Visalia police chief Jason Salazar responds to protesters hit by Jeep on Mooney; protesters demand charge
VISALIA – Protests and looting over the death of George Floyd have roiled the country and now spilled into the Central Valley.
Calamity struck last Monday, May 25 when a Minneapolis police officer put his knee into Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd struggled for air, and pleaded for the officer to get off. When the officer released his knee Floyd’s body was already limp. Floyd died from cardiac arrest after being loaded into an ambulance.
Officer Derek Chauvin was fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and arrested on Friday, May 29. Three other officers involved in Floyd’s arrest have also been fired. Since then, protests have broken out across the country.
On Saturday, May 30, a Black Lives Matter protest at the corner of Mooney Boulevard and Caldwell Avenue went from peaceful to violent when a blue Jeep ran through a handful of protesters. The incident compelled a response from Visalia Chief of Police, Jason Salazar on Sunday.
“This incident should not have occurred. The driver of the vehicle acted irresponsibly. And the protesters should not enter the roadway to impede vehicles or throw water bottles as part of a peaceful protest,” Salazar said.
According to Salazar, at about 3 p.m., three occupants of a blue Jeep were in the third lane of traffic heading south on Mooney. The Jeep had attached, a “Trump” and American flag. Words were exchanged between the protesters and the three occupants of the Jeep.
Protesters left the sidewalk and blocked the Jeep’s path forward. All the while throwing water, and water bottles at the people in the car. In a short 14 second video posted to the Visalia Police Department’s YouTube account, the Jeep propels forward, hitting some of the protesters.
The protesters hit by the Jeep suffered minor wounds that did not require medical attention. Salazar said that the driver of the Jeep went to the Visalia Police Department to report the incident himself. He added that the protesters also called the Visalia Police Department to report the incident. Throughout his nearly 7-minute statement, Salazar expressed his feelings over the death of George Floyd.
“I hear you. We hear you. And we share in the anger and frustration over what has occurred…There is no justification for what occurred in Minneapolis. There is also no justification for those who wear this badge to engage in actions that have recently occurred. That violates the oath we take to protect and serve,” Salazar said.
Since Saturday, Salazar said the department has taken no formal action against the protesters or driver, but has pushed the report to the Tulare County District Attorney’s office. However, on Monday, the District Attorney’s office had not received all of the report yet.
“As of this time, our office has not received any completed reports from the Visalia Police Department. We are aware that the agency intends to submit reports to us when the investigation is complete,” the statement read. “Therefore, it is inappropriate to discuss the facts of the case or make any decisions at this point in time.”
Also on Monday, the nonprofit organization, Act for Women and Girls held a protest in front of the Visalia Courthouse.
Karen Gallardo, communications associate for the organization, said they are calling on district attorney Tim Ward to hold the three occupants of the Jeep accountable by arresting them, filing charges and completing prosecution. They did not specify which charges they would like them to be charged with.
“In any normal circumstance, a hit and run results in an automatic arrest…This is a clear display of the lack of police accountability in our community, and an overt protection of white supremacy within the police department,” the email stated.
The protest at the courthouse was organized by Briyane, an African American woman who declined to use her last name for fear of retaliation. She said the protest was part of a movement by young people, across racial, state and organizational lines, to fight for social equality, especially for black people. She was also among the protesters on Saturday afternoon, when a verbal confrontation between a motorist and the protestors nearly turned deadly.
“Anytime you are witness to a violent act it is traumatic,” she said. “You’re first reaction is to make sure the person is okay and then to get them help. Now it is time for justice.”
Briyane said this protest was organized in direct response to the incident that sent two protesters to the hospital.
“If someone of color had been driving that Jeep they would have already been arrested,” she said.
The protest was peaceful with a group of about 50 people holding signs and chanting slogans at the corner of Burrell Avenue and Mooney Boulevard. She said the location was chosen because it was a highly visible corner and as close as the group could get to DA Ward’s office.
“It’s easy to ignore people on the streets but when we say it in front of your face it’s harder to ignore,” she said. “We won’t stop protesting until justice is served.”
She said she wanted protests to remain peaceful unlike some others around the country, but she also noted that much of the violence was instigated by people outside of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Most of the people who are escalating this are white, not black,” Briyane said. “But it’s black people who are being arrested. We aren’t the ones escalating it but we are the ones bearing the consequences.”
Tulare County Sheriff, Mike Boudreaux drew the ire of some because of one of his comments on social media, over the weekend.
“For all those people who are hating cops across this nation. Just leave your name and address at your local police agency and let them know whenever you dial 9-1-1 or need emergency police services [that] you no longer wish for them to respond to your calls for help,” Boudreaux stated.
The statement has since been deleted, but Farmersville mayor, Greg Gomez called Boudreaux’s remarks “embarrassing,” adding a screenshot of the statement.
“This is embarrassing and beneath the office of the [Sheriff]. If he were my police chief, I’d demand he be fired,” Gomez said over social media.
In response to inquiry with The Sun-Gazette, Boudreaux confirmed that he did write the post. But on Monday, June 1, Boudreaux added in a video that it was taken out of context, and that’s why he deleted it.
“I recently removed one of my tweets from Twitter because it was turning into a platform for the very hurtful speech that I talk about,” Boudreaux said. “Let me be very clear that I was not saying nor implying that law enforcement officers should not respond to emergency calls made by people who are protesting. I would never encourage that.”
He added in his video that his post was only a part of a larger statement, and because of the length of his comments we split his text in two separate posts.
“We will always support and provide safety even to those who hate us, a tweet only lets so much go out, so it had to be a double portion. Unfortunately, that piece has been omitted in the sharing process on social media so my words are being completely misconstrued,” Boudreaux said.
Drawing a contrast with his first post, Boudreaux did post that, “Regardless of your position or belief in cops or the environment surrounding law enforcement right now, we will and always will respond and provide safety even to those who hate us.”
He also posted, in response to those who condemned his first post that, “The point is for those who wish to twist the thought. There are a bunch of good cops running to you when you need help but the criticisms come quickly against cops as a whole group when the bad apples are few and far between.”
Aside from social media posts, Boudreaux stated in his video on Monday evening that he, and officers in the Sheriff’s department, strongly condemn the action taken in the killing of George Floyd.