By Greg Moses
Sarah and Roxanne knew Daniel Rocha in high school, so at the press
conference called by Poder, LULAC, and the ACLU, they shared a sign
protesting the grand jury’s decision to issue no indictments against
the police officer who
killed him. Both Sarah and Roxanne say the same thing about the
situation: "Daniel was a small guy."
"Daniel was pretty cool," says Roxanne. "I had a dance class with his girlfriend, so he was always at the
door waiting for her. He always had a smile on his face. He
was always making everyone laugh. He would tell a lot of jokes." That was back in 2003 before Roxanne had her little girl,
Justice. "Her dad named her that." In fact, Sarah and Roxanne, who are cousins,
were at the courthouse Tuesday so that Justice could visit her dad
at the county jail. He’s been there for a couple of months, but
he should hopefully be getting out later this week.
Anyway, when the cousins saw what the protest was about they said to
each other, "let’s stay out here." At first there were enough
signs so that Roxanne and Sarah could each hold one, but then a guy
came to the protest who didn’t have a sign, so Roxanne gave him hers,
and after that she shared Sarah’s, all the while holding Justice on
According to reports coming out of the courthouse Tuesday, the officer
told the Grand Jury how she had lost her taser while pushing Daniel to
the ground and feared that if he had the taser, he might use it against
another police officer at the scene and take that officer’s gun. "I
have been in a number of fights before and never have I felt this
scared and afraid. Instinctively, I grabbed for my gun and shot him
once. Self-preservation took over."
One news report Tuesday night stated matter of factly that Rocha "was
shot in the back as he stood over another officer who had fallen during
the fight." But witnesses reported that the officer who did the
shooting was standing over Daniel when she pulled the trigger. And Daniel was "already on the ground."
Says attorney Bobby Taylor in behalf of the Rocha family: "What we’re
being told is that the officer did not know where her Taser was, and that’s
the justification for shooting him in the back. That’s the
justification for it. That’s it. She did not see him with it. He did
not threaten her. If I were a police officer I’d feel pretty
comfortable in doing whatever the world I wanted to do."
The Police Officers Association sees it as fair warning: "I think it
tells people, ‘Don’t fight the police when we’re out there trying to do
our job.’ I think the public and the law states that you have to comply
with the officers," said the association’s rep.
Buried under Tuesday’s events was the memory that of three cop cars at
the scene that night, none of them was able to produce the required
video tape. One machine was empty, one malfunctioned, and the third car arrived too late, said police.
At any rate, says Sarah, "There were two cops there, and Daniel was a
little guy." The Grand Jury, she thinks, is "full of themselves."
Their decision to issue no indictments really, really, really upsets
her. "They have all the evidence there, but like a friend of mine
says, guns don’t kill people, police kill people. He wasn’t that
"I’m not going to lie to you," says Sarah when I ask her about
Daniel. "He was a good guy, but I’m not going to say he didn’t
have some bad times. He was in and out of juvenile. Some
was for drug charges." As she sees it, Daniel drifted into hard
company in a hard neighborhood, he had no dad, but he cared.
For example, the last class she shared with Daniel was a self-paced
computer lab where students could make up for classes they had not yet
passed. Daniel was doing some math there. Sarah was doing
some history. She recalls that he was concentrating on his work, but he
would get up and start dancing now and then.
She remembers in early March that Daniel took his camera
to school and talked about pictures that he had taken of his mom. "I
love my mom so much," she recalls Daniel saying. "I know I’m
stressing her out really bad. I need to stop." But soon after that he
got into a fight, which caused him more trouble at school. They didn’t let him graduate.
Sarah senses that living in a troubled neighborhood is a double threat
to kids like Daniel. There’s the trouble they can get into, and
there’s the trouble that people will think they are up to, whether or
not they are. She thinks that because Daniel was caught in a car
that had just driven out of a poor neighborhood that "the cops took it
the wrong way."
Police say the car had been spotted in a drug transaction while under
surveillance, but Sarah asks if the car was under surveillance, why
weren’t the police better prepared for the stop? If this was a
planned drug trap in the first place, why was it handled like a
routine traffic stop, three suspects, two cops? And the missing video tapes? "Maybe
if there was one car and that video didn’t work, but all of them?
I don’t believe that."
For Sarah, there is an attitude of suspicion that cops bring to the
neighborhood that makes her angry. It also makes her worry about
baby Justice, who also lives in a troubled part of town. "What if
one day she’s at the wrong place at the wrong time. Just because
she has black in her, just because she’s Hispanic, just because she’s a
But most of all she wants the world to know that Daniel had not yet
given up on himself. "He had dreams. He was trying to take
care of his mom. He had goals set for himself." Daniel
talked about starting his own clothing line named D-Roch that would
feature jerseys, shoes, and pants. He dressed like he cared about his
"If it was raining," says Sarah, "and if he was wearing new shoes, he
would wear bags over his shoes." Over the telephone I hear a
little puffing sound as Sarah laughs through her nose. That was
Daniel, not too proud to wear bags on his shoes in the rain. "He
took real good care of himself. I really want you to put it out
there that he wasn’t a bad person."