By Mark R. Day
The North County Coalition of Concerned Citizens has called for a vigil on Saturday, Jan. 19 at 4:30 p.m. to protest the beating of 21-year-old Antonio Martinez who suffers from Down Syndrome. The following is an account of what happened near the Martinez family business in Vista, Calif. on Dec. 18.
As 16 year-old Melissa Mejia worked on a flower arrangement in her mother’s shop in Vista last Dec. 18, she was distracted by voices outside shouting, “Get down on the ground.”
When she went outside she witnessed two sheriff deputies beating, kicking and tasing 21-year-old Antonio Martinez, a young man with Down syndrome whose parents own a nearby bakery.
Mejia ran to the bakery to contact Antonio’s sister Jessica, and soon a crowd was gathering. Bystanders, including residents of the nearby Alpha Drug Rehab Project, shouted at the deputies that the innocent man they were beating had Down’s syndrome.
Minutes later, two more police cruisers showed up. Mejia said a female deputy jumped out of the car, pointed her service revolver at the crowd and shouted, “Get the f*** back or I’ll arrest you all.
“Meanwhile, the cop kept hitting Antonio with their batons on his head, high on his back, then kicked him in his ribs. My mom kept yelling, ‘stop, stop!’ Then the deputy smashed Tony’s head against the concrete pavement and his face started bleeding.”
“Other cops were also pointing their taser guns at us, too,” said Mejia. Then one of the deputies who just arrived approached me and took some information. He said he would get back to me but he never did. Honestly, I would like to see the cop (Deputy Jeffrey Guy) who beat Tony get fired. And the others who stood by should get punished too. This reminds me of Trayvon Martin, the black kid who was shot merely because he looked suspicious.”
Deputy Guy originally worked with the San Jose, Calif. Police Department. The San Jose Mercury News recently cited him (among a dozen other officers) for using excessive force when he worked in San Jose. A San Diego Sheriff’s spokesperson declined to discuss Deputy Guy, saying only that it was a “personnel matter.”
Antonio Martinez is one of five children. His father, Francisco, emigrated to the U.S. from Oaxaca in the 1980s and has worked in the fields and as a roofer until he bought his bakery recently in Vista. “My worry was always that that the cholos (gangbangers) would do some harm to Antonio,” said Francisco at his bakery. “But now the police have come to harm my family. I feel angry about this, but also scared and confused.”
Jessica Martinez, Antonio’s sister grew tense and silent when asked about her reaction to the beating. “If they did it to him, they could do it to anyone,” she said wiping away a tear. “They offered us a turkey. We said a turkey is not going to bring peace and comfort that Tony had before they attacked him. He doesn’t want to walk anywhere now without having someone with him. He doesn’t feel safe anymore.”
Carlos Martinez, a family friend, told La Prensa San Diego that relations between the Vista Sheriff’s and the Latino community have deteriorated in recent years. “We believe the deputies have a job to do to keep us safe. When the deputies don’t follow their own policies, things go wrong. People don’t trust the police anymore. We just don’t know who to trust.”
The Martinez family has retained Attorney J. Edward Switzer Jr of Vista to represent them in a lawsuit against the Vista Sheriff’s Dept.
For more information on the Saturday vigil or regarding the case of Antonio Martinez, contact Tina Jillings (760) 917-3043 or Carlos Ronquillo (619) 252-9782.