On Our Watch: 20-20 Hindsight : Embedded After his son is shot and killed by a Richmond, Calif. police officer, a father looking for answers becomes a police transparency advocate. When the files about his son's death are released, they show an accountability system that seems to hang on one question: did the officer fear for their life? And in a rare interview, we hear from the officer who pulled the trigger.

On Our Watch: 20-20 Hindsight

On Our Watch: 20-20 Hindsight

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Nicole Xu for NPR
An image of a man hitting a frosted glass wall. The glass is cracking and shadows of police officers appear behind it.
Nicole Xu for NPR

On Sunday September 14, 2014 at about 4:20 a.m., Rick and Julie Perez got a knock at the door. A Richmond, Calif. detective and an inspector with the Contra Costa County District Attorney wanted to ask them questions about their 24-year old son Pedie Perez.

"I don't know how to say this," the inspector said almost 12 minutes into the conversation.

"You guys shot him?" Rick Perez said.

"Yes."

"And he's not alive?"

"Yes, he's not alive," the inspector answered.

After his son died, Perez met other families whose loved ones were killed by law enforcement. And so many of them told him they had the same issue: they couldn't get access to all the details surrounding their loved one's deaths. That information was sealed by state law protecting the privacy of police.

As part of this unofficial "club," Perez starts advocating for police transparency and accountability, pushing for the passage of California's "Right to Know Act," which promised access to records on shootings by police officers. He then went to court to defend the law's access against a legal challenge brought by Richmond's police union.

In episode three of On Our Watch, we examine the records that were unsealed by this transparency law to piece together what exactly happened on September 14, 2014 when Pedie Perez was shot and killed outside a liquor store by a police officer, Wallace Jensen.

Jensen is retired now, and he agreed to a rare interview about the shooting. He said he doesn't second guess his decision to shoot Pedie Perez that day.

"I made a decision and I stand by it," he said.

Jensen said it was Perez who made the choice to not comply with a police officer's commands, physically resisted and who he said went for his gun.

And we also probe what makes a police shooting legal in the U.S., and how it often comes down to what was in the officer's mind when they pulled the trigger.

It's a standard that family members like Rick Perez find incredibly frustrating.

"Nothing's going to bring my son back, but it's unreal that society keeps allowing these police officers to get away with the same thing over and over again," Perez says. "I don't want anyone else to feel this pain that I feel. Even the police officer, I don't wish this upon him."

Learn more about On Our Watch at KQED.org. This podcast is produced as part of the California Reporting Project, a coalition of news organizations in California.