By Jeri Chadwell | Video by Bob Conrad
On Saturday afternoon, a group of about 100 people gathered outside of the federal courthouse in Reno to protest police killings and to support loved ones of those who’ve been killed by local law enforcement.
“My brother was killed at the Washoe County jail in 2015,” said Annemarie Grant, one of the organizers of the event, about her brother—Thomas Purdy—before turning her megaphone over for others to use to tell their stories to the crowd.
Informational pamphlets were handed out containing a partial list of people killed in fatal police encounters—as well as a list of demands related to accountability and transparency, including reopening investigations into all police killings, drug testing officers following civilian deaths and ending qualified immunity.
American Indian Movement of Northern Nevada (AIM) gave a prayer and provided ceremonial songs during the protest.
“In 2016, we got run over downtown under the arch,” said Ray Bacasegua Valdez, the director of AIM. “They let Nicolas Mahaffey go. We prayed for that young man. We prayed for that hate. We prayed that it would be removed, instead of removing him. And last year the City of Reno changed Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. The [prayer] worked. And we’re still here… I ask you right now to take all of your hate, all of your anger, and dump it for a moment and try to bring in a whole different understanding.”
Denise Abbey’s son was killed by police on Christmas Day 2011.
“I really feel that doing this type of protest across the country without any violence or vandalism is the best way to do this,” she said, before going on to explain how her son—Micah Abbey was killed by police in a Reno group home for mentally ill people.
She said Micah got into an altercation at dinnertime with another resident of the group home but was quietly sitting in his bedroom by the time police arrived. However, he resisted when officers attempted to arrest him.
“It was Christmas Day. Of course, he didn’t want to go to jail or wherever,” she said. “Well, the police tased my son 22 times, at which 12 of those times he was already restrained with handcuffs behind his back and facedown on the ground and an officer on the top part of his back. They also hogtied him. He may have already been dead by that point in time. They used a baton on him. He never made it out of his room. Christmas has never been the same for me since then, and I just really hope that the police will get more training because we don’t need this excessive force.”
Speaking with This Is Reno after addressing the crowd, Abbey became emotional.
“On his death certificate, it says homicide by police restraint procedures,” she said.
While she was in mid-lawsuit that had progressed to the Ninth Circuit of Appeals and had been denied by a judge, her attorney in Las Vegas, whom Abbey said specialized in law enforcement involved killings, died of a heart attack.
“So, the next step would be the Supreme Court,” she said. “I don’t have the money to hire attorneys. I’m afraid it would kill me to have to go through all of that and regurgitate it over and over again. It’s been a struggle. I keep going back and forth on which way to go…You continue with the grieving. You have a big hole in your heart that never gets filled.”
Family members of Johnny Bonta, killed by police in Sparks in 2017 after a standoff during which Bonta was armed with a loaded shotgun that he pointed at officers, were too emotional to speak much.
Another woman in attendance, Arnella Stafford, spoke about her brother Kenny Stafford—an active duty soldier on leave—who was killed by Reno and Sparks police in 2013.
“I know we’re all here because the people up there laughing killed our family members like they were pieces of nothing. My brother went to Iraq twice—twice—a real soldier, and he was shot 15 times by an AR-15 kill shot, by you!” she said, shouting Reno Police officers standing on the roof of a parking garage opposite the courthouse. “If you want to laugh, it’s not funny…He fought for your freedom, your freedom—27 years old…My brother was 27 years old, and he died July 11, 2013—and we will never see justice for him. But we’re here because we don’t want anybody else’s family to be where our family is. We don’t want our family dead on the street, like animals. They’re not animals. My brother wasn’t an animal.”
After hearing stories from people whose loved ones were killed by police, the group marched from the courthouse to Sierra Arts Foundation—where families were treated to refreshments, flowers and live music.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.