The deaths of three Santa Maria men in officer-involved shootings since December gave life to a candlelight march Wednesday by residents who said they’re tired of the violence.
The march, which started with around 175 people in the 1300 block of N. Broadway, swelled to well over 300 by the time it had moved the 13 blocks to City Hall. The group walked peacefully along the east side of Broadway carrying signs, blowing whistles and chanting. Passing motorists waved and honked their horns seeming to support the march.
The turnout was pleasing for Elsa Velasco, a cousin of Jose Luis Ortega, who was killed June 28 in a confrontation with Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputies and Santa Maria police officers as they conducted a joint investigation.
Ortega, a documented gang member and parolee at large, was reportedly armed when he jumped from a car at the corner of Broadway and W. Bunny Avenue as it was being followed by unmarked law enforcement vehicles. The case is still under investigation.
“We are here, the families, the communities of Santa Maria, Lompoc, Guadalupe, Los Alamos, Tanglewood meeting together in remembrance of lives lost,” the 28-year-old Velasco said. “All things aside, three lives have been lost in the last six months and we’ve had enough.”
The families and friends of some of the men who have been killed were joined by members of the community organizations PUEBLO and Palabra. Together they marched past the sites where the men died to protest to city leaders the actions that led to their deaths.
Dressed mostly in white T-shirts, some with pictures of the men who were killed, and carrying candles, the group passed the intersection where Ortega died.
Not far from the corner of Agnes Avenue and Broadway, Samyr Ceballos was killed after confronting police officers as they attempted to arrest him during a narcotics investigation in December 2011.
Ceballos was killed after reportedly pointing a gun at officers.
And at the corner of McElhaney Avenue and Broadway, Santa Maria police Officer Albert Covarrubias Jr. was killed Jan. 28 by a fellow officer as supervisors tried to take him into custody during an investigation into his alleged relationship with a high school student. Many members of the Covarrubias family joined the march.
Both the shooting of Ceballos and Covarrubias have been found to be justified by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.
Friends of Michael Paul Ledesma also joined the march. The 18-year-old Santa Maria man is currently in critical condition at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital after being shot Sunday by a California Highway Patrol officer near Los Alamos.
Ledesma, who was reportedly armed with a knife, was shot after the CHP officer pulled his car over near Los Alamos following a domestic violence report.
The District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday that Ledesma has been charged with the willful, deliberate and premeditated attempted murder of a peace officer with a gang enhancement, and an allegation that he used a knife, among other things.
The group, however, aimed most of its anger at the police and sheriff’s departments. The also vented their frustration with their elected officials, none of which were at City Hall Wednesday night.
Velasco said she hoped the march was the first step in a move to change the politics of the city and the county. She said the Santa Maria community needs to come together to elect a city council that will stop the violence.
“We have too many lives lost. That is not the way to go,” she said.