On Dec. 18, San Diego community members and activists gathered in El Cajon for an action organized by family members of Stephen Anthony Harris III and International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement. The rally and car caravan aimed to bring light to the suspicious death of Stephen Anthony Harris III, an anti-racist activist, rapper and father of two. The event was also attended by community organizations including the Black Panther Party of San Diego and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
Following the caravan, Liberation News spoke with Anthony Harris’s aunt, Tonja Daniels, about the circumstances surrounding his death on Nov. 25. Daniels detailed a long list of abuses carried out by the El Cajon Police Department against her nephew that she witnessed first hand over the last decade, leading up to Harris’s passing.
As a result of continued harassment, Harris and Daniels had filed an official complaint with the Department of Justice on Nov. 23 asking for a federal investigation of the ECPD in which specific officers were named. Two days later, Harris was killed under suspicious circumstances. Police claim he was a victim of a hit-and-run incident.
According to Daniels, upon her arrival to the scene, Harris was still breathing. Despite this, Harris’s body was covered and he was not receiving medical care as his family pleaded for help. Daniels reported she had spoken with the local 7-Eleven owner. In the days following the incident, police came and removed all relevant store security and street surveillance footage. Daniels also asserts that police tampered with and planted evidence at the scene.
The coroner’s report mentioned several indications of blunt force trauma. Anthony’s jaw was bashed and there was a red mark across his forehead. The family and several professionals argue these wounds do not indicate a death by a vehicle moving 30 miles per hour, and that there were no signs of road rash or abrasions from pavement.
Daniels also detailed the consistent harassment that Harris and his friends endured prior to his death. This included stop-and-frisk tactics.
In one instance, police put a spit hood on Harris and took his pants off to search him in front of his friends. Police had also confiscated Harris’s ID and cell phone without a warrant on multiple occasions. In addition, police regularly called Harris out by name while he was walking around the neighborhood.
Daniels insists this behavior by police was meant to humiliate and intimidate Harris and his family. Additionally, during the month leading up to his death, police had become increasingly violent when interacting with Harris.
On Nov. 5, Harris experienced a mental health crisis. When ECPD arrived on the scene, they attempted to taser Harris three times before tackling him to the ground. During the arrest, an officer was scratched by a pair of handcuffs. The District Attorney used that as an excuse to charge Harris with assaulting an officer.
In court, the judge ruled there had been racial profiling and discrimination, and threw out the case entirely. This led Tonja Daniels and Anthony Harris to file a complaint against the ECPD for continued harassment, days before filing their DOJ complaint.
Daniels summarized her family’s demands: “We demand an independent federal investigation. We demand that the DOJ prosecute and indict the officers involved,” specifically naming Lieutenant Taub, Sergeant Reilly, Officers Paz, Crawford, Swaney, Mason, Moulton, and Larson of El Cajon PD as well as Bill Wells. “We demand answers. We demand reparations for our family for funeral expenses.”
The family is asking for community support in fundraising for ongoing expenses.
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