Undercover and Unaccountable - Specialized Police Units are Deaths Squads

Editor's Note:

The killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis has exposed the particular lethality of "specialized" units of police departments. Trye was executed by the SCORPION Unit. Chandra Jacquez shares how a similar unit killed her father in San Jose 7 years ago, have continued to kill with impunity, and why they need to be dismantled.

When I heard about the death of Tyre Nichols, it brought back so much pain and hurt. Though in a different state, and seven years ago, my father was also killed by a "specialized unit" of police, much like the SCORPION unit that killed Tyre Nichols. The emotions came rushing back - another family is going through what I and many other families have gone through. The SCORPION Unit looked and sounded a lot like the units in San Jose that have been killing our loved ones with impunity for many years. San Jose has a numerous amount of redundant units such as MERGE and VCET that need to be shut down. They continue to terrorize communities and kill our loved ones and continue to get away with it. They are Undercover and continue to be Unaccountable! 

We started piecing together the pattern of killings of these units after the 2021 Memorial Day killing of Demetrius Stanley by plain clothes San Jose police officers outside his home. Each death brings back heartache and all the still unanswered questions from when my own father was followed and killed by undercover SJPD officers in 2015.  

The deadliest of SJPD units, such as the Violent Crime Enforcement Team (VCET) and the Mobile Emergency Response Group and Equipment (MERGE), continues to operate and kill without accountability and zero transparency. For families like mine, who lost loved ones to these same officers, it is necessary to defund the police and dismantle the undercover units because they have operated without regard to safety, have violated training protocols at the very moments where training and de-escalation should have mattered. They’ve displayed the highest propensity for violence against Black and Brown communities. 

My father Richard “Harpo” Jacquez was killed by MERGE (Mobile Emergency Response Group and Equipment) unit officer Jacob Morris. Since then Morris has been promoted to Sergeant. Most of my family did not know what happened until the following day when it was all over the news. We found out it was an undercover cop by seeing pictures that were released by the media. Coincidentally, a friend was on the scene and recorded some of the MERGE unit team moving my father’s body from where the shooting originally happened. The police department also made false statements in their media release and press conference saying that my father was carrying a gun, then quickly retracted their statement. 

Thankfully, I had De-Bug and other impacted families who were there to help guide me through the process. Now, six years later I’ve turned my heartache into a movement. I work with De-Bug and other families to make change happen. We support one another because without the support you can truly be lost. In our family meetings we see how undercover teams are identical in not following basic protocol or identifying themselves and continue to kill and get away with it.

Unfortunately, this forced me into this situation where I had to make a decision of getting a lawyer or not. My father’s life was taken. I felt my dad needed a voice and it was in my hands to make sure every effort was taken to do the right thing. Officers should not become the judge and jury. They are “trained” to have people in handcuffs, detained so they can have their due process in court, but the officer decided on his own that jail was not an option, that only a body bag to the coroner's office was the way to go. Human rights were denied and I know that I had to fight for my dad's rights. I couldn’t see myself just letting him die without fighting for him which in turn gave me insight on how often these unnecessary deaths are occurring. My dad was shot and killed as if he was a target and not a person, a father, son, and grandfather.

Two lawyers representing the City of San Jose defended officer Jacob Morris. They didn’t want any cameras, pictures or videos in court. They wanted to “protect” the officer but in reality they didn’t want the truth to be given to the community. They were worried about the officer's face being out to the public, more than the public’s own safety. We couldn’t go into court with anything that had my dad's name or face on it because they didn’t want us to “intimidate” anyone. I felt like they still wanted a story painted in their favor for the public. The city brought in court experts to prove their points, but it was ironic when one of them said that they still wouldn’t have shot if they never saw a weapon.

From the proceedings I learned details about the case and how the MERGE unit worked, thought, and acted. The details I saw with my own eyes and heard for myself were never given outside of court. I found out from the officer himself how he hit my dad with his car at 25-35 mph and then shot him 5 times even though he NEVER saw any weapon and my dad was turned away from him the whole time. The officer even admitted that my dad’s last words were, “Oh my God” as he laid on the street and the officer just hovered over my dad. 

Hearing those details broke my heart. I witnessed how the officer answered questions from my lawyer as if the officer was hard of hearing and had to repeat the question before he would answer, but as soon as the officer's lawyers asked him a question, he answered right away with confidence. His answering behaviors were like night and day. I also learned that the officer admitted to throwing his training out of the window and reacting within (his words) ‘tenths of seconds’ to protect his own life, even though his life was never in immediate danger since he never saw a weapon and my father was running away from him.

The way that officer acted in court parallels how the MERGE unit operates – making their own unchecked determinations without facts. The unit has demonstrated a lack of concern for the families they leave behind and our mental health, their unwillingness to be open, honest and transparent, taking deadly action when non fatal actions could and should have been taken, and the minimal education and training the units are given for different scenarios. From our experience, undercover teams have too many deadly force weapons, are careless, reckless and only care about themselves going home safely. These undercover units have been responsible for not only my dad’s death, but of Jacob Dominguez in 2017, David Tovar Jr. and Demetrius Meech Stanley in 2021. The state drug agent who killed Rudy Cardenas in 2004 was an undercover as well.

Before the undercover teams go out to spy on someone, they have a “briefing.” It is too often that during this meeting the officers develop the notion that someone is “dangerous” or “armed.” They make this determination – and that decision leads to deadly consequences for our community. When our De-Bug families collectively requested records through SB 1421, we saw this pattern. What ‘dangerous’ meant was already carved out in those briefing rooms -- way before the officer encountered the person they’re after. Often times they were completely unverifiable sources as well - confidential informants that may not even exist as they never have to produce them or their statements.

I learned the difference between what you see on the news with cases like this, how the facts get distorted or completely changed versus the reality of what happened with actual facts. I learned how SJPD will manipulate you and try to make you believe they are your friends and are on your side to try and persuade you to meet them downtown at their office for interrogation/questioning to get information for their own personal gain to build their case.

I learned that there is a history of taking lives/killings from the same officers in these units without any consequences. During my dad’s trial, it was shown how the officer’s bullet went through the front door of a home and how the officer didn’t care about the public’s safety. He could have killed another person inside the home. The most shocking thing that I learned from trial were the details of the last few minutes of my dad's life and how the officer didn’t care that he was leaving kids fatherless, my daughters without their grandfather and with so much trauma.

So when I heard about the killing of Demetrius “Meech” Stanley, six years since my father was killed, I felt that the way the system handled Demetrius’ life was similarly uncalled for. When asked about who killed Demetrius, about the body cam footage, etc, SJPD gave the excuse that the names of the officers could not be given because they were undercover. We at De-Bug pushed back on that, and again the City reiterated the same reason. Just one day after the email about the names not being given, the Santa Clara County District Attorney released their report and decision to not charge the officers. Sure enough, the undercover officers' Anthony Baza (shooting officer) and Hans Jorgenson (runner) and the Covert Response Unit (CRU), the undercover unit they are a part of, were given in black and white as public records.

When we received more info just a few months later, through 1421 requests, there were additional reports, photos, etc. that left us with many more questions. This makes you wonder, what else are they hiding and why the police try not to give us simple answers like who shot our loved ones? Undercover officers are protected more than the police actually “protect and serve the community.” Our families, with support of the community, called on the city of San Jose to dismantle units like MERGE as Black and Brown communities all across the country organized to defund the police. If the undercover units were dismantled, the city would save $8,871,775.00. This is our tax money that the city wastes.

We are told that everyone has the right to go before a judge and due process. Undercovers should not get away with being murderers. Our families and our communities deserve the truth without police lies and coverups.