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Friends and family of slain man push for the release of video evidence 

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click to enlarge Jesse Garcia was shot dead on July 17. - NAT STEIN
  • Nat Stein
  • Jesse Garcia was shot dead on July 17.

On July 17, 23-year-old Jesse Garcia was fatally shot in the head during an altercation with his 80-year-old neighbor, Jack Rogers, in a South Nevada Avenue Taco Bell parking lot.

About two weeks later, the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office decided not to file any charges in the shooting "based on the investigation, available evidence at this time, and current Colorado law." That doesn't sit well with many who knew and loved Garcia, especially since the Colorado Springs Police Department has declined to release surveillance footage of the incident. Spokesman Lt. Howard Black says Garcia's mother, who did not raise Garcia or take the opportunity to watch the footage herself, requested that nobody else be able to see it. Black says Police Chief Pete Carey made the "tough call" to keep the video private based on her wishes as his next-of-kin.

Meanwhile, a group of Garcia's friends and family members have banded together with local social justice organizations to form the #JusticeForJesse campaign, in hopes of pressuring the police into releasing the tape, given that trying to persuade his mother to give the go-ahead has proven fruitless.

At issue is not just the fact that Garcia is dead, but that Garcia was black and Rogers is white, and that the two men were neighbors with an acrimonious history. Garcia's family claims Rogers, who lived on the same block in the Stratton Meadows neighborhood, harassed Garcia for years, but the CSPD call record needed to verify that is in a case report that the police are still in the process of redacting prior to release.

Multiple calls to Rogers were not returned. But it is worth noting that Garcia had a felony burglary conviction on his record, whereas a search of Colorado criminal records showed no criminal history for Rogers.

While the DA's report indicates Garcia's killing was justified, the overall lack of transparency in the case has fed suspicions.

"In my eyes, this was premeditated," Garcia's cousin Hennessey Butler says of the shooting. "[Rogers] was just waiting for the chance."

National Association for The Advancement of Colored People state conference president Rosemary Lytle, an outspoken critic of the handling of the case, says the police owe Garcia's loved ones clear evidence to support the official version of events.

"In a country where race is time and again at the heart of violent actions that end lives, it seems that local elected officials would be more willing to look at evidence of the widely reported, racially explosive, interactions between Jesse Garcia and the man whose actions ended Jesse's life," Lytle told the Indy. "But that would require something that has been absent here — official transparency."

Garcia was just "coming into his manhood," according to his aunt Edna Silver, who raised him. (His biological mother, Silver's sister, lives in California.) Silver further describes Garcia as an engaged and caring father to his young daughter, and a budding entrepreneur with dreams of starting a custom clothing company.

According to the DA's report, on the day Garcia died, Rogers was driving through his neighborhood to Taco Bell. When he reached the corner of Corona Avenue and Brookside Street, Rogers reported noticing a white vehicle "tailgating" him. The vehicle continued to follow him. Surveillance video reportedly shows the two cars parking a few spaces away from each other at the Taco Bell.

Garcia then reportedly got out of his car, leaving the driver's side door open and engine running, and approached Rogers' vehicle. Rogers told authorities that at this point, he already had a gun in his hand. The two exchanged words. Rogers reported that he began to move his gun toward the center console and retrieve his phone from his shirt pocket to call 911. At that point, Rogers reported that Garcia dove through the open window of his car and hit him. Rogers says the two wrestled over the gun, causing the gun to go off.

According to the DA's report, video does show Garcia lunging into the vehicle "with most of his upper body inside the driver's side window" before falling out of the vehicle with a gunshot wound to the head.

The DA's review also specifies that Rogers himself dialed 911 after the shooting, and that he was found to have an impact injury to his eye.

It further noted that Garcia may have had a history of "road rage," given a 2015 call for service in which a citizen told police that Garcia tailgated him though traffic on South Circle Drive. The reporting party said that when they both pulled over, Garcia exited his car, walked over, and punched him in the face.

The caller didn't want to press charges, so there was no investigation of his claims. The DA, nevertheless, considered the call when deciding not to press charges against Rogers.

Garcia's cousin says that 2015 story is one-sided, and he thinks the DA's description of Garcia's actions on July 17 sound out-of-character too.

"At least show some respect to the victim's family and show us the evidence," Butler says.

To make that happen, Trey Banks, a longtime friend of Garcia's, organized a meeting last weekend for supporters and sympathizers to draft letters requesting the video be made public. The #JusticeForJesse campaign has submitted requests via letter, email and voicemail to CSPD, the DA's office and the Colorado Attorney General's office. In messages directed toward the latter, the group requested the state's top prosecutor reopen the case. None of these agencies have responded to their requests yet, though it should be noted that CSPD is the official custodian of the record.

Meanwhile, other activists are starting to get involved, including Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) — a recently formed local chapter of a national organization that mobilizes white people in support of racial justice. The group's members are adding critical mass to the letter-writing campaign. Lytle, meanwhile, has been trying to meet with the DA's office in hopes of viewing the video.

The DA's office and CSPD have so far denied requests for additional meetings or evidence, but the redacted case report should be released soon.

Banks says he will continue to push for the video's release.

"Even if I did give up," he says, "there are too many people who care."

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