Santa Maria residents demand justice after off-duty officer-involved shooting

Cries for justice echoed throughout Santa Maria’s streets during an April 9 march for José Manuel Reyes Rios, a 19-year-old Santa Maria resident who died during an off-duty Santa Maria Police officer-involved shooting in late March.

Residents, community organizations, and nonprofits like One Community Action—an organization dedicated to addressing inequities and violence and promoting community-centered solutions and safer spaces—participated in the march to support the family and advocate for more information from law enforcement, said One Community Action Executive Director Rebekah Spicuglia.

click to enlarge Santa Maria residents demand justice after off-duty officer-involved shooting
NO SECOND CHANCE A banner used during the April 9 march for 19-year-old Jose Manuel Reyes Rios reads, “This isn’t just! They took José Manuel Reyes Rios’ opportunity to improve his life.”

Following the March 25 shooting, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office released more information and a six-second clip of the shooting on April 7; part of the April 9 calls for justice included demands to release the full video and for accountability for Reyes Rios’ death, Spicuglia said.

“The question that I have is what is law enforcement’s long-term plan to prevent young people from accessing weapons? Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County have no plans to address gun violence,” Spicuglia said. “The families feel like they don’t matter, that their sons are being treated as if they are expendable with no resources to process their loss, much less a long-term strategic plan to address community violence so these things don’t happen again.”

According to Sheriff’s Office updated information, just before 8 p.m. on March 25 two vehicles with four occupants in each vehicle approached Orcutt’s Melody Market, with Reyes Rios in one of the cars. Later in the evening, an off-duty Santa Maria Police officer arrived in his personal vehicle with his family, followed by a woman and her child.

“While the off-duty officer and the woman were inside the store, the two groups from the other vehicles engaged in a physical altercation in the parking lot. The off-duty officer had returned to his vehicle at the same time that Rios brandished a firearm and shot at the other group, striking one of them,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “Rios paused his shooting, running past the off-duty officer who had drawn his firearm and police badge.”

The off-duty officer verbally identified himself and ordered Reyes Rios to stop shooting and surrender. Reyes Rios didn’t comply, according to the Sheriff’s Office, raised his firearm and shot at the other group again. The off-duty police officer then fired at Reyes Rios until he dropped to the ground.

Reyes Rios was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Sheriff’s Office, and had in his possession a ghost gun, a firearm without a serial number typically privately assembled from parts. The Coroner’s Office determined that Reyes Rios died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds, but the final cause is still pending toxicology, according to the Sheriff’s Office. As of press time, the officer’s name was not available for public release, and the case is still under investigation.

The Reyes Rios family held a funeral for the 19-year-old on April 14 and had up a GoFundMe page help raise funds to cover some of the costs.

The Sun could not get ahold of the family for direct comment, but Else Martinez—who set up the GoFundMe and identified herself as a close family friend—said in an April 11 GoFundMe update that she didn’t stand with the organizations that led April 9 march for justice, specifically pointing out community group The Central Coast Organization, which promoted the event on its Instagram page.

In her update, she also asked that if people feel the need to march in the streets for Reyes Rios to not associate him with “abolish the police.”

“I feel as this group took advantage of a grieving mother and are using her son’s name for their own benefit,” Martinez’s update read. “I understand in too many situations cops fully take advantage of their power and abuse it. I do not believe the officer is fully innocent/ethical but I also don’t believe José is fully innocent either.”

The Central Coast Organization couldn’t be reached before the Sun’s press time.

One Community Action is not associated with The Central Coast Organization, but Spicuglia said that One Community Action was only there to support the families, that nobody mentioned abolishing the police during the march, and it was focused on holding law enforcement accountable and requesting the full video.

“By his death, he wasn’t given the chance to redeem himself, and a lot of the calls were about needing more resources and opportunities for young people,” she said. “At every point the march organizers and One Community Action checked in with [Reyes Rios’ mother] to confirm that things were aligned with what she was looking to get out of the march.”

—Taylor O’Connor


    • The April 20 news brief incorrectly stated the languages that the Sheriff’s Office released information in on April 7. The Sheriff’s Office released its statement in Spanish and English. The Sun regrets the error.

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