Kern County’s Murderous, Raping, Stabbing, Criminals…and the ‘Lethal’ Cops Who Stand Between You and Them

It’s pretty difficult to live, or to be a cop, in Kern County, CA. On Saturday, Bakersfield Police and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office were alerted to an aggravated assault — a woman reported her husband fired two shots at her inside a business. So, an armed and dangerous man was assaulting his partner in a public domestic assault. As you’ll see, these often turn deadly.

The BPD and KCSO, after hearing the suspect had an explosive device and was barricaded, sent in their SWAT teams and the KCSO bomb squad, because it was said the man had explosives.

The teams called every phone number they had for the suspect. They brought in negotiators. They shut down this section of downtown.

Nearly six hours later, they entered behind tear gas, only to find the suspect dead.

This was a gut-wrenching tragedy. The wife and people who knew the suspect claim to be completely shocked by his actions. The officers didn’t fire a shot.

Just hours before, Bakersfield PD officers received a 911 call about a shooting and found the driver of a vehicle bleeding behind the wheel, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. The police searched for the suspect vehicle — a gray car occupied by three black males — and soon found it. The vehicle refused to stop, crashed into a fence, and the occupants engaged the officers and attempted to flee. Officers shot and injured one; arrested that injured man and a second suspect, and the third remains at large.

That was this past Friday and Saturday night.

In a recent article, The Guardian asks how, with 13 homicides by police of civilians this year, could Kern County police be so violent and out of control? In the article’s words, “The Guardian examines how, with little oversight, officers here became the country’s most lethal.

I ask a different question: is the media blaming the police for the horrific violence that is endemic in Kern County?

Seems like it.

To bolster its case, The Guardian makes (as it routinely does) a beautiful interactive chart showing the 13. In the context of the article, it really appears that these are 13 innocent victims of police murder.

Even the way the Guardian counts is slanted. Its main page shows a ticker, like an old-style digital counter. “The last digit on the ticker is stuck halfway between the current and subsequent number, a bit of visual editorializing that suggests the next killing is inevitable,” wrote Chava Gourarie in the Columbia Journalism Review.

So in Kern County, The Guardian puts forth these 13* as emblematic of the problem. As the article states, the Kern County area is seriously economically troubled and has huge drug issues.

I’ve summarized the 13 incidents below, and linked to (we hope) un-biased press accounts on each. Be honest: if you were sworn to uphold the peace and protect the people of Kern County, and you were confronted with the situations below, how would you have done things differently?

The implication of the article is that the police in Kern County are roaming the streets killing people. Of course, the article doesn’t say that. It says that Kern’s cops are the most fatal in the nation, and then shows photos of the dead, implying the innocence of those depicted. After reading these summaries and the newspaper articles, if you don’t agree that you would hope the cops would do the same thing if you were the one being endangered by these people, then you agree with The Guardian.

One last note: this list is of those killed in tragic confrontations with police. If I seem flippant, it is certainly not about the tragic death of anyone. It is that I get frustrated when the police are irresponsibly blamed (by truly uninformed outsiders) for the consequences of the behavior of these people — behavior that led, predictably, to their deaths.

David Garcia

Was threatening his wife, who called 911 for domestic dispute and threats. When the cops arrived, Garcia, brandishing a knife, charged at the police; cops TASED and, when this was ineffective, shot. Note that faced with a knife (to see what a knife wound looks like — and I warn you, this is icky —click here), the officers attempted non-deadly force before applying deadly force.

Jeff Alexander

Multiple witnesses called 911 and said Alexander was running amok in the hotel, waving a knife and brandishing it at guests, threatening them. Officers warned him to drop the knife, he didn’t, they killed him. Again, to see what a different knife wound looks like — and I warn you, this is icky — click here.

Robert Burge

A love triangle; Burge, a corrections employee, shot a corrections sergeant, and then Department of Corrections worker ambushed and shot dead a corrections sergeant at his home and then fled to the Vagabond Inn, where he barricaded himself in the lobby armed with a gun and claiming to have bombs. SWAT officers shot him after a standoff.

Adrian Hernandez

Adrian was a rapist, kidnapper, attempted murderer and attempted arsonist who tried to drown, then to burn the woman he raped, then ran and led cops on a chase before jumping out of his car and charged towards police holding a gun (the gun later was found to be a BB pistol).

Richard Hanna

When Hanna’s wife called 911 from a gas station to plead for help because Richard was beating her, the wife-beating man embroiled his wife in a mobile domestic dispute, fleeing police. The cops stopped him and told him to put his hands out the window; he refused, putting out just one before firing a shot in an attempted suicide, then leapt out of his truck and ran toward the officer with his arms extended. The officer retreated, then warned, and then fired three shots which killed Hanna.

Michael Earl Lemon

Sheriff got a complaint call at 6am that Lemon was disturbing the peace at a trailer park; when deputies arrived 58-year-old Lemon fought them. Deputies used batons, pepper spray and a taser to get Lemon into cuffs. After he was in cuffs he experienced an unspecified medical emergency and died; autopsy results still not publicly available. (NB: This is the only incident I see here that looks suspicious: I hereby offer a standing bet of a six pack of Dr. Pepper to the whole Guardian Counted team that when the autopsy is released it this incident will turn out to be drug toxicity and heart attack.)

Rodolfo Velazquez

Shafter Police received a 911 call on a man acting erratically, possibly under the influence of drugs, and carrying a knife. The Guardian states this was near a school. Deputy Police Chief Brian Smith said officers ordered Velazquez to drop the knife, but he still charged them with it. They shot him to death.

Lorenzo Garza

The 911 call reported criminal threats and a drive-by shooting at a house, and people in that house told officers where the shooter lived. When cops arrived Garza fled, shooting at cops as he did so. During the chase, Garza shot from his vehicle at officers several times. The chase ended with an exchange of gunfire that left Garza dead.

Daniel Hernandez

911 received a call on a man shooting a gun at Stiern Park just before 6 p.m. Tuesday. Police said Hernandez advanced upon officers while the pointing the gun at them, refusing to drop it. Officers fired, striking and killing Hernandez. Police recovered a handgun “in proximity to the suspect,”

Benjamin Peter Ashley

Ashley was a fugitive sought in the July 28 slaying of a dentist, the kidnapping of three people, and the wounding of two Kern County deputies. The sheriff’s office said the two deputies got out of their patrol car to investigate and ordered Ashley to show his hands. Ashley did not comply and then pulled out a gun from his waistband. Both deputies shot their guns. Neither deputy was injured.

Jason Lee Alderman

Police said a two-officer unit was in the parking lot of the Subway restaurant at 1215 Olive Drive for an unrelated investigation when they observed Alderman inside the Subway and they believed he was committing a robbery. They engaged and shot Alderman, who was holding a car-jack that looked substantially like a gun, dead. The investigation continues as to why officers fired.

Jose Herrera

This was a death of a prisoner, in a state prison, and had nothing to do with police. See my earlier comments about methodology. There are no budgetary, departmental, organizational or other governmental classifications of “state prison correctional officer” as “police”. None.

The Unknown Thirteenth

I do believe there was a 13th, but the Guardian’s site didn’t list it as of today. The article referred to Unknown, Unknown.

Summary

Ask yourself: is this really a police problem? Or is this a societal and community and economics and education and opportunity problem? Is Kern County really (mind you, the math is, actually, dodgy on this) the deadliest police area in America ?

Or is this simply one of the counties with the highest levels of violence, and a police force trying to combat the violence and thus interacting with deadly people who threaten police and civilians?

My bet is on the latter. For me, I praise the police going to work in one of the most dangerous places in America. Where so often, shots are fired, rapes and violence and mayhem occurs, and when the cops confront this senseless violence, they’re accused of being the most lethal police in America. If any killings turn out to be unjustified, I have been very clear that those officers should be arrested and convicted and punished.

But go look at that list again. It doesn’t look as if any reasonable person placed in any of those situations could have come down differnt. If you disagree, fine. I’d ask you to consider the extent of your understanding of deadly force, and to give some benefit of the doubt if you’ve never heard a shot fired in anger or been in a deadly force situation, but fine.

Consider that The Guardian itself states that 49 of the 54 killings by officers of civilians since 2005 have been found justified. Just what is it about the American experience that the media does not understand?

What a colossal waste of reportorial talent and artistic accomplishment to profit from the ongoing tragedy that is life in Kern County, by raising intellectually dishonest points to further a flawed narrative that cops are the enemy.

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* There are actually just 12 — Herrera was a prisoner in a state prison.