Farmworker Oliverio Martinez wails for help, says he is choking and dying, and pleads with the sergeant to stop questioning him. This week, the Supreme Court ruled that his 5th amendment rights against self-incrimination were not violated. We speak with the lawyers for the farm worker and for the police sergeant who interrogated him.
Today on Democracy Now! we air for the first time the tape of an L.A. farm worker being interrogated after being shot five times by police.
A piece in the L.A. Times describing the incident, begins like this:
’It was early evening on a November day five years ago when Oliverio Martinez, 29, rode his bicycle down a path and across a vacant lot toward a row of small homes.
Two officers, Andrew Salinas and Maria Pena, had stopped to question a man they suspected, wrongly it turned out, of selling drugs. When they heard a squeaky bike approach in the dark, they called for the rider to stop.
Martinez dismounted and put his hands over his head. In a leather sheath on a waist band, he carried a long knife that he used to cut strawberries.
When the officer patted him down and grabbed for the knife, Martinez tried to run. Salinas tackled him and tried to handcuff him. As they struggled on the ground, the officer called out that the man had a huge knife. Pena moved closer and fired.
One bullet struck Martinez near the left eye and exited behind his right eye. A second hit his spine. Three more shots hit his legs.
When patrol supervisor Sgt. Ben Chavez arrived, a handcuffed Martinez lay bleeding on the ground. Once Martinez was loaded into an ambulance, Chavez climbed in with a tape recorder in hand.
On and off for the next 45 minutes in the ambulance and at the hospital, he repeatedly asked the gravely wounded man to admit he had grabbed the officer’s gun and provoked the struggle. In agony, Martinez is heard screaming in pain and saying he is choking and dying.
"OK. You’re dying. But tell me why you were fighting with the police?" Chavez asks. "Did you want to kill the police or what?" he continues. One officer had said Martinez tried to grab his gun.
In the emergency room, Chavez continued to press Martinez to tell him what happened.
"Why did you run from the police?" Chavez is heard to say over the sounds of nurses and doctors.
"Did you get his gun? ... Did you to try to shoot the police?"
Martinez in a low voice responds: "I don’t know.... I don’t know."
Lawyers for Martinez say he panicked when the officer tried to tackle him, but they say he did not grab the officer’s gun.
In the emergency room, he is heard asking Chavez several times to leave him alone. "I don’t want to say anything anymore."
"No? You don’t want to say what happened?" the sergeant continues.
"It’s hurting a lot. Please!" Martinez implores, his words trailing off into agonized screams. Undaunted, Chavez resumes. "Well, if you’re going to die, tell me what happened."
Silence came only when pain medication took hold, and Martinez faded into unconsciousness.’
The Supreme Court has just ruled that the police sergeant did not violate the 5th amendment right of Oliverio Martinez.
He is now paralyzed and blind.
Today, a Democracy Now! exclusive. We air for the first time a recording of Sergeant Chavez interrogating Martinez while he screams in excruciating pain. This tape has never been broadcast before.
- R. Samuel Paz, lawyer for Oliverio Martinez
- Sonia Mercado, Co-counsel for Oliverio Martinez
- Alan Wisotsky, lawyer for Sergeant Ben Chavez