Tensions between police and community members are simmering again in Anaheim, with residents increasingly angry over the continued deployment of an officer in the same neighborhood where last summer he shot and killed convicted gang member Joel Mathew Acevedo.
The latest flare-up occurred Saturday night, when Donna Acevedo, Joel Acevedo’s mother, said the officer, Kelly Phillips, harassed her with an unjustified traffic stop on Guinida Lane after she confronted him about his presence in the area. Witnesses also claim that police kicked over candles at Joel Acevedo’s memorial and removed at least one poster following the encounter with his mother.
“It’s like they vandalized and they stole from there," Acevedo said in an interview Monday. "I mean, they have no right to take anything from the memorial. It’s kind of like rubbing salt in the wound.”
Anaheim police spokesman Bob Dunn said Monday that the department was still gathering details about the memorial allegations and urged witnesses to file a report with the department’s internal affairs unit.
“At this point we welcome them to come forward,” said Dunn. “These allegations are very serious, and we certainly want to look into them.”
Dunn added that he was unaware of police going to the memorial site Saturday nor what officers have said about the alleged damage.
Acevedo said she would soon be filing a complaint with the department.
Regarding Acevedo’s claims that her traffic stop this weekend was unwarranted, Dunn said the department would delay commenting for now.
“The recipient has the ability to take her case to court, and the officers will present their case,” said Dunn. “We will wait for the outcome before commenting.”
The neighborhood anger stems from a July 22, 2012, incident during which Phillips shot Acevedo while the 21-year-old was fleeing from a stolen car, according to reports in The Orange County Register. Police reports of the incident state that Acevedo fired at officers during the foot chase, and police later released a photograph showing a handgun lying near Acevedo's body.
Acevedo's death occurred a day after Anaheim police fatally shot Manuel Diaz in the Anna Drive neighborhood of the city. The shootings on consecutive nights sparked protests that culminated several days later with a riot outside Anaheim City Hall.
The president of Anaheim’s police union, Kerry Condon, declined to comment Monday, saying through his office manager that he is out of town and unaware of the situation. No other union representatives were able to comment, the office manager said.
A group of activists and residents gathered Sunday at Acevedo’s memorial on West Guinida Lane and scheduled a candlelight vigil at the site for Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
Acevedo claims she was wrongfully pulled over just after 8 p.m. Saturday and ticketed for impeding traffic after waiting in an intersection for children to cross the street.
Acevedo said that while she was stopped, she asked Phillips why, months after her son’s death, he was still in her neighborhood.
“Why are you here? Why don’t you go work somewhere else?” Acevedo said she asked the officer.
As she continued on her way, Acevedo said, Phillips and his partner made a U-turn and pulled her over. While Acevedo was stopped, she said residents gathered around and filmed the scene.
About six police cars and a helicopter were called in as backup, Acevedo said she was told by observers.
Dunn said the police department was still reviewing the incident Monday but did confirm that Phillips was present at an 8:30 p.m. enforcement stop Saturday in the 100 block of West Guinita Lane.
In general terms, Dunn described a scene that grew out of hand when onlookers gathered around. Officers faced a “hostile crowd,” Dunn said, prompting at least three additional police cars to be called in as backup.
“They started throwing eggs, apples and bottles at the police cars,” Dunn said.
In an example of how upset some residents are about Phillips’ continued presence in their neighborhood, video streamed live Saturday night to the website Ustream shows angry residents shouting profanities at a line of passing police police cars.
“Keep Kelly Phillips off of our street!” shouts a woman on the video. “This is what you’ll have to deal with every time. We’re all going to come out here, and we’re all going to protest your asses.”
Activists have been encouraging residents to use live Internet streaming when recording interactions with police out of concern that officers will confiscate video.
Three young girls who live in the neighborhood claim that after Acevedo was cited, two Anaheim police officers went to Acevedo’s memorial and damaged it. The girls, ages 11 and 12, witnessed the incident from a few feet away.
The officers kicked over candles and removed a poster from the memorial, the girls told Voice of OC on Sunday.
“They knocked it all over,” said one of the girls, whom Voice of OC is not identifying because of her age.
After the site was damaged, the girls said, two or three officers from the larger group of six or seven squad cars took out video cameras and filmed residents before leaving.
When asked about the girls' claims, Dunn said the department is still investigating.
“At this point, we’re still looking into that,” Dunn said Monday afternoon. “We have not, to my knowledge, received any formal complaints from the people that complained to you.”
Dunn added that police are sifting through reports, including vehicle GPS records, from both incidents to see if any of officers were in and around the memorial.
“We take these things very seriously, and we want to do these investigations very throughly and do them as transparently as possible,” said Dunn.
Last summer's unrest came amid a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union that accuses the city of violating state law by not giving all neighborhoods equal representation on the City Council. While the city is mostly Latino, the current council is composed entirely of non-Latino residents, most living in affluent neighborhoods.
Following the ACLU suit, Mayor Tom Tait and others proposed that the city change its electoral system so council members are elected by districts rather than at large. A council-appointed committee recently recommended that the council districts proposal be put to a citywide vote.
Despite some efforts by the police and city leaders to reach out to the neighborhoods, many residents remain highly distrustful of the police and point to incidents like Saturday’s as examples of a lack of real progress on the issue since the riots.
As for Phillips, Acevedo said at the very least he should have been transferred to another neighborhood long ago.
“To me it feels disrespectful, because he killed my son and he’s still there,” said Acevedo.
Asked about Phillips' continued presence in the neighborhood, Dunn said he doesn’t have an opinion on the matter.
The department doesn’t have a policy precluding officers from working in neighborhoods where they were involved in a shooting, Dunn said.
Acevedo’s concerns were echoed by Genevieve Huizar, the mother of Manuel Diaz.
“No mother should have to go through this,” said Huizar. “What the hell’s going on in Anaheim?”
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Donna Acevedo's name. We regret the error.