The Houston Justice Coalition has started an online petition on Change.org calling for a federal inquiry into the officer-involved shooting death of 26-year-old Jordan Baker last year.
The online petition was posted on Saturday and had collected 160 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon. Justice Coalition members say they want to collect 10,000 signatures in hopes of pressuring the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Baker's death.
"We know that Jordan Baker's life is at least worth a trail," Houston Justice Coalition co-founder Durrel Douglas said. "We're hoping that by gathering 10,000 petitions we can pressure the Justice Department to take a look not just at the shooting, but everything that came after. To look at all the evidence of the case all the way through to the grand jury decision."
Last January, HPD officer Juventino Castro had been hired by a group of stores to work security at a strip mall off 5700 West Little York after businesses reported a string of burglaries. Police at the time said Castro, who was in uniform, tried to stop Baker in the parking lot because he looked "suspicious" and matched a description of the robbery suspect -- namely that Baker was wearing a black hoodie.
Authorities later confirmed that there's no reason to think Baker had anything to the robberies at the strip center. Yet, according to police, "a brief struggle and foot chase ensued" when Castro tried to stop and talk to Baker. Police claim that, for some reason, Baker stopped running at some point, turned around toward the officer and reached for his waistband. Castro fired once, killing Baker, who was unarmed.
On December 23, 2014, a Harris County grand jury cleared Castro in the shooting. Later that day Sadiyah Evangelista, the Baker family attorney, and U.S. Rep Shelia Jackson-Lee mailed a complaint letter to the Justice Department asking for a federal inquiry into Baker's death.
"I spoke with Sadiyah Evangelista, and this is what she suggested we do in hopes that this will let them [the Justice Department] know that the community is behind us and supports us," Janet Baker, Jordan's mother, said regarding the online petition.
According to the website, the petition will be delivered to U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, Kenneth Magidson, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas and congresswoman Jackson-Lee. Houston Justice Coalition members say they will also be collecting physical signatures at select events.
"We're trying to keep the momentum and conversation surrounding this issue going," Houston Justice Coalition co-founder Shekira Dennis said.
Evangelista hopes that a federal inquiry into the case will result in changes in HPD's use of force policies as well as the elimination of the Key Man grand jury system, wherein a judge appoints a commissioner who then selects the jurors.
"It is our prayer that the Justice Department is expeditious in responding to our complaint and getting a live person here in Houston to look over the evidence and the facts of the case and decide whether federal actions will be pursued," Evangelista said. "The bottom line is justice for Jordan and for someone to be held accountable for the loss of his life."
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