OGDEN — Some signs read, “Stop Police Brutality,” and others said “New Training Needed.” One sign said “Stop Gun Violence,” and another asked “Am I Next?”
They all chanted “Justice for Jovany.”
Dozens of local citizens gathered in front of the Francom Public Safety Center on Friday evening to voice their anger toward police and sadness regarding the fatal police shooting of Jovany Mercado, a 26-year-old man killed on Aug. 16 after four Ogden Police officers shot him while responding to a call.
Many people, young and old, gathered in front of the police building and shared their frustration with police, but many remembered their father, brother and friend killed.
“We lost a family member because the police choose to fire their weapons as a first course of action when there are so many non-lethal ways to apprehend someone,” said Juan Mercado, Jovany’s father.
Juan Mercado said he was traveling in Iowa when he heard the news of his son’s death, and he quickly returned home. His wife called and broke the news: “She said ‘Jovany just got killed.’”
The demonstration began just after 6:30 p.m., with dozens chanting “stand up, fight back.”
Malik Dayo, a local activist and one of the organizers of the protest, suggested this shooting was a murder, and that Jovany won’t be the last man killed by police until changes are made. He called for de-escalation tactics for police to employ, calling for the expanded use of less-lethal munitions, like using bean bag rounds or Tasers.
Dayo claimed that officers had their guns already drawn when they left their patrol cars. He rejected the claim by police that Mercado had charged at officers before they fatally shot him.
“Their first option was not to de-escalate, their first option was to murder,” Dayo yelled. “That was the first choice they made.”
Both he and Lex Scott, founder of Black Lives Matter Utah, pointed to policies implemented by the Salt Lake City Police Department as progress, and those policies need to be made in Northern Utah. Scott and Dayo said the department had recently switched out dozens of lethal weapons for less lethal munition. Scott talked about the need for an elected civilian review board to make determinations regarding police shootings.
Scott talked about the Salt Lake City Police Department’s policy of releasing body camera footage from police shootings within 10 business days of the incident.
They both called for community members to seek the release of unedited body camera footage to the public for all to see.
Ogden Police Chief Randy Watt said hours after the fatal shooting that at least one body camera was activated prior the shooting, and the footage will be reviewed and processed before being released to the public. Shortly after the protest began, a message from Watt was posted on the Ogden Police Department’s Facebook page saying they welcomed the peaceful demonstration.
“While we believe the officers involved in the situation acted appropriately in accordance with law and policy, we recognize and value dissenting opinions and public discourse,” the message read.
In the comment section, Dayo thanked Watt for his efforts, but said that the community cannot lose sight of what the group is fighting for: non-lethal force and de-escalation tactics from police.
“We won’t stop until we get the changes we want in our community’s policing,” Dayo wrote.
Amidst a cool Friday sunset, Juan Florez held a sign with Jovany’s face on it. The sign called OPD the, “Overkill Police Department.” He said the Ogden Police officers shot Jovany, his son-in-law, 16 times. They shot more than that, he claimed.
“Are they really taking necessary precautions, or are they just out for blood,” Florez asked. “I loved that man (Jovany Mercado). It’s bad, and this is getting worse every day. Every day is worse and worse.”
“You have to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially if you’re the law. That’s your job,” Florez said.
Juan Mercado said his family is devastated, the feeling is one that he would never wish upon anybody. “No one should go through what I’m going through,” he said.
“It’s one thing if you lose someone to illness or sickness, but getting taken away the way it was, I’m never, ever going to heal.”