About 75 people attended a vigil held at the Temecula Duck Pond Saturday, June 20, in honor of Matthew Tucker, an 18-year-old man who was shot and killed by Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies responding to a call from his house indicating that he wanted to kill himself in 2016.
The vigil was organized by the leaders of Temecula Protest, a group of concerned citizens that formed in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota in late May.
In addition to residents, Tucker’s mother and brother, Jenny and Marcus, along with Jenny’s significant other, Randy Carr, came out from Arizona to attend the event.
“You want to be able to make Matthew out to be not just a number, you want them to know who he is – he was a human being,” Jenny Tucker said. “He was a good-hearted soul, and you want people to know who your son is. Who he was as a person and not what some people have chosen to try to make him out to be.”
A petition established recently has garnered more than 800,000 signatures on Change.org asking for justice for Matthew and get the “attention of Mayor Maryann Edwards and (Riverside County district attorney) Michael Hestrin to beg to have the officer involved in this disgusting situation fired as well as the policies to be implemented immediately.”
The petition is directed at Riverside County supervisor Chuck Washington and Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco.
On June 12, the Riverside Sheriff’s Association issued a statement about the petition, denying the allegations made within the text of the petition.
“It’s important that factual information is provided so that actual facts are known. After a thorough investigation into the deputy-involved shooting, the Riverside district attorney’s office conducted a complete review of the entire case for criminal culpability of the involved deputies. Upon completion of that independent review, the DA’s office declined to file criminal charges on any of the involved deputies.
“The use of force by the deputies in the 2016 incident was found to be reasonable, and the tactics used before the shooting were appropriate. The claims in the online petition have been thoroughly aired in court before a jury and were rejected. In 2018, following a six-day civil trial in federal court, a unanimous jury found the deputies used reasonable force and that there was no negligence in the tactics used by the deputies. In rendering a unanimous verdict in favor of the deputies, the jury rejected all claims that the deputies had violated Mr. Tucker’s civil rights, used excessive force or were negligent,” according to the association’s statement.
The 2016 case filed by Jenny Tucker and Shawn Tucker alleged wrongful death and other violations and was filed against the county and the deputies involved over the death of their son. They asked for $5 million in damages.
Now, almost two years later, attendees at the vigil Saturday night vowed to continue to fight for justice for Tucker.
“This is personal to me,” Meesha Moghaddam, one of the organizers, told the crowd. “It should be personal to everyone here. We live here.”
Then Jenny Tucker spoke.
“For the last four years, we’ve just suffered in silence,” Jenny Tucker said. “We didn’t have a voice. They shut our voices up. There are now over 800,000 people that know my son’s name.
“Know my son’s story. Know the struggle. I can tell you every single one of those 800,000 people has thought, ‘I’ve been there before.’
“My life will never be the same. It’s our job as this family to stop this. They don’t care about the suffering that they caused. Not one person has ever asked, ‘Are you OK? And I’m sorry and it’s frustrating. But you guys, as a community, you have our backs and which has made us stronger to keep the fight going for other families,” Tucker said.
Tucker’s brother, Marcus, also addressed the crowd.
“He was just living in a moment in life, and no one deserves to be done the way he was done,” he said. “That’s not respect.
“He’s my boy. This is my best friend. I remember I was sitting on the couch, watching this (expletive) on the TV. We were watching it together and three months later, they came through the door and that happened to me. My life’s never been the same. I hit rock bottom officially.
“One person’s actions. It wiped all of our lives away. And we’re still doing what’s consistent. But what’s normal? Who do you trust? Who do we call? We pay these people, do we not? I pay taxes every week, for what? That’s what I just don’t understand.
“We have to come as a community and figure it out because we’re really in pain and it can happen to anyone. Anyone, it doesn’t matter, Black, white. It doesn’t matter. It’s happening just too much.
“They didn’t have to go that far. They escalated the situation and they know what they did and it was wrong. And that’s all I have to say – it was wrong,” Tucker said.
Other members of the crowd spoke as well.
“Temecula is known to be one of the nicest areas to move anywhere in California,” Amir-Hassan Gates said. “I heard this story, and it kind of broke my heart. To know that no matter where you are, anything can happen to you at any point in time. Suicide and murder are two different things. Two different things.”
Gates talked about his own battles with depression.
“Matt’s situation was different and they took his life away,” he said. “What’s the reason that you had to take this man’s life?”
Several members of the audience got up to speak about the need for changes in how law enforcement and emergency services deal with mental health issues, specifically about de-escalation tactics and policies.
Before the vigil started, Jenny Tucker talked to Valley News about her son.
“I’ve been able to separate my son and how my son died, and it’s two different emotions,” she said. “When you’re able to separate them, you can find the joy in life again as a family and laugh and know that he’s OK with that. You find peace over the years, but you don’t have to like how, and you don’t have to agree and you can still speak up about it and fight for what’s right. I won’t give them the power to live in a darker place in my life. My son wouldn’t want me to do that and I won’t give them that. So, we’ve worked hard as a family to remember him in a good way. It doesn’t mean you’re not sad, and it doesn’t mean you don’t have ugly mama moments. I have a lot of them, but we still, as a family can sit back and laugh every day.”
She also talked about the issues that groups like Temecula Protest are fighting for.
“I’ll tell you that after Matthew died, as his mom being a white woman, I felt like who am I to speak up?” Jenny Tucker said. “I had to realize that I’m exactly that one that needs to speak up about it. It happened to my son. It happened to my son in Temecula, which is the second safest city in the nation. It was supposed to be a great place to raise a family and I couldn’t keep him safe. That is what’s frustrating more than anything. I thought that what I was doing was right. But it happens here. It’s happening in Temecula, it’s happening all over the world, all over the United States. It’s happening in these upper-middle-class neighborhoods that are in our area.
“And it gets pushed down and nobody knows about it. There are so many different levels to that. It’s not just to keep Temecula the second safest city in the nation. It’s not only about that,” Tucker said.
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.