Santa Paula: Teen’s Wrongful Detention at Gunpoint Sparks Community Protest

By Serran Soledad

Last Sunday, community members marched to the Santa Paula Police Department (SPPD) to protest the wrongful detention of 18-year-old Arturo Avila, who was held at gunpoint by SPPD officers before being released with three minor citations in May. Two of the four officers involved, acting supervisor Daniel Potter and officer Sergio Gutierrez, also took part in the targeted brutality of Xavier Rodriguez in 2019.

The police harassment of Avila occurred around 11:00pm on May 16, when police scanner activity revealed SPPD officer Shawn Virani calling for back up while handling a “fleeing suspect,” who they later identified as 18-year-old Avila.

Video footage obtained by Tribune from a bystander shows the moments after officers Potter, Gutierrez, and Christopher Chennault arrive on the scene as Avila is removed from his car at gunpoint and put in handcuffs.

None of the officers provided Avila with a reason for drawing their weapons or pulling him over. In the police report, officer Virani claims he suspected the car to be connected to a recent string of vandalism in Santa Paula. After officers put him in the back of the police car in handcuffs, they searched his car, later calling Avila by the wrong name before finally asking him for his ID.

The police report, which SPPD first withheld from the Avila family, fails to list the fact that officers had pulled their guns on the teenager. When asked by Tribune why officers think can get away with harassing people, Avila’s mother stated, “because they have that badge and whatever they say goes.”

At the Sunday protest organized by Oxnard Revolutionary Study Group (OxRevStudy), protesters gathered at Ebell park, where a list of demands were read aloud on behalf of the Avila family, who were also in attendance. The family demanded that SPPD admit to their wrongful actions, that they clear Arturo Avila’s record and citations, and that they provide access to all body-cam footage and calls made the night of the incident.

After the demands were issued, protesters took to the streets. A banner reading “Combat and Resist Police Brutality” was at the front of the march, with Arturo and his father at the center of the group. Marchers held posters reading “It is Right to Rebel” and “SPPD Harasses the innocent” and distributed flyers which listed the family’s demands to supportive onlookers as they passed local restaurants and businesses.

Protesters arrived at the SPPD headquarters and surrounded the front entrance of the building, as Ana Avila gave a speech denouncing the police for harassing her son.

“Nothing they say now will change anything that my son went through that night, or how he’s coping with it now, the damage is done.” she said, “Today is to point out that the Santa Paula police officers continue to behave in a manner that is not okay!”

An activist with OxRevStudy spoke to the crowd and encouraged working class resistance to police harassment and violence. He called for organizing outside the current system: “What we need now, is People’s Justice. We can fight back, to reach these demands, and much more!”

Community members joined activists in taping up the banner and posters to the front doors of the police station, pounding on the windows and chanting, “No Justice, No Peace, Fight Racist Police!” Many drivers passed by raising their fists and honking their cars in support of the demonstration. As the action neared its conclusion, the protesters left the police station while forcefully chanting “we’ll be back!”

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