OGDEN — Juanita Flores thinks the officers involved in the deadly shooting of her husband last summer could have employed other techniques to handle the tense situation before resorting to their guns.
“Any kind of nonlethal force should have been used first, at least,” she said Thursday. Maybe police could have used a Taser, pepper spray or beanbag bullets.
“It wasn’t necessary. They could have easily tackled him,” said Malik Dayo, an Ogden activist who has rallied on behalf of Jovany Mercado’s family and decried the situation.
As is, four Ogden Police Department officers fired on Mercado, Flores’ husband, when they encountered him on Aug. 16, 2019, hitting him with 16 bullets and killing him. And on Thursday, Flores, Dayo and about 20 other Mercado friends and family members gathered to decry what they view as an overaggressive response and to mourn Mercado’s death. It came about a week after public release of a report on the matter and a letter from Weber County Attorney Chris Allred clearing the four officers involved of any wrongdoing.
“I’d like to ask the police to use other techniques to deter people because it was a brutality what they did with my nephew, Jovany,” said the man’s aunt, Marta Bautista. “He wasn’t conscious of what he was doing and they didn’t give him a chance to keep on living.”
A week after his death, family members protested outside the Francom Public Safety Center in Ogden, where the police department is housed. Supporters of the man have also attended Ogden City Council meetings, pushing for more of an emphasis by police on nonlethal means of handling such incidents.
Authorities were responding to a call of a suspicious man with a knife when they happened upon him on Aug. 16, 2019, in the 800 block of 32nd Street. He was holding a knife, didn’t heed officers’ commands to drop the weapon, and was shot and killed as he walked toward the police, which had prompted them to back up. Allred didn’t respond to a Standard-Examiner query on Thursday seeking comment but he was the target of some of the ire at the demonstration, held outside the Weber Center in downtown Ogden, where his office is housed.
Dayo called on the public to put forward a candidate for county attorney to replace Allred, who’s up for election in 2022, and selection of leaders more open to the demonstrators’ cause. The only way to force change “is if we elect officials who are sympathetic to police reform,” he said. “The current officials are not.”
Dayo thinks the four officers involved in the shooting of Mercado should face dismissal while Flores said they should face criminal charges. Dayo and others also called for more of an emphasis by police on de-escalation training, meant to defuse tense situations before they turn violent.
Mercado had been walking near parked vehicles on 32nd Street the night of Aug. 16 last year, looking inside them, which had prompted the initial calls from the public to authorities. Witnesses reported seeing the knife in his hand, according to the official report on the incident, which also prompted concern.
When police arrived on the scene Mercado was in the carport of his parents’ home, which is when his exchange with authorities began. While authorities have focused on Mercado’s lack of response to their commands and his moves toward them, knife in hand, Dayo noted that the man was on private property, the grounds of his parents’ home.
“I believe it was Jovany’s right to have a knife on his own property,” Dayo said.
The report on the matter said Mercado’s body tested positive for marijuana and methamphetamine while Dayo said he had “mental health issues.” Flores said her husband had encounters before with police, but that he never turned violent with them.
Mercado’s two children were at Thursday’s demonstration wearing T-shirts reading “#Justice4Jovany” and bearing Mercado’s likeness. “They miss their dad so much,” said Flores.
Mercado’s stepson, mother, sisters, brother and several other family members were also there, also wearing T-shirts bearing his likeness. Participants held signs reading things like “Am I Next?”, “Justice for Jovany,” “Brown Lives Matter” and more.