California Parent Fights for Police Accountability After Officer Killed His Son : On Our Watch 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.


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This podcast deals with policing and people affected by it. It contains explicit content and descriptions of violence.



UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: Yeah, hi, it's the police department.

LEWIS: It's around 4:20 in the morning on Sunday, September 14, 2014. It's still completely dark outside when Julie Perez gets a knock at the door.



UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: Can we come in and talk to you, ma'am?

LEWIS: And there are two men standing there.


J PEREZ: Sit anywhere you want.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: Oh, I'm just going to stand up for a second. Why don't you have a seat there, ma'am?

LEWIS: One of whom is an inspector with the district attorney's office.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #2: Here's my badge and identification.

LEWIS: And the other one is a detective for the Richmond Police Department.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: So you have a son. Does he live here?

LEWIS: Julie and her husband, Rick, have a 24-year-old son named Pedie.


J PEREZ: He stays here sometimes but hasn't been for a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #2: OK, and how's your relationship with him?

J PEREZ: It's good. I actually get him to listen to me, but yeah, it's pretty good.

LEWIS: They don't tell her why they've showed up at her house at this early hour.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: Is there anybody else in the house?

J PEREZ: My husband.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: I'll wait for him to come out too.

LEWIS: And that's when Rick Perez comes down the stairs.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: Would you want to sit down for a second?

RICK PEREZ: I'm good right here.


R PEREZ: Yeah, OK.

LEWIS: He's a middle-aged white guy with a gray goatee and glasses. He's thrown on his clothes that are still dirty from working all day at his recycling yard.


J PEREZ: You guys are welcome to sit down if you want to.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: I've been sitting a lot. This is about your son. And I understand he lives here now and then.

R PEREZ: He does, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: But he's not living here now.

R PEREZ: Not today, no.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: Not today? OK. When's the last time you saw him?

R PEREZ: Today - yesterday, I mean.


R PEREZ: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: About what time?

R PEREZ: Probably about 6 o'clock or something.


R PEREZ: Yeah. Well, it was still daylight, but yeah.


R PEREZ: It was - yeah, it was late.


J PEREZ: Is he doing something right now? Is he in trouble right this minute?

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: I'm going to get to that in a second. What happened when you met - when you saw him and talked to him at 6 o'clock?

R PEREZ: It was regular stuff. He was a little depressed about his situation he had the night before.

LEWIS: Rick Perez says his son had just gotten a DUI and that he was upset about that.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: And he - what'd he say to you about that?

R PEREZ: Just he said that the cop was harassing him and stuff, and he's had run-ins with a cop before.


J PEREZ: He got his badge numbers.

R PEREZ: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #2: How would you normally describe his outlook towards police in general?

R PEREZ: He's a good guy usually.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #2: But he's had - he just has a few mistakes growing up, or...?

R PEREZ: Yeah. Nothing to write home about up till - actually just the DUI.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: You guys are pretty close, then?

R PEREZ: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: Yeah. And I'm sorry I have to ask these questions, but does your son - I mean, does he drink a lot or take drugs or anything?

R PEREZ: He was drinking last night, I believe. He has his moments. He doesn't...

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: Right. Did he appear to be intoxicated?

R PEREZ: Not when I see him, no.


LEWIS: They still haven't told Rick where Pedie is.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #2: Has it been, like, a checkered past, and he's been getting over it because he's got his own demons to conquer or - you know, no troubled spots?

R PEREZ: I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: I just wanted to make sure we're talking about...

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #2: That's your son, right?


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: I just want to say that we're not trying to trick you or nothing. I mean, we have to ask these questions.

R PEREZ: Well, I don't - yeah, I mean...

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: OK. All right, but...

R PEREZ: It seems like I need to have a lawyer present, the way you're...


R PEREZ: ...Asking me these questions. I hope he's not in big trouble. And I wish you guys would get to the punchline.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: And I don't know how to say this.

R PEREZ: You guys shot him.


R PEREZ: And he's not alive.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #2: Yes, he's not alive.

R PEREZ: Oh, God.

LEWIS: Investigators from the district attorney's office and the Richmond Police Department questioned Rick and Julie Perez for 11 minutes and 50 seconds before they confirm that a police officer has shot and killed their son. It's actually standard procedure for police to ask these kinds of questions before they tell loved ones that their family member has been killed because they're also there to investigate a homicide. I'm Sukey Lewis. This is ON OUR WATCH, an investigative podcast from KQED and NPR.


LEWIS: After a police shooting, understanding and shaping the story of what really happened and why becomes important to all these different people. Family members like Rick and Julie Perez want answers, to seek justice. District attorneys need to find out if it was legally justified. Cities often seek to do damage control and limit their liability. And the officer has to convince investigators that taking someone's life was reasonable and lawful.


LEWIS: Today, we piece together the events of one police shooting in Richmond, Calif., and trace its aftermath, the shooting of Pedie Perez.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: I'm very sorry, very sorry to let - to say this to you guys.

LEWIS: On that early morning back in 2014, Rick Perez asks how this happened.


R PEREZ: I know. I don't know what - what's the scenario? What's the circumstances?

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: Well, we're still investigating it. But earlier this morning, last night, he was at a liquor store, acting a little crazy, according to other witnesses.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: Officer tried to stop him.

J PEREZ: Did he have a weapon? What did he do?

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: All I know is that he attacked the officer and was possibly trying to go for his gun.

LEWIS: The inspector from the DA's office asks the parents if they have any other questions.


R PEREZ: How come you guys couldn't use a taser or something like that?

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #2: That's what's being investigated.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: It's a serious matter. We're looking into it. We want to get all the facts, and, you know, that's what's going on now.

R PEREZ: Yeah, well, I guess that's what we've got to do, is get all the facts too.


LEWIS: When Rick Perez lost his 24-year-old son, he says his whole life changed. It became about getting all those facts.

R PEREZ: When you first get into this situation, you're basically in a panic. You don't know what's going on. You feel so violated.

LEWIS: Later that same day that Pedie was killed, Richmond's police chief issues a statement. It reiterates the basics of what these officials had told Rick and Julie Perez. A Richmond police officer, Wallace Jensen, stopped by Uncle Sam's liquor store right around midnight. It was part of his regular beat to make sure problems weren't popping up at this local store. Pedie Perez was also there, and he appeared drunk and belligerent, according to the chief's statement. The cop asked the 24-year-old to sit on the curb while he ran a records check on him.

The statement then says Pedie Perez, quote, "resisted being detained and attacked the officer," end quote. The two men grappled with each other, according to the statement, and Pedie Perez went for Officer Jensen's gun. Quote, "The physically exhausted officer, fearing the suspect would overpower him and get his gun, fired three shots at the suspect, striking him in the chest. The suspect succumbed to his injuries at the scene." These are presented as the facts the same day as the shooting. Police Chief Chris Magnus closes the statement with a promise that he'll be as transparent as possible while also conducting a thorough investigation.

Just eight days before the knock came at Rick Perez's door, the local paper came out with a story about how use of force by the Richmond Police Department was way down and that they hadn't had a fatal shooting in seven years. It was good news to this working-class city of about 100,000 people just east of San Francisco that's struggled with a long history of poverty, pollution, gun violence and police corruption. A lot of people said part of the reason for this sea change in Richmond was thanks to Chief Chris Magnus. Magnus was a progressive and one of a handful of openly gay law enforcement leaders in the country who was hired to lead the department in 2006.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Those protests against excessive use of force by police have found an empathetic ear from someone you might not expect. He's a police chief...

LEWIS: A few months after the Pedie Perez shooting, a photograph of Magnus at a protest over the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner would also go viral.


CHRIS MAGNUS: You know, there's a woman with her daughter that was there, and she said, can I get a picture of you with this sign for my daughter? And I said, yes.

LEWIS: The chief is wearing a full-dress uniform and holding up a sign that says Black Lives Matter.


MAGNUS: I realized it had the potential to be controversial, but frankly, that's consistent with our larger city commitment to the idea that Black Lives Matter.

LEWIS: Rick Perez says Magnus and his deputy also came to his son's funeral.

R PEREZ: And the police chief, Chris Magnus, and Allwyn Brown were standing at the back of the room.

LEWIS: But Rick Perez says he'd come to feel that this was just for show because he says Magnus's promises of transparency, answers, accountability never materialized.


LEWIS: In January 2015, the Contra Costa County district attorney issued their finding. The shooting was legal. The city also hired an outside law firm to do an investigation. In February, they issued their finding. The officer who shot Pedie, Officer Wallace Jensen, was exonerated. But the evidence that led to that exoneration - the witness testimony, the photos, the analysis - all of that was still totally confidential. And when he asked for this stuff, Rick Perez says he was told no.

R PEREZ: They don't present the truth. And the stuff they do present is always edited or, you know, shows their side. And then when you ask them specific questions, they always want to say, oh, we're not allowed to discuss it. It's in litigation, or it's in court, or it's an ongoing investigation. They don't want to discuss it.

LEWIS: But Rick Perez says he was starting to hear things from witnesses, people who lived in the neighborhood, who'd been at Uncle Sam's that night. And he says what they were telling him contradicted the official story. One of these witnesses became his friend. She's a Black woman who lived nearby.

R PEREZ: I guess the only word that matters here is the police's statements and not - nothing I say or nothing the witnesses say. My friend - she coined that phrase, Black witnesses matter.

LEWIS: He says he felt like the police were hiding something from him.

R PEREZ: You know, I do wish my son would have complied. But still, he didn't have a gun. He did not have a weapon.

LEWIS: Just a few months after his son was killed, Rick Perez's lawyer recommends that he go to this memorial.

R PEREZ: John Burris is the one who recommended to me that I go to Fruitvale Station for Oscar Grant's anniversary.

LEWIS: Grant was killed by police in 2009.

R PEREZ: These guys approached me from Oscar Grant Committee, and I never forget it.

LEWIS: He starts to learn from them how to be an activist.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Our next item is open forum. Rick Perez.

LEWIS: He goes to city council meetings to ask questions.


R PEREZ: You guys have all heard me here before, and you're hearing me a lot more. It's really sad...


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: No justice, no peace.

LEWIS: And he shows up to protests.

R PEREZ: I go to as many of these things as I can.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: We're going to get justice for Pedie Perez and his family, and we're going to be marching.

LEWIS: He becomes a part of this club.

R PEREZ: It's a club that nobody wants to belong to, but there's a lot of members.

LEWIS: A lot of the members are Black and Latino people...

R PEREZ: Mario Woods and Willie McCoy in Vallejo to Angel Ramos, Augie Gonsalez from Hayward, Terry Heymans (ph) from Pittsburgh - those are the most recent ones.

LEWIS: ...Whose family members have also been killed by police in Oakland, Stockton and in San Francisco.

R PEREZ: Every one of us has the same story, and the police will not release information.

LEWIS: Rick Perez sometimes stands out in this group. He's a half-Mexican white guy, and he's almost always dressed in his work clothes and boots.


R PEREZ: I talk too much, but there's so much more to say. Thank you.

LEWIS: He knows the reason he sticks out. Black people, brown people, Indigenous people are disproportionately killed by police.


R PEREZ: And I'd like to express my condolences to his mother right here.

LEWIS: And these families who've also gone through this...

R PEREZ: My talking to people holds a lot of water there because I got skin in the game.

LEWIS: ...Show him how to use his story...


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Reporting live tonight in Oakland...


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: I had this incredible conversation with a man named Rick Perez, whose son...

LEWIS: ...To call for change.


R PEREZ: I'm here to restore integrity in their policing.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Listen to how he described the pain that he's feeling.

R PEREZ: Officers are sworn to tell the truth, and yet the only thing they are sworn to is their brothers in blue. It's ugly, these lies they put out there.

LEWIS: Rick Perez keeps pushing for what he feels would be justice - systemic change in the department and criminal charges for the officer who killed his son.

Could you start out by saying who you are, and what you do - just any way you would like to be identified?

WALLACE JENSEN: Wally Jensen. I'm a retired police officer with the city of Richmond.

LEWIS: Can we kind of start, like, how you came to be a police officer and, like, why you went into that line of work?

JENSEN: Well, my dad was a police officer in the city of San Francisco. And just growing up, I had always admired police officers.

LEWIS: Jensen says he grew up in San Francisco's Mission District. He's Catholic, and he's Mexican on his mom's side, white on his dad's. Growing up, what he really wanted to do was play baseball.

JENSEN: And so being a police officer was my backup plan.

LEWIS: Wallace Jensen attended the police academy in Napa County. He remembers training outside in the cold, foggy mornings.

JENSEN: I was there dead of winter through the spring and into the beginnings of summer.

LEWIS: One day, Wallace Jensen says, the instructor was teaching a session about use of force - so batons, pepper spray and guns. Jensen says the teacher looked around at the group of about 40 students.

JENSEN: He said within the next ten years, somebody from this class is going to be involved in an officer-involved shooting. And then within 10 years, it happens to me.

LEWIS: On September 14, 2014, Wallace Jensen shot and killed Pedie Perez.

JENSEN: I called my parents' house. My mom answered the phone. And, you know, she was like, hey, I just saw the news, and they said a Richmond police officer got in a shooting. She goes, do you know him? And I said yeah. And she goes, well, who is it? And I said, it was me.

LEWIS: Officers who've been involved in a fatal shooting rarely talk about it publicly.

JENSEN: You know, people are going to judge me no matter what, especially, you know - I think you can still Google my name, and the stuff about the shooting will pop up.

LEWIS: When I first reached out to Wallace Jensen over email, he didn't sound like he wanted to talk about it. He asked in his reply, what will I gain by talking to you? I didn't promise he'd gain anything, but I told him I did think it would be valuable for the public to hear what it's like for an officer during and after a shooting.

Did you ever think about, what if I hadn't, you know, gone into the liquor store that night or had gone around the block one more time?

JENSEN: No. Because maybe - had I gone at a different time, maybe that wouldn't have happened. Sure. But I never sat back and, like, thought, well, if I had not done this or if I had let him walk away when - after I told him he wasn't free to go, then this wouldn't have happened. Sure. I'd like to think that if I let him walk away that nothing would have happened. But he could have crossed the railroad tracks, you know, stumbling drunk, got hit by a train. He could have crossed the street against a red light, got hit by a car. He could have fallen over, cracked his head on the sidewalk and died that way. Sure.

LEWIS: Wallace Jensen doesn't second-guess his actions that night. He says it was Pedie Perez, as drunk as he was, who decided to walk away, didn't listen to his commands and who resisted arrest.

JENSEN: That was his choice, you know? He made a choice. He forced me to decide, and I made a decision. And I stand by it.


LEWIS: When the Right-to-Know Act, or SB-1421, passes in 2019 - that's the same law that started all of us on our path to get these records from police departments across the state - for a moment, it feels like things are going to shift for Rick Perez. But almost immediately after it goes into effect, he hits a roadblock - a huge one.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Release the documents.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Release the documents.

LEWIS: Rains Lucia and Stern - remember that big law firm that represents police unions across the state of California? They file a lawsuit on behalf of Richmond's police union, blocking Rick Perez and us from getting access to those records about his son's death.

R PEREZ: You know, there's a lot of things I want to find out about. My son made a 911 call while he was being detained. And they blew him off, told him there's already an officer there. And within - I think it was, like, 25 seconds, he was shot after the call ended.

LEWIS: This isn't the only lawsuit the unions file. Up and down the state, all these jurisdictions start sending us emails telling us they're barred from releasing the records we'd asked for while the courts weigh the issue.



UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Release the documents.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Release the documents.

LEWIS: The union's central argument is that the new law does not apply to police internal affairs investigations that have already happened, only to police documents and files created after the transparency law went into effect.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #3: And why would we not release the documents? There is a danger...

LEWIS: In early 2019, the Richmond suit is heard by Judge Charles Treat and Contra Costa County.


CHARLES TREAT: Let's go ahead and turn to the merits.

LEWIS: The ACLU represents Rick Perez, and we are in court, too. KQED and a handful of other news organizations got involved in the litigation to defend the rights of the public to get these records. On February 2, Judge Treat issues his ruling. He's the first judge in this state to weigh in on the new law.


TREAT: I am ruling as a matter of law that the unions are not entitled to relief. There are no factual issues that need trial. There are no factual issues that require discovery. So basically, this is my ruling on the merits.

LEWIS: And it sounds pretty dry, but it is sweeping. All these internal police records - these past records that have been secret for decades and records created in the future - should all be made available to the public.


R PEREZ: I feel like the man on the moon - one small step for justice for our cause, but one big step for the American public.

LEWIS: Here's Rick Perez outside the court that day.


R PEREZ: This ruling affects so many families that are going to get some form of justice or some understanding of what happened to their families and to their loved ones. And it's just - I really can't understand why the cops have to hide so much if they're so right.

LEWIS: The Richmond Police Department has to start releasing the records. And when they do, we get to see for the first time how they went about the business of investigating the shooting of Pedie Perez.


LEWIS: There are four primary pieces of documentary evidence from that night Pedie Perez was killed - dispatch calls, a 911 call that he made, Snapchat videos taken by a witness and the video from inside the liquor store. The investigators use these to try and stitch together the events of the night.


LEWIS: It was Saturday, September 14, just after midnight. The camera inside Uncle Sam's Liquor store doesn't have audio, but it shows Pedie Perez clearly. He's 24 with buzzed hair. He's wearing a dark T-shirt and white sneakers. He stands, swaying a little, at the counter for a minute. He's talking, gesturing, maybe arguing with the clerk and holding up a cellphone. The store clerk goes to the open front door just as officer Wallace Jensen, who's out on night patrol, is walking past. And the clerk motions back at Pedie, who walks out behind him.


JENSEN: Uncle Sam's Liquor. Code 4.

LEWIS: They walk off camera, but the records show officer Jensen asks Pedie to sit on the curb.


LEWIS: Pedie starts complaining about another officer, the one he felt was harassing him the night before, who gave him the DUI. And he decides now is the moment to report that harassment, so he calls 911.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Police Services. Dispatcher Norton (ph). Can I help you?


LEWIS: He sounds drunk and is somewhat hard to understand.


P PEREZ: This officer fucking harassed me. I got his badge number and his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: OK, I can barely hear you. You want to make a complaint on an officer?

P PEREZ: (Unintelligible) against him - (unintelligible).


LEWIS: While he's still on the phone, Pedie gets up off the curb and starts to walk away.


JENSEN: What's your last name?

P PEREZ: Perez. I'm being harassed.

LEWIS: Officer Jensen grabs his arm. Pedie pulls away. From behind, the officer grabs Pedie's collar, takes him to the ground, according to the records, and kind of falls on top of him. A woman passing by starts to film it, using Snapchat.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: God, the police got his ass, though.

LEWIS: In the first clip, Pedie Perez is on his back on the cement near the open door of the liquor store. Jensen is over him with his knee on his chest, trying to control his hands. Pedie's legs fly up.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: God. Boy (laughter). Shit.

LEWIS: And then the recording stops. Just 25 seconds after Pedie Perez's 911 call ends, Jensen makes this call on his radio.


JENSEN: Ten-three (ph). Shots fired. One suspect shot. Code 3-11-41 (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #3: Copy. Code 3-11-41. Send 66 (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #4: Copy. Team three (ph), are you involved?

JENSEN: Affirmed. He's in Uncle Sam's. Now he's down.

LEWIS: What is not caught clearly on any camera are the moments in between, the seconds where officer Jensen pulls out his weapon and shoots Pedie Perez three times. The camera inside the store captures Pedie stumbling inside, holding his chest. He lies down in the aisle of the liquor store.



UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Police just shot that nigga.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: You just shot him?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: He just shot that nigga, though.


LEWIS: Outside the store, in the next Snapchat video, you can see the back of Jensen - his bald head, a gun in his right hand. He takes two steps back and one step forward.



LEWIS: In the last video, you can hear other emergency vehicles starting to arrive.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Why you do that?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Why you do that, bro?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: For real. They shot him.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Is he in there? Is he...


LEWIS: But what happened during those seconds that are not caught on tape? Why did officer Wallace Jensen pull the trigger? To find that out, the investigators need to talk to the people who were there that night.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: So I pulled out my phone. I start recording them.

LEWIS: The woman who took the Snapchat video comes in the day after the shooting and gives the police the videos. Her name is redacted in the records.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: It's going to be the officer's word against the guy that's dead.

LEWIS: She tells the investigators that her grandma made her come in.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: He was drunk or whatever. He was mumbling. That's why I thought he had a mental illness.

LEWIS: And there's one thing this witness really wants to get across.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: You have a taser. Even if he...

LEWIS: She doesn't think Pedie was a real threat.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: He didn't have a weapon, period. He wasn't harming anybody. He didn't do anything to nobody, from what I've seen. I don't know what happened before in the store. But like I said, he wasn't hurting anybody. He didn't physically hurt the officer. The officer's - you could see he was way bigger.

LEWIS: Pedie was a skinny, kind of lanky guy.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I can't really - he's not that big.

LEWIS: The investigators interview her for about 45 minutes, and they tell her, just say what you saw; don't characterize it.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: The officer's arresting him or something? I didn't hear what was going on, but I see it. And I guess...

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #6: Just tell me what you saw. Don't try to guess as to what.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yeah. OK. So now the officer has him on the ground. And I don't know if he's trying to arrest him or whatever. I'm walking outside. Now he's resisting arrest.

LEWIS: But then it sounds like they are trying to get her to characterize some things.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #6: Now, when you earlier said resisting too much, tell me exactly what you mean by that.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Like how I just showed you the video? I guess that's resisting. Like, but when...

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #6: Actively fighting, actively...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: What I consider fighting is him - you know, I'm - you know, I'm sorry. But I'm fighting you.

LEWIS: She doesn't want to use the word fight.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #6: When I say fighting, though - just so we're clear - the term the way I'm using it is not complying.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: OK. Resisting. That's what...

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #6: Like you were saying, resisting, resisting too much.

LEWIS: She says she never saw him hit the officer.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #7: Did you see him reach around the officer to try to grab anything?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: That's what I don't see. From what I see, I didn't - did not see him reach for the gun.

LEWIS: And when Wallace Jensen has the gun in his hand, she says she didn't see Pedie charge at him.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: His movement was this way, towards the store.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: So he shot him, but he shot him blank in his chest.


LEWIS: The night the shooting happened, police also talked to a handful of other people who were at the store. There was one man who said that he saw Pedie pulling on Jensen's duty belt and his gun during the struggle. Another man said he saw Jensen shoot Pedie while he was still on the ground. One woman commented on the look on Jensen's face, how scared he looked after he shot Pedie. The other witness they talked to back at the station is this guy...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Something bad really happened, and I have no idea.

LEWIS: ...Who was with Pedie Perez and who's his buddy,


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: If anything, I don't remember because I'll be honest now that I've had - I did have a little bit more than I was - I was drinking.

LEWIS: But you can hear in the tape of his interchange with the officers that he still sounds drunk and unable to engage with the questions that the police are asking him.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #8: You know, you're not going to be able to blame alcohol on complete memory loss.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: I know. And I know I'm not going to be able to blame it on that, but I really do not remember. I don't.

LEWIS: His friend just got shot and killed by police.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Can you guys let me know what exactly happened? Because, really, I don't.


LEWIS: And they sound really annoyed.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #8: No. I'm not going to do you that favor because you're not helping us out.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #8: 'Cause I don't think you're telling us the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: So what are you guys saying that I...

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #8: 'Cause I think you saw more than what you're telling us.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: I know. It sucks because I was right there, but I don't exactly know what happened. So I'm really - I got really bad anxiety right now. Like, I don't know what happened. I don't know what happened to anybody. I was a little messed up when the time fucking happened, and I don't know what happened.

LEWIS: The investigator seems to think this guy isn't telling them everything.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Would I be able to call you guys tomorrow?

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #8: What? You going to have some type of memory gain between now and tomorrow?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: I don't know. That's actually a possibility, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #8: Well, you know, this investigation doesn't stop tonight.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #8: OK. So if you go home, we're probably going to end up talking to your girlfriend and whoever else was there. And if you start spouting off like, Pedie did this, and I saw this and that, no one's going to believe you.


LEWIS: In the early morning hours after the shooting, investigators from the DA's office and Richmond's homicide unit also take officer Wallace Jensen to a hotel in a neighboring city.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #9: It's OK to say you don't know and you don't remember, too, if that's the case.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #10: Yeah, it's best not to guess at an answer. If you don't recall, just say, I don't recall.



LEWIS: And they sit him down and start to ask him questions. But as you can hear, their tone with him is really different.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #10: So what we're doing is we're conducting the criminal side of the investigation right now, and you're being treated as a witness.

LEWIS: The officer is generally treated as an official witness first and suspect second, if at all. No other person is generally treated that way at the scene of a shooting where someone is dead and the other person is holding a gun.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #10: How long are you struggling with him before he gets up? Do you have any sense of that timing?

JENSEN: No, it felt like a long time. I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #10: Were you tired?

JENSEN: I mean, I was starting to get tired.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #10: You can tell that. OK.

LEWIS: The officer says, in the struggle, he felt and saw Pedie's hand on his gun.


JENSEN: So you stand up - and we're face to face. I mean, there's inches between us. And I remember hitting him with my left hand and the...

UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: I think you were pushing.

LEWIS: That's the officer's lawyer, who's from the police union law firm - Rains, Lucia and Stern.


UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: You're doing a pushing motion.

JENSEN: Yeah, I'm pushing. But, I mean...

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #10: It's a strike?

JENSEN: Yeah, a strike. He let go of my gun, and I felt his hand, his left hand pull off of the gun.

LEWIS: The gun was in this special holster that's designed to make it hard to get at, kind of like a childproof cap. You got to do these two moves to get the gun out of the holster


JENSEN: I then pushed down - you know, I unholstered my gun...


JENSEN: ...And pushed down on the hood so I can unholster my gun. I brought the gun to retention, as we're trained to do in close-quarters combat.

LEWIS: When he says that - I brought my gun to retention - that means he's keeping his gun close to his body instead of extending it out, like what you'd usually see in movies when someone holds it up to aim.


JENSEN: So I drew it to retention. As I'm bringing my left hand back, I fired one round, you know, as he's charging because I see him coming after my gun again. I fired one round, and, you know, he stands his ground. I - you know, I was expecting him to stumble back, take off running, something. But he came after me again. That time I fired my second shot, grew some distance between us. So I brought my right hand out, my gun hand out, to point, you know, fully extended. Then he charged again, and I fired the third round.

LEWIS: It's almost at the end of the interview when perhaps the hardest question comes - not from them but from his own attorney.


UNIDENTIFIED ATTORNEY: At any point prior to firing your weapon, did you think about using your taser?

LEWIS: Why didn't he use a taser?


JENSEN: While I was fighting with him on the ground, I thought about that. But because he had the grasp on my left hand and, in order to pull my taser out of its holster, I need to use my left hand to get it out - but once he grabbed a hold of my gun, you know, my - I was in fear for my life. So I wasn't going to use a less lethal option when he was trying to use lethal force on me.

LEWIS: This is the heart of officer Jensen's take on the incident, that he was afraid that Pedie Perez was trying to take his weapon and kill him with it. But is Jensen's fear reasonable? No one disputes that Pedie was incredibly drunk. Could he have pulled off the maneuver to unholster the gun, maintained control of the weapon while fighting the larger officer, figured out the safety, fired it? And once Jensen himself pulls the gun and has it in his hand, how likely is it at that point that Pedie is going to be able to wrest control of it? The investigation doesn't probe the objective likeliness of Pedie Perez pulling off a shooting. They instead focus on what Jensen believed was possible.


JENSEN: And when we were fighting on the ground, I was actively telling him, you know, to stop resisting and stop fighting.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #10: And what about when he had his hand on your gun? Do you recall saying anything at that point?

JENSEN: No. I - at that point, I was in fear for my life. I was fighting to keep my gun in its holster. I wasn't going to let somebody take my gun and shoot me.

LEWIS: It's super key what's going on here. The police rules about when officers are allowed to use deadly force aren't so different from the rules that make it legal for anyone to kill in self-defense or in defense of someone else. But in the 1980s, the Supreme Court issued these two rulings that tried to add another layer of accountability for officers.

The first case, Tennessee v. Garner, established that police can only kill when that fear for their life or another's is reasonable. For example, officers can't just shoot someone who is running away. They have to have some reason to think that that person is a deadly threat.

Then in the second case, Graham v. Connor, the court tried to take this a step further, to set some sort of objective criteria for figuring out if an officer had acted reasonably. Would another reasonable officer do the same thing in a similar situation? But the court added a caveat, saying that police killings shouldn't be reviewed with 20/20 hindsight, so basically allowing room for officers to make mistakes based on what they were thinking at the time, which no one but the officer can ever really know.


JENSEN: At that point, I was in fear for my life. I wasn't going to let somebody take my gun and shoot me. I was in fear for my life.

LEWIS: The investigators looking into the death of Pedie Perez believed Officer Wallace Jensen. They believed that his fear was reasonable and that the shooting was justified. The department closed the case, and the DA declined to press criminal charges against Jensen. District attorneys often bring up this legal standard to explain why they prosecute so few police officers because officers only really need to prove one thing.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: He was in fear for his life.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: He feared for his life.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: He truly was in fear for his life.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #12: ...That his officers had good reasons to fear for their lives.


LEWIS: To the families of those killed by police, like Rick Perez, this is an incredibly frustrating standard.

R PEREZ: I respect all life and even a police officer. So if they genuinely fear for their life, they need to deal with it properly. But to use it as an excuse every time - it's horrible. They're just totally perverting that law and taking it somewhere where - making it ugly and stuff. So...


LEWIS: After his son died, Rick and his wife sued the city. In 2016, Richmond settled with them for $850,000 but admitted no fault. He says it was a hollow victory.

R PEREZ: They pay these large sums to families and stuff, yet they admit no guilt. And how can they ever address these issues if they don't know they're doing something wrong?

LEWIS: Then in 2018, Rick Perez got another win of a sort. Four years after Rick and Julie filed a complaint about their son's death, the Richmond Police Commission, which is the civilian oversight board, finally issues the results of its own investigation. And they focused on some key evidence that called into question parts of Jensen's narrative. Pedie Perez's DNA was not found on the officer's gun or holster, according to the report. And the investigator felt if Pedie had had a grip on the holster or weapon for any length of time, his DNA should show up. And while Jensen said Pedie was standing up and charging towards him when he fired, the investigator determined from the trajectory of the bullets that Pedie was probably still kneeling and turning away from Officer Jensen when he was shot and killed.

R PEREZ: OK, the punch line is they ruled that it was use of excessive force on my son.

LEWIS: Ultimately, the commission determined that Wallace Jensen escalated the situation and did use excessive force when he shot and killed Pedie. But this finding had no material impact. It didn't change policy or impose discipline. Like most civilian oversight boards, Richmond's police commission couldn't do much more than make recommendations. Allwyn Brown, who had been deputy chief when the shooting happened and had attended Pedie's funeral, was now in charge of the department. He rejected the commission's findings and stood by the exoneration of Wallace Jensen.

Brown said the commission did not appropriately apply the reasonableness standard from Graham v. Connor when they found Jensen used excessive force. Quote, "It leans toward unjustifiably discrediting Jensen's testimony so that the weight of his perspective in the moment is not taken into account, when rightly, the perspective of the officer in the moment should carry significant weight when measuring reasonableness after the fact," end quote.


JENSEN: Like, can you tell me what's going through my mind right now?

LEWIS: No (laughter).

JENSEN: I mean, that's what they're doing.

LEWIS: This is what those investigations were trying to find out. What was in Wallace Jensen's mind when he pulled the trigger?

JENSEN: Because they're trying to say, well, this is what he was thinking.

LEWIS: Right.

JENSEN: How can you say that? You can't. Somebody somewhere might have made a different decision. But I've seen guys make different decisions, and it almost cost them their life, or it does cost them their life.

LEWIS: Wallace Jensen hasn't talked publicly about the shooting before. He says there are some things about the way the shooting was framed that aren't accurate, like how the media focused on Pedie Perez's Latino family, but ignored his. And he says one news report claimed he'd retired a few months after the shooting because of PTSD. He says, in fact, it was a back injury that happened while he was trying to control Pedie Perez.

JENSEN: You know, I had to medically retire. And it's not something that I wanted to do because I loved being a cop.

LEWIS: Jensen also discounts the police commission's findings, and he says they never even talked to him, that it was just a political move because the Perez family were so active in city meetings and protests.

JENSEN: I can't let that bother me. I'm just going to ignore it and go on with my life. You can talk all the crap that you want. I know what's true. You know, the evidence is out there that I did nothing wrong. And, you know, if you're going to talk crap, then fine. So be it. Talk crap. I really don't care.

LEWIS: When we last talked, you said you didn't really want to go through the incident itself and, like, the details of it.

JENSEN: Nope. I mean, even if I did or I tried, I still think people wouldn't understand.

LEWIS: He says even his brother didn't get it.

JENSEN: He was like, I was just curious, you know, as to, like, why - if there was anything else you could do, like, why didn't you do it? So I - with that, it did bother me. But after thinking about it, you know, I realized he was just trying to understand what was going through my mind at the time that that incident happened. I knew that no matter what I said, he wasn't going to understand.

LEWIS: He also went and saw his dad. Jensen's father retired from the San Francisco Police Department in 1990 as a sergeant.

JENSEN: I think I started crying. And he goes, I know what you're going through. And I asked him, how? He goes, because the same thing happened to me.

LEWIS: The department says they don't have any records of this shooting.

JENSEN: And I asked him - I said, out of all the times that I asked you, have you ever shot somebody? You told me no. Why'd you tell me no, and now you're telling me that it happened to you? And he said, because you didn't need to know then. Because now you need to know.

LEWIS: Jensen chose to do things differently than his dad. He told his son.

JENSEN: I pulled him out of the house, and we were in the garage.

LEWIS: He was just eight years old at the time, and Jensen was on administrative leave.

JENSEN: And so I told him - I was like, well, daddy shot someone, and that's why I can't go to work, or that's why I haven't gone to work.

LEWIS: I asked Wallace Jensen if he'd support his son to go into policing, and Jensen says he would, but that he doesn't want his son to go through what he went through.

What does that mean? What did you go through that you wouldn't wish on your son?

JENSEN: I mean, taking somebody's life - that's not something you want to do. I mean, I had to do it, not something that I went into law enforcement saying, hey, I want to do this. I want to shoot somebody, and I want - you know, and when I shoot them, I want them to die. No. I never - I knew it was a possibility that if I shot somebody, they could die. But I didn't want that to happen. I am Catholic. I mean, it's in the Commandments. Thou shalt not kill. So, yeah, that sits with me. I believe in heaven and hell, and I'll probably get laughed at for it. But it's like, OK, I shot and killed somebody. What's going to happen to me after I die? Where am I going?


LEWIS: After Rick Perez got all the records about his son's death and after the police commission's excessive force finding, he asked the DA to take another look at the case and press charges against Wallace Jensen. The prosecutor declined. But Rick Perez says getting these records does do something. He says it shows how police investigate themselves, how they deferred to the officer during questioning, how they discounted the other witnesses.

R PEREZ: And that's what I'm trying to achieve by talking to you and stuff, is a bunch of little things. And as soon as we achieve these little things, the big ones are going to be exposed.


LEWIS: And he says he hasn't given up the fight for justice for his only child.

R PEREZ: We had a hard time conceiving. The fact of the matter is, he was a miracle baby. But it all happened, and we felt blessed. And in fact, we were blessed for 24 years of having my son.

LEWIS: He says Pedie was generous to a fault. He'd do stuff like beg for new shoes and then turn around and give them to a friend who he thought needed them more. He says Pedie was still immature and goofy sometimes, but he was growing up and learning to be responsible, when suddenly his life was just over.

R PEREZ: Nothing's going to bring my son back. But it's unreal that they - that society keeps allowing these police officers to get away with the same thing over and over again.

LEWIS: This past year, Rick Perez was out in the streets with his club - Oscar Grant's family, Miles Hall's family, Mario Woods' family and all the other families - protesting the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. He says he'll keep showing up, keep telling his story, hoping that something will change.

R PEREZ: And I don't want anyone else to feel this pain that I feel. I don't - even the police officer. I don't wish this upon him.


LEWIS: A short postscript about the Richmond Police Department. Chris Magnus, who was the police chief when Pedie Perez was killed and went to his funeral, the guy who held up the Black Lives Matter sign and promised transparency and accountability, he went on to become chief of the Tucson Police Department. And this year, he was selected by President Joe Biden to lead the Customs and Border Patrol Agency. His replacement, Allwyn Brown, who rejected the excessive force finding of the police commission, was forced out as chief after a vote of no confidence by his officers. Last year, Bisa French took over the role, becoming the first Black and Latino woman to lead the department.


LEWIS: Coming up next time, a white officer and a Black teenager are both in line at a convenience store. The Black teen ends up on the floor with his teeth knocked out.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #13: I'm telling you, this man was clutching me like he was angry about something, and he just kept punching me all right here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #14: But at some point in there, he's yelling, somebody get mama, get my mama.

LEWIS: We trace the two conflicting stories of what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #15: I highly doubt if that was a 16-year-old white person trying to pass a $1 bill that had a tear in it, that this would have created any fuss for the officer. I think he would have just let it go.

LEWIS: And how the investigators responsible for finding the truth seemed to ignore what's right in front of them.


LEWIS: From NPR and KQED, I'm Sukey Lewis. This is ON OUR WATCH. The show is produced by me, Sandhya Dirks, Adelina Lancianese, Cynthia Betubiza and Nina Sparling. Editing by Leila Day and our senior supervising producer Nicole Beemsterboer, with help from Alex Emslie. Josh Newell and Gilly Moon engineered the show. Original music by Ramtin Arablouei, who also composed our theme, and Cameron Fraser.

The records highlighted in this podcast were obtained as part of the California Reporting Project, a collaborative effort of 40 newsrooms created after the passage of Senate Bill 1421 to investigate police misconduct and serious use of force.

Special thanks to Nancy DeVille, N'Jeri Eaton and Chris Benderev. Liana Simstrom and Emily Hamilton are our project managers. Thank you to our lawyers Micah Ratner and Rebecca Hopkins and also special thanks to Tenaya Rodewald, who represented KQED and the other media organizations in the lawsuit to get these records from Richmond. And we could not have made this show without buy-in from the top. Thank you to NPR's Nancy Barnes, Neal Carruth, Anya Grundmann, Bob Little and Steve Nelson and KQED's Erika Aguilar, Holly Kernan, Ethan Lindsay and Vinnie Tong. We'll be back next week. Thanks for listening.

[POST-PUBLICATION CORRECTION: An earlier version of this episode stated Chris Magnus was selected by President Joe Biden to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Magnus was nominated by the Biden Administration to be the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.]


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