© Heber Pelayo The family of Robert Ramirez, a 26-year-old Oxnard man who was allegedly beaten by officers in a struggle while he was overdosing on meth and later died this past June, protested at the last Oxnard City Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 11. The family was joined by more than 150 activists against police brutality.
Alleged wrongful death sparks controversy

California - "Killer cops, off our streets."

That was the refrain chanted by a crowd of nearly 150 gatherers as they made their way from Camino del Sol Park to the Sept. 11 Oxnard City Council meeting. Led by a troupe of Aztec dancers and a squad of uniformed National Brown Berets, the procession wound their way through the Colonia neighborhood toward City Hall.

Drawn, perhaps, by the reverberating drumbeat, dozens of residents along the way stepped out to lend their support. Others looked on in bewilderment.

Tuesday's march was organized by Colectivo Todo Poder al Pueblo (All Power to the People Collective). The group led a similar march from Plaza Park to the Community Relations Commission meeting on Aug. 20, in response to accusations of brutality on behalf of the Oxnard Police Department following the death of Robert Ramirez, a 26-year-old Oxnard resident, on June 24.

Several of Ramirez's relatives and Colectivo supporters spoke out during the public comments segment of the Aug. 20 meeting.

"We want the community to have the power to fine anybody who touches unjustly or harasses our youth in our community," said Francisco Romero, a Colectivo organizer and 2006 candidate for City Council. "The time has come."

The formation of an independent Police Review Board was just one of the group's demands. The group also called for the removal of any police officer involved in cases of police brutality throughout the city's history and an increase in funds allocated to Parks and Recreation and Youth Services.

"Police budgeting," said Romero "consumes 60 percent of the budget."

The fiscal year 2011-2012 budget for Oxnard shows that 47 percent of the General Fund's expenses are for police services. The city ranks fourth in the county for the same year, behind Fillmore, Camarillo and Simi Valley. Oxnard's population is nearly that of those three cities combined.

Colectivo Todo Poder al Pueblo has been increasingly vocal regarding the death of Robert Ramirez.

"Robert's murder was arbitrary, unnecessary and racist," claims the Collective. It also alleges that Ramirez was denied immediate medical attention and was beaten by seven to 10 officers after he was handcuffed.

The officers were responding to a 911 call from the 1100 block of South L Street. The caller told the emergency dispatcher that Ramirez had swallowed an "eight ball" (3.75 grams) of methamphetamine earlier that evening and had since "ripped off his shirt" and was "bouncing off the walls." When pressed whether he thought Ramirez would be cooperative with the fire department, the caller advised that police be sent first.

According to the Oxnard Police Department, officers arrived at 10:40 p.m. on the scene, where they attempted to restrain Ramirez. There was a brief struggle and officers noticed Ramirez had become unconscious after being handcuffed. He was pronounced dead at St. John's Hospital less than an hour later.

The details of what took place during this "brief struggle" are still being investigated. Assistant Chief Scott Whitney of Oxnard's Investigative Services Bureau, however, maintained that "officers did not strike, choke or use a Taser on Mr. Ramirez," as has been reported by Colectivo Todo Poder al Pueblo.

The cause of Ramirez's death is pending autopsy and toxicology results from Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office.