Angel Ramos' family is throwing him a party Saturday for his 22nd birthday, but he won't be there.
That's because Vallejo police shot and killed Ramos, at the home he shared with his family, in the early morning hours of Jan. 23.
Visitors to his Sacramento Street home are greeted by a memorial of photographs, empty liquor bottles, flowers and big block letters tied to a fence that spell out "RIP ANGEL."
It's a stunning sight on one of Vallejo's busiest roads.
Ramos, who was one of eight children, was a custodian who enjoyed skateboarding, graffiti art and pets.
"Compared to any of us, he was just different," said his sister, Alicia Saddler, when I visited the home earlier this week.
His mother, Annice Evans, added, "He just had a whole different personality. He stood out of the crowd."
Now he's dead. But that's not the end of his story, because the official police account of what happened just doesn't add up. And because the police have refused to release Ramos' autopsy report, the family's doubt of what police have told them has deepened.
According to Lt. Jeff Bassett, a spokesman for the Vallejo Police Department, officers responded to a fight at the home involving people with weapons. Neighbors had heard screams, and someone inside the house, where family members and their friends had been drinking for several hours, called police and said Ramos had a knife.
During the fracas, two officers came upon a 6-foot-2, 250-pound 16-year-old boy who was in a "mutual combat situation" with Ramos on the back deck, Bassett told two of my colleagues in the hours after Ramos died.
One officer used his Taser on the 16-year-old, who at that point was on top of Ramos. But one of the prongs missed. Moments later, the teen fell on his back and Ramos pounced on him, according to Bassett.
Ramos, Bassett said, had a knife and "presented himself as an immediate and lethal threat to the victim down on his back." That's when one of the officers, an eight-year veteran of the force, fired four shots at Ramos.
Ramos' family disputes just about everything the police have said about the killing.
They say Ramos had a knife before he went onto the deck, but not when he was on the deck. What's more, the teen police say Ramos was threatening has told police Ramos didn't have a knife, according to an attorney representing Ramos' family.
The family says Ramos was standing when he was shot.
The family, which is being represented by John Burris, a well-known civil rights attorney, is demanding that authorities release the autopsy report. The report should reveal the trajectory of the bullets that hit Ramos. But Melissa Nold, who works in Burris' law office, said police haven't responded to the family's demands to release the report.
"There's no legitimate reason for not releasing the coroner's reports. It's a public record," she told me. "It may or may not support their version of the event. If it does, it would behoove them to release it."
Here's where the story really gets murky. Police have told the family the officer shot from where he stood at the side of the house — and he was on the ground, not the second-floor deck. If true, the shots would've been taken at an upward angle, and the bullets would've gone through the rails of a dimly lit deck that was occupied by several others, including police officers.
I don't know how Vallejo trains its officers, but shooting in the dark doesn't seem like proper operating procedure.
Nold said that if Ramos was on top of the teen and if the officer fired from the ground, as the police contend, he would've been hit in the back or the side.
"He would've had to have had his back to the person that was shooting on the ground," said Nold, who viewed Ramos' body in the morgue. "He was not shot in the back. He was only shot in the front of his body."
Burris is also representing the young man Ramos allegedly was about to stab.
"Angel was not trying to stab him at all," Nold said.
The fight that led to police being called began on the front stoop between Saddler, 27, and her boyfriend Phillip Vaughn, 28. They have three children together. According to Saddler and Vaughn, they had argued and Vaughn had pushed Saddler. Dante Ramos, Saddler's and Angel Ramos' 20-year-old brother, confronted Vaughn, who went into the house.
As the altercation escalated, another young man who was at the house pushed Vaughn and the teen onto the small deck and locked the door.
Angel Ramos, who had been sleeping in his room, was awakened by Dante Ramos' girlfriend. Angel Ramos came out of his room in his boxer shorts. The family doesn't dispute that Angel Ramos grabbed a knife, but they say it was taken away from him by the young man who had locked Vaughn and the teen out of the house.
"Angel had a knife, but way before the cops got here," Saddler said. "He had a knife in the house."
Someone on the deck punched through the window to strike Dante Ramos. Angel Ramos went onto the deck. So did Saddler, who tried to break up the fight. Soon the police arrived shouting commands and with their guns drawn. Saddler's 9-year-old son, Giovanni Wilson, watched.
"I see my son standing here," recalled Saddler, who was sitting on the porch against Vaughn. "I knew my two other babies were in here. I looked up at the officer and I was like, 'Please don't shoot. My kids are in the house.' And he tased me for saying that."
Vaughn, who admitted to fighting with the Ramos brothers, told me Ramos didn't bring a knife onto the porch.
"I seen him when he came outside. He didn't have no knife," Vaughn said. "I don't know why the police are trying to say he had a knife when he came outside. If Angel had a knife, why didn't they tase Angel first instead of (the teen) first?"
Saddler told me that when police ordered her, Vaughn and the teen to get down, they took up most of the room on the deck. There was no space for Angel Ramos, especially with officers also on the deck. She and Vaughn didn't see Ramos get shot. Neither did the teen, but he did tell Nold that Ramos' body fell on top of him after the shooting.
"At the end of the day, if he had a knife or not, they didn't have to shoot him," said Evans, 53, Angel Ramos' mother.
Evans wonders why police treated Ramos differently than the others at the house. Why was he shot and not tased? I wonder the same thing, but Bassett didn't return my call requesting an update on the investigation into Ramos' death.
"They portrayed my son to be freakin' monster, that he's out there over the guy getting ready to stab him," Evans said. "They're portraying him as a monster that he wasn't."
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