DRCNet reported in February on the death of Rodolfo "Rudy" Cardenas, the San Jose man killed by a California state narcotics officer looking for a parole violator (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/326/wrongman.shtml). Cardenas, who just happened by the scene, was shot in the back as he fled accosting officers. Now the officer who killed Cardenas faces criminal charges.
For the first time in the history of the California Department of Justice, one of its officers will go on trial for an on-duty killing. As we have documented (http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/156/policeshootings.shtml), even in the most egregious cases, grand juries rarely indict police shooters. But Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement agent Michael Walker was indicted last week by a Santa Clara county grand jury on one count of voluntary manslaughter in Cardenas' death. Walker faces up to 11 years in prison.
The indictment came after a week's worth of testimony in a rare public grand jury session. That the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office opened the grand jury to the public was a sign of the intense outrage the killing has stirred up in the Bay Area Hispanic community. Cardenas family members and supporters in black t-shirts demanding justice were a fixture at the hearing, according to the San Jose Mercury News, which covered the trial.
"Victoria!" shouted a family member as relatives gathered to celebrate on the courthouse steps. "Justice has been served in Santa Clara County today," said Raul Cardenas, Rodolfo Cardenas' brother. "At least now they can see you better be careful when you pull the trigger."
Walker's shooting of Cardenas, a 43-year-old father of five, could be described as a comedy of errors, were it not for the tragic result. State narcs trying to bring in a man described as a dangerous felon (found peacefully sitting at home later that same day) mistook Cardenas for their actual prey, then chased him through the unfamiliar streets of downtown San Jose, losing contact with local police as they did. When Walker finally cornered Cardenas in an alley, he claimed he felt threatened and shot the innocent man in the back.
"I fired just as soon as I perceived an imminent threat," Walker said during the hearing.
That wasn't good enough for the grand jury. By indicting Walker for voluntary manslaughter, the grand jury concluded that he did not have a reasonable belief he was in danger. But it's not like the grand jury threw the book at him. It could have charged him with second-degree murder, which carries a 15-to-life sentence, but under the stewardship of Deputy District Attorney Lane Liroff, it declined to do so.