A California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement officer who was part of a team looking for a fugitive parolee gunned down the wrong man in San Jose February 17. According to a series of reports in the San Jose Mercury News, 43-year-old Rudy Cardenas, a father of five, was shot in the back by the state narc after leaving the parolee's address in a van and attempting to elude police, first in the van and then on foot. He was shot in a downtown alley. Cardenas was unarmed. The fugitive parolee, whom law enforcement had for unclear reasons described as "armed and dangerous," was arrested without incident, and without weapons, two hours after Cardenas was killed.
State law enforcement officials almost immediately sought to blame Cardenas for his own death. "To say the wrong man was shot is inaccurate," claimed attorney general's spokesman Nathan Barankin. "A suspect was shot. It just wasn't why they were there. They were there to serve a warrant, and then it became something else," he told the Mercury News, adding that, after all, Cardenas had been running away from police.
Within a couple of days, the police offensive was in full gear as unnamed "law enforcement sources" told the Mercury News that Cardenas had "twisted around... was holding a digital scale as if to simulate a pistol," making the narc in chase feel threatened. This same source added that Cardenas had told relatives he would rather die than go back to prison -- something Cardenas' family vigorously denied.
And at least one eyewitness saw and heard something quite at odds with the police version of events. Dorothy Duckett, 78, told the Mercury News she looked out her fifth-floor window after hearing one gunshot and saw Cardenas pleading for his life. "I watched him running with his hands in the air. He kept saying, 'Don't shoot. Don't shoot,'" Duckett said. "He had absolutely nothing in his hands."
The killing of Cardenas has raised tensions in San Jose's Latino community, with two vigils marking his death and demanding a public grand jury investigation into the shooting since he was killed. "All they did was shoot and ask questions later," said Jesse Villarreal, Cardenas' nephew, at a February 19 vigil.
It could have happened to any member of the community, said Danny Garza, whose Mexican American Political Association is calling for an open investigation. "The concern is that it could have been anybody who looked like him," said Garza. "It could have been me -- I used to have a mustache and black hair, too. We shouldn't be afraid of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"I just want them to give us an honest, open investigation into what happened," said Cardenas' brother, Raul Cardenas, 59, who wore a yellow jacket with a bull's-eye and "police target" written on the back. "I just want justice for my brother."
Good luck. Grand jury or not, the prospects for justice for Cardenas are bleak. In case after case of questionable police shootings of civilians, grand juries fail to indict the police shooters.