Family calls for more transparency after Sonoma County deputy shoots and kills Lake County man
A vigil held Friday for a Lake County man who was fatally shot last week by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy near Healdsburg was filled with prayers and calls for greater transparency about the times that led to his death.
The event commemorated the life of David Pelaez-Chavez, the Lower Lake resident who was shot July 29 by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Dietrick in a wooded area in the bed of Franz Creek.
The vigil began at 6:30 p.m. in the plaza of the old Santa Rosa courthouse and was attended by about 80 people, including friends and several family members of Pelaez-Chavez.
North Bay Organizing Project, a nonprofit that advocates for social, economic, racial and environmental justice, hosted the event. The group gathered around a small altar set up at the south corner of the plaza, where a poster bearing a photo of Pelaez-Chavez was surrounded by candles and flowers.
Speaking into a microphone in front of the altar, local religious leaders led the group through prayers, and members of the community and those close to Pelaez-Chavez vowed they would seek the truth.
“We want them to tell us the truth,” Jose Pelaez, one of four siblings who attended Friday’s vigil, said of law enforcement’s account of what led to the death of Pelaez-Chavez. “They don’t mean anything and they just write what they want (about the shooting.)”
Authorities say Pelaez-Chavez was holding a hammer, a pickaxe-like garden tool, and motioning to throw a large rock at deputies when Dietrick fired three shots at him.
Dietrick fired the bullets 10 to 15 feet shortly after 10 a.m. The shooting occurred after repeated commands for Pelaez-Chavez to drop the items in his hands and after another deputy, Anthony Powers, deployed a stun gun against Pelaez-Chavez, authorities said. .
Pelaez-Chavez, who police say was screaming and uttering rambling words before the shooting, was pronounced dead at the scene 30 minutes later. He spoke no English, according to his family.
Deputies began looking for him after an 8.20am report of an attempted break-in to a house in the 5200 block of Tre Monte Lane. Pelaez-Chavez was suspected of attempting to break into the home and stealing and crashing two vehicles over a period of about 90 minutes before deputies caught up to him, police said.
A person in a house on Pelaez-Chavez’s path confronted him with a gun, prompting Pelaez-Chavez to tell that person to shoot him, authorities said.
John Cregan, chief of the Santa Rosa Police Department, which is investigating the incident, described the first vehicle theft as a carjacking during a Friday meeting with the editorial board of The Press Democrat.
Carjackings require a suspect to use force to steal a vehicle. A physical altercation occurred when a property worker tried to stop Pelaez-Chavez from stealing the car, a pickup truck, which resulted in the worker being dragged 20 feet on the ground, police said.
This description of Pelaez-Chavez clashed with the man his family and friends said they knew.
Healdsburg resident Rocio Gonzalez, 45, said she has known the Pelaez family for more than 20 years. She knew the family as hardworking people and described Pelaez-Chavez as a relaxed and respectful person.
“I was surprised,” Gonzalez said. “We didn’t believe the version given to us by the (sheriff’s office) because he’s not like that.”
Dietrick and Powers both had their body cameras on during their search for Pelaez-Chavez, the Santa Rosa Police Sgt. said Chris Mahurin. And the shooting was captured on video, he added.
This video, however, has not yet been made public.
A law that took effect in 2019, Assembly Bill 748, requires law enforcement to release video and audio recordings of critical incidents involving police use of force resulting in death or injury. serious injury, or when officers fire a gun at a person. .
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office will be responsible for releasing the footage, Mahurin added. The law requires release within 45 days, unless the agency believes release of the documents would “significantly harm the investigation.”
Democratic Press Staff editors Colin Atagi and Alana Minkler contributed to this story.