claudia Limón testified that her brother, Alfonso Limón, was gunned down by OPD in 2012. The Limón family had already been acquainted with Romero through his work as a schoolteacher, and later as an advocate for a Limón relative who had been abused by OPD. After Alfonso’s murder, the Limón family approached Chavo as a trusted friend and member of Todo Poder in order to ask for help finding justice for Alfonso, then later to commemorate the 1 year anniversary of Limón’s death.
Francisco took the stand in his own defense, testifying to his 18 years of community activism that included expertise in March facilitation; his role in the Oct 13 march, and his familiarity with OPD through personal encounters (Romero has been awarded $25,000 for bodily injury inflicted by OPD), and through mutual participation in community improvement projects. Romero indicated that he was not a march leader. During his testimony, Chavo demonstrated on a map the the route of the march and the locations at which he was cited. Undercover video taken by OPD viewed during his testimony showed he and other monitors leap-frogging through the adjacent gutter as the community marchers walked through the sidewalk. Romero drew from his expertise as a seasoned activist, explaining to the court best practices for safe and effective community marches; best practices include keeping the entire march together in a single mass, and walking with the flow of traffic. Romero stated that during the march he took directives from the Limón family who was leading the march; this required that he run back and forth the length of the 200-300 person march (of whom, Sonstegard, testified OPD could only identify a few of individuals) several times in order receive and communicate directives from the Limón family who were leading the march.
Video footage appeared to corroborate precisely the tactics that Romero described. It showed him stationed, according to safety protocols, within a crosswalk in order to keep oncoming vehicles at bay and to keep the march together as it crossed; the march was too massive to cross in a single green light, and the light changed from red to green while Romero and the rest of the march were in a crosswalk. Chavo is seen maneuvering through the gutter in order to move swiftly around the March to relay communications between the Limón family, monitors, and the general march; he is seen walking in oncoming traffic in order to signal to those who had spilled into the street to rejoin the rest of the protest.
Romero stated in court that since receiving the tickets, he has either scaled back or withdrawn entirely his participation at Oxnard events, and that OPD’s issuing of tickets achieved the effect of suppressing community activism. Romero revealed that the Limón family offered to pay for the $1000 in fines that Romero received, and that he instead chose to contest the citations so that he and other community activists would not be reluctant to demonstrate in the future.
A number of supporters of Romero were in attendance at the traffic court on the 6th. The case is now at the disposition of Commissioner Anthony Sabo, who told the court and the Romero supporters in attendance that he will not make a decision that day, and will review the evidence before ruling.
Three defenses were used by Romero’s attorney, Jaime Gutierrez: the first was entrapment – that OPD intentionally allowed the demonstration to occur so that then later, the leaders could be targeted. The second defense was that of defense of others- that is, that Romero violated the traffic laws so that he could defend others from possibly being hurt or injured during the march. Thirdly, Gutierrez argued necessity – because the OPD failed to issue a dispersal order, declare unlawful assembly and/or stop the march from the onset, it was necessary for Romero and others to take on the role of monitors for the march in order to facilitate a safe, organized march.
The trial closed one week before the 3-year anniversary of Limón’s Oct. 13 murder. The next week, supporters of the Limón family halted an Oxnard City Council meeting, calling out OPD chief Jeri Williams’ failure to deliver an anti-violence proclamation in Alfonso Limón’s name, as a condition of the settlement terms between the Limón family and the City of Oxnard. Chief Williams was confronted by Limón’s supporters, and reportedly expressed her deep remorse for the error.
Romero now lives in Los Angeles, works as a paralegal, and studies at the Peoples’ College of Law.