PLEASANTVILLE — Family and friends marched to City Hall on Wednesday protesting the police tactics used in the fatal shooting by officers of 19-year-old Alexis Yamil Perez on April 22.
The police in Pleasantville “aren’t doing their job,” said Jessie Perez, sister-in-law of the deceased teen.
The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office has said the 19-year-old was armed with a knife as he advanced on an officer. Police had already tried verbal commands and pepper spray before four officers are believed to have discharged their weapons, acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said.
In a letter Wednesday addressed to the governor, the president, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and various city officials, Hector Perez Jr. recounted the 15 minutes between a 911 call to the police and the death of his younger brother.
A call was placed to police alerting them of Alexis Yamil Perez standing outside his home with a rock in one hand and steak knife in the other.
“At no point did they bring someone to negotiate with him,” Hector Perez wrote. Alexis Yamil Perez’s father tried to come outside and ask his son to drop the knife, but police told him to go back inside the house.
“Therefore, Yamil had gotten more irritated. Yamil asked officers why they had spoken like that to my father. I feel like he had been provoked,” Hector Perez wrote.
He said officers shot his brother seven times, adding that he was mentally challenged. On advice of their attorney, the family has not given details regarding the disability. But they said that he was enrolled at Coastal Learning Center in Northfield, an “approved private day school serving special needs students ages 5-21,” according to the center’s website.
Hector Perez said he wants to know why the law enforcement in New Jersey does not use Taser guns or bean bags to subdue a suspect.
“They go from Mace to lethal force,” he wrote.
Each county has different rules, and Atlantic County has not adopted the use of the Taser guns, even though they are approved for use in the state, said Haleigh Walz, spokesperson for the county Prosecutor’s Office. “No agencies in Atlantic County are authorized to use them, though several have purchased them,” Walz said.
In order to be allowed to use the stun guns, a countywide policy would have to be implemented, and all officers would need training on the use of them, Walz said.
Another key factor is how police are trained to shoot.
George Nettles, director of the Atlantic County police training facility in Egg Harbor Township, explained that the police are trained to “aim for center mass.”
This means they practice shooting for the center of the body because it is the easiest to hit in a stressful situation, Nettles said.
Shooting a knife out of someone’s hand is a much harder shot, especially in a stressful situation, Nettles said.
In fact, the target silhouette used in the facility is shaped “like an hourglass,” he explained. It has a small head and expands to a larger torso.
The group marched Wednesday from the intersection of New Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue toward City Hall chanting, “No peace, no justice. No justice, no peace.”
Jessie Perez led the chant in front of City Hall, screaming for the officers who shot Alexis Perez to be fired, and more training for the remainder of the force, she said.
Mayor Jesse Tweedle, City Council President Judy Ward and police Chief Jose Ruiz came out of the building Wednesday to address the crowd.
“We need to get answers for everybody here,” Tweedle said, commending the group on a peaceful and civil protest.
Maria Diaz, a friend of the family, asked why the news media has reported that the case is a shut case.
Tweedle advised that he should be contacted directly, and handed out business cards to the family, adding that they should not “trust what you read in the press.”
In a May 1 article in The Press of Atlantic City, acting county prosecutor Jim Mclain said his office was in the process of hiring an independent expert in ballistics, police use of force and shooting-scene reconstruction.
“Every incident is different,” Ruiz said, which is why the investigation is taking place.
He assured the family that those officers involved in the shooting are on administrative leave and their weapons were seized.
The protesters believe that there are more incidents prior to Perez’s, and that police brutality needs to stop, Diaz said. “This was the Pandora’s box for this issue to come out.”
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