Oakland protesters call for authorities to release Jonathan Cortez’s shooting footage

OAKLAND — One month after a Federal Bureau of Investigations agent fatally shot Michael Jonathan Cortez inside an East Oakland corner store, a crowd of family members and supporters rallied outside a federal complex Saturday to demand that authorities release video footage of the encounter.

Representing both Cortez’s family and local organizations like Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) and the Anti Police-Terror Project, about 100 people marched from Oakland city hall to the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building to call on authorities to release details about the mysterious incident, including video footage from inside the store and the name of the agent that shot Cortez.

“You killed somebody who was buying beef jerky and Gatorade — somebody who was my family, my blood,” said Marilyn Cortez, 32, Jonathan Cortez’s sister. “I never thought I’d be in these circumstances.”

Jonathan Cortez was killed on Sept. 13 on the 2500 block of Fruitvale Avenue in an encounter that the FBI claims lasted about eight seconds. At around 3:30 p.m. that day, an agent that was part of a U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task force followed him into U-U Smoke Shop to execute both federal and local arrest warrants, Special Agent Craig Fair told this news organization.

In the FBI’s version of events, Jonathan Cortez tried to flee from the store and brandished a gun. He was wounded in the shooting and later pronounced dead at a local hospital. The FBI has refused to identify the officer or say whether he has faced disciplinary action; the U.S. Marshals Service has likewise answered few questions about the shooting.

Since then, the family has not received any updates from federal agencies or the Oakland Police Department about his death, Marilyn Cortez said, fueling the urgency for video footage — and for the agencies to explain why the plainclothes agent entered a public store by himself before shooting her brother, she said.

The Oakland Police Department, which is investigating the shooting along with the FBI’s Inspection Division and the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, said in a statement that there was “no timeline” for releasing the video footage.

“This is gonna be a fight,” said George Galvis, executive director of CURYJ. “This is the feds. This is the FBI. This is going to be a heavy lift.”

As the crowd raised signs like “Justice for Jonathan” and “Feds out of Oakland,” several spoken word artists wrapped Jonathan Cortez’s death into the broader context of police killings of Black and Brown people, evoking the deaths of George Floyd and Erik Salgado.

The family also emphasized their suspicion that federal agents have tailed them, including at Cortez’s funeral on Sept. 30, when the U.S. Marshals Service arrested a 37-year-old San Francisco man outside the reception in Daly City. At one point during the rally Saturday, some family members noticed a Navy blue SUV-style vehicle — with antennae and at least one person inside — parked along the curb outside the federal complex.

When they approached, the vehicle sped away, catching the attention of the crowd.

“What they’re trying to do is terrorize and intimidate the family members, so they showed up at the funeral — and now they’re showing up here,” Galvis said as he pointed out the vehicle. “But what we got is people power, y’all. People power.”

Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Marshals immediately responded to a request for comment Saturday as to whether any of their agents were present at the rally.

Court records show Cortez was wanted on felony residential burglary and domestic violence warrants stemming from an alleged incident on Aug. 16, when Hayward police suspect he broke into his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and choked her before fleeing, per a criminal complaint.

Along with demanding the release of the agent’s name and video footage, along with halting the alleged tailing of family members, the protesters called on authorities to stop the “character assassination” of Jonathan Cortez and vowed to march again in San Francisco in the coming weeks.

“It’s not right that the justice system takes people’s innocent lives away and there’s no repercussion for that,” Marilyn Cortez said. “I just want justice for my little bro.”

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Author: Fiona Kelliher