By Mary Shelton
Over 100 people marched in memory of Dante Meniefield who was shot to death by a Moreno Valley Police Department officer one year ago and asked the question, how could a man be shot with his hands up by an officer..
Last Friday, family members and friends of Meniefield gathered at the intersection of Alessandrio and Fredrick to walk several blocks to City Hall, where they gathered to petition their local government to redress their grievances regarding the life of a young man taken too soon. Joining them for the first time was Meniefield's five- month -old son, Dante Jr, who was held by his grandmother, Donna Meniefield during the march.
"What do we want," the group chanted in unison, "justice."
The search for justice in Meniefield's case has been elusive, and has experienced several setbacks in the past year.
Last May, Riverside County District Attorney Grover Trask declined to file criminal charges against Officer Robert Marks, the officer who had allegedly shot Meniefield, keeping intact its record of never prosecuting an officer for a fatal on-duty shooting.
Deputy DA Michael Soccio wrote in his report " while the death of Dante Meniefield was tragic, Deputy Marks did not act in an aggravated or gross manner rising to the level of criminal negligence."
What exactly happened during and after the Meniefield shooting depends on who is providing the account, but the one detail that they all have in common is that Meniefield had his hands raised up when he was shot.
According to the DAs report, on March 10, 2001, two police officers, Dion Davis and Marks, came to the apartment complex to check on the vacant apartments. After smelling marijuana from inside an empty unit, Davis and Marks walked inside and shone their flashlights upon Roberts and Meniefield who had their hands raised. When Meniefield raised his hands higher, Marks shot him once, hitting him above his right eye.
Relatives and friends of Meniefield immediately challenged that version of the incident that mirrored the account given by the police department. An anonymous source, who had spoken to Roberts afterwards said that Meniefield and Roberts had sought shelter from a rain storm inside the abandoned apartment. Meniefield had told Roberts to raise his hands up to avoid getting shot, as soon as they had heard the police radio that signaled the officers' presence inside the apartment. Several of the people who reported the shooting, also said that they had believed that Davis had been the officer who had shot Meniefield but the police department had told them that they were mistaken.
After the shooting, the two officers arrested Roberts and according to several witnesses at the complex, roughed him up in the process. Hours passed before Meniefield's mother, Donna, was notified of her son's death, after initially being told that he had been arrested and taken into custody.
Other community members, including Gwyn Paschal-Hammond, recounted incidents involving harassment by Davis, a community policing officer, for several months before the shooting occurred. Hammond had relayed her concerns to the city council that the officer appeared angry most of the time and she feared he might kill somebody some day.
The department has undergone some personnel changes in the wake of the shooting.
An administrative investigation conducted by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, which contracts its services with Moreno Valley, exonerated Marks last summer. He was reassigned after the shooting, and is working in an administrative office in Riverside. Davis, who was never investigated by Internal Affairs, has resigned from the department. Chief Richard Coz, who presided over a department that experienced five officer-involved shootings in a 12-month period, has been reassigned to head the Banning Correctional facility. One of his lieutenants, Boris Robinson, has moved on to the Jurupa Valley Station.
Soccio is scheduled to begin prosecuting Steve Woodruff, who is charged in the shooting death of Riverside Police Department detective, Doug Jacobs, which took place less than two months before the Meniefield shooting. Within several weeks of that tragic shooting, criminal charges were filed, by Trask, and a few weeks later, by a criminal grand jury. Jury selection is tentatively scheduled for later this month.
The U.S. Attorneys office and FBI have launched a separate investigation into the shooting to determine whether Meniefield's civil rights were violated by the officers, an investigation which could last up to several years. On the civil side, Meniefield's family have retained Los Angeles attorney, Johnny Cochran who filed a 0 million civil rights law suit on their behalf.
Still, the residents of Edgemont, a cluster of apartment complexes located only blocks away from City Hall, remain committed to the hopes that Meniefield's death will not be in vain. All of the marchers, men, women and children raised their hands at City Hall, in the posture that Meniefield had taken in a failed attempt to save his own life.
Latrelle Santee, who serves as the neighborhood "mom" paused to reflect on her memories of the young man, who had looked out for her and her brother. Now, it was her turn, she said.
"This is a fight. This is a struggle," she said, "We will bring change to Moreno Valley."