BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — “Killing County,” the ABC News Studios and Hulu docu-series is now available to watch online. The series takes a look at police tactics here in Kern.
It not only offers insight from authorities and criminal justice experts but also shows interviews with family members whose loved ones died in an encounter with law enforcement.
BONDED BY TRAGEDY
“Bonded by tragedy.” Those are the words of Jorge Ramirez whose son was killed in a shootout by Bakersfield Police Department officers back in 2013. Now, nearly a decade later he says his family and others like the family of David Silva are still trying to pick up the pieces and fight for change.
Through tears, Nicole and Jorge Ramirez recall what happened to their brother and son, Jorge Ramirez nine and a half years ago.
“He was killed in September 16, 2013. He was killed by the Bakersfield Police Department,” said Jorge Ramirez's father, also named Jorge Ramirez.
Ramirez and a wanted felon were killed in a shooting with officers. Initially, the department named Ramirez as a suspect until the family demanded more answers and discovered he was an informant.
“He didn’t deserve a death sentence for helping the cops," added Nicole, the younger Ramirez's sister. "He was helping them catch somebody who was wanted for attempted murder.”
And when searching for answers his dad says law enforcement didn’t help.
“They are supposed to protect and serve their community and when you put yourself out there and say that you are going to do this and do that, and you question your ability to do the job, like we have questioned them and they don’t answer, then who are they serving,” asked Jorge.
The Ramirez family is not alone. They remember a case just months before theirs in 2013 when David Silva died.
“My brother was looking for help at Kern Medical Center, right across the street. He was escorted across the street, laid on the ground fell asleep, for 19 minutes," explained Christopher Silva, David's brother. "Nine officers showed up, and a K-9 dog pursued to beat him down, and kill him.”
Christopher says he believes sheriffs knew that their use of force would lead to his brother’s death.
“I think some of these officers definitely should have been held accountable for their actions because they knew what they were doing. It wasn’t a learning problem. It wasn’t a procedure problem. It was a deputy problem.”
While the series highlights these cases from the past there have since been investigations into Kern’s law enforcement. 23ABC asked the families if they’d seen a difference.
“I’m gonna say 'yes' just to be fair, and not to look like I just have a negative side to this. I’ll just say 'yes' to that, but the reality is, is that the chief of police for the Bakersfield Police Department and definitely the sheriff, Donny Youngblood, have denied any problem at all in their workforce,” said Christopher. “So when your boss is telling you, you don’t have a problem but someone else above you is, how much change is their gonna be? And that just tells me that’s more of a recipe for disaster. More problems coming. I think that’s why this docu-series makes more sense to happen now because it shows you that there hasn’t been much change.”
LOOKING FOR A VOICE
The Ramirez family says they believe they should have had a voice in that investigation.
“No, I don’t feel like there’s a huge or major victory on that part," said Jorge. "The DOJ should be in touch with the families affected by this. It's not only mine. There’s many families in this county. To be called the deadliest county, it's for a reason.”
While both families say they have seen little change in accountability for Kern’s law enforcement agencies they say they have seen change nationwide.
“It makes me feel good because the people have spoken, in other words, they are not staying quiet,” explained Jorge. “Being charged of something they did wrong, well good, that’s what needs to happen, and that’s accountability to me. When those officers acted above the law, they need to be punished, just like regular citizens. You're not given a badge to kill. You're given a badge to protect and see that you serve the people.”
“I think those cases kind of give you an example of what should have happened here in Kern County," said Christopher. "Those officers, especially in Memphis, you see these officers getting held accountable. They get charged, so that’s the kind of behavior and action that we’re looking for and those are the consequences that officers should expect when they don’t follow the rules.”
And while Christopher settled his brother’s case for $3.4 million back in 2016 he says there’s work that still needs to be done.
“I think justice would be just accountability. It would actually be – let’s simplify that, just admit you have a problem.”
"Justice is holding those officers accountable which never happened," continued Nicole. "The DOJ never reinvestigated our case, and so we're never going to get that justice. So justice for me is sharing our story and spreading awareness that this can happen to just anyone. We're normal people and our lives got turned upside down, and it can happen to you too."
She also says her brother should still be here.
“He’s missed for sure.”
And his dad says there’s not a day that goes by where he doesn’t think about his son.
“I’m not gonna sit here and lie to you that I’m not angry. Of course, I am. They took somebody that I love. Somebody that I care about, and I’m never gonna see him again. That’s what’s hard. They went on with their lives and that was okay, but for us, it’s a fight that we still have to fight.”
While the docu-series helps with that battle the Ramirez family says they will never stop demanding change.
“This is the way we are fighting it, by letting people know that we all need to fight for our loved ones in cases like this,"' said Jorge. "That it's not fair, dying for no reason. It's not fair to us, because we have to live with this for the rest of our days.”
ORGANIZING WITH A PURPOSE
Both families say they have been organizing for years, protesting at the intersection of Stockdale and California and outside of the BPD headquarters and they knew it was for a purpose which they say is all coming together with this docu-series.
“People were just laughing at us. I didn’t care," said Nicole. "I thought about it like, ‘who cares.’ I thought one day I’m gonna tell the world the story, and I’m going to never let them forget who we are, who my brother is, and what this department did to my family.”
"It will solidify our fight because a lot of people said 'you guys are just making noise for no reason, or your just making something up,'" said Chris. "The sheriff is blaming our brother for dying, but you’re gonna see facts. You’re going to see the truth. Hopefully, that wakens up people to say hey, we really did put up a fight, we really want to do better.”
When asked who approached who when it came to the docu-series, Nicole said: “It's been over a year. I spoke with the producer who pitched the documentary to me. Obviously in the beginning a little standoff-ish because we have been healing from this and bringing it back would obviously re-open it all over again. So I knew it would be pretty hard for us.”
But after thinking about it as a family Jorge says they agreed and believed doing the series served a greater purpose.
"I told my family, it's not going to be an easy thing. It's gonna be very very hard on all of us, but I said it's going to be worth it. because all along, this is what we’ve been wanting to do.”
For Christopher, he says it was the attention and search for detailed answers the producers had that made him feel comfortable.
“Saying yes. Just the engagement. I noticed that the team that they had was fully engaged in the process, not 'oh we’re just gonna tell a second of the story.' I saw them go over the facts and deep dive into the information, instead of just superficially asking a question. I noticed that they really cared about the problem and I could see that they were trying to solve something that wasn’t solved yet.”
The families say they were not aware of Colin Kaepernick’s involvement in the series until the trailer but they believe it only helped gain awareness of what they say is an ongoing issue here in Kern.
“I learned when everyone else knew, but Colin Kaepernick, I think it will be great," said Christopher. "I don’t follow the politics. I’m not close to anything political because my fight has been straightforward with just cold hard facts.”
“For someone like Mr. Kaepernick to hear us and listen to our story through our attorney and stuff," said Jorge. "He realized that this is one of the stories that has no attention nationally, but it's just as devastating as any of the other ones to our family.”
And while the families had not seen the full project when 23ABC spoke to them on Thursday and asked them what their reaction was to the first trailer.
“I just had a panic attack, I couldn’t breathe," said Nicole. "I was just so full of emotions. It was beautiful. It was so touching. Its real.”
“I think it was great. I think the trailer was beautiful. I mean it put everything together," said Christopher. "You even have a detective even coming forward and admitting his wrongdoings. I mean that’s it. That’s kind of what we wanted. We’re not doing anything else outside of spreading the truth.”
It's been nearly 10 years since both deaths so what role did this docu-series play in their fight for justice?
“I’m not sure. I guess it depends on how it's perceived," said Christopher. "I’m just hoping people really spend time and watch it, and ask, where was everyone at. Just ask the question and inquire why did it take so long for this to be created. This should have been created years ago.”
For Nicole seeing their story on this widespread scale she believes is what their hard work was for.
“It's so rewarding for people that fought so hard for us. That we have such a huge platform willing to share our story, and that alone is the biggest accomplishment for people like us, families like us, who fight so hard.”
Jorge says this production is an example of always ensuring that your voice is heard.
“It's not an easy thing to share, but it’s a duty I think for me. It’s a duty to let people know that we need to change things for the best. And the police department, we need change, and we must demand the change. We can’t stay quiet about it.”
Now that the project is over, for some, a chapter is finally ending
“Honestly after this, my job is done," said Nicole. "My books closed. Let my brother rest. Let us heal. This was her goal, and we got here.”
Christopher says he hopes the series will potentially lead to more series and that this is only the beginning for his family.
Both families say they will never stop making sure their loved ones' stories aren't forgotten.
Part of the docu-series focuses on former Bakersfield Police Officers Damacio Diaz and Patrick Mara. In 2016 Diaz was sentenced for crimes including federal programs bribery and possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine.
According to the California Department of Justice, Diaz and Mara failed to submit seized drugs as evidence and instead provided them to another man who sold them for profit.
The two were sentenced to five years in prison for their roles in a drug ring and were fired from the BPD.
There have been 76 officer-involved shootings in Kern County since 2018. However, not all of the shootings ended in death.
The most shootings happened in 2020 when there were 22 in total. There were 15 last year and so far there have been two officer-involved shootings in 2023.
Meanwhile, the Bakersfield Police Department released a statement on "Killing County," saying there are "statistical and factual inaccuracies in the docuseries" but did not specify what those inaccuracies were. The agency continued saying it has compassion for the families affected in the series.
23ABC reached out to the Kern County Sheriff's office which is still reviewing the docu-series and did not have a statement prepared.