Story by Marissa Barrera
Michael Barrera was in handcuffs when he was brutally assaulted, tased, suffocated, and killed by Woodland police officers.
February 8, 2017 is the day that forever changed my life, the day that cops killed my big brother, Michael Barrera. He was only 30 years old. As my first friend in life, the person that knew me better than I knew myself, my protector, it’s been a nightmare to live through, and to now have to fight for him, is unreal . . .
Michael (right) and I (left) at one of his childhood birthday parties in the 1990's. - Marissa Barrera
My name is Marissa Barrera. Some people think of me as this strong and outspoken warrior woman, others think of me as that chick that hates the police, because the cops killed her brother. I’d have to agree to both. My life was somewhat normal before. I’m a mother, my work has always been in the fitness and health industry, I was involved in community work and I helped people for a living.
When my brother was killed by police in our hometown of Woodland, CA, everything changed, and fast. There were many public attacks on me for simply speaking, sharing our truth, advocating for my brother and being his voice. I knew nothing about the severity of policing and police brutality. I would’ve never thought anything like this could happen to us and to Michael. Today, I am now connected to and networking with hundreds and hundreds of other families who have lost loved ones to police violence across the nation. We support, lean on, organize with and understand one another as we all come about through bloodshed in our family . . .
Michael Barrera and his daughter. Courtesy of Marissa Barrera
Michael was young and full of life. He had a daughter who he absolutely adored and was awaiting the arrival of his second baby girl when officers of the Woodland Police Department viciously took his life.
Some people that are killed by police are random killings and some are targeted.
I believe my brother was targeted. Michael had been speaking out about an assault that had happened weeks prior, when he was a patient being seen at the hospital. This assault was by the very cop who suffocated him to death, officer Richard Wright. My brother told me how Wright kept assaulting him by twisting his arms back and that this happened in front of others who were at Woodland Memorial hospital.
A post by Michael Barrera in a Facebook group days before he was killed. He was speaking out about the missing people in our small community. At the time there were two teenagers of color who went missing and cops weren’t doing anything. - Marissa Barrera
Michael Barrera's text (in white) to his fiancee the morning of the day he was killed. Courtesy of Marissa Barrera
I will never know exactly what happened or how everything started and went down that day, but I’ve come a lot closer to the truth. I received a call from my mom at 1PM while I was on my lunch break at work. She said she got a strange call about Michael and would call me right back, as I was a few towns over. I never for one moment, could’ve believed my brother was dead, but I had a strange feeling. I felt a presence with me, a lifting from my chest after hanging the phone up. I felt Michael was with me.
Michael Barrera and his daughter. Courtesy of Marissa Barrera
Fast forward to three years later, my parents and I have now reviewed audio and video from that day and much of what I’ve believed since the beginning has been confirmed. He was unarmed, not posing a threat and handcuffed when he was beaten, tased multiple times and then suffocated to death. Parveen Lal, Hannah Gray, Thomas Davis, David Krause and Richard Wright are the names of the officers involved. We still don’t know why or how, but the assault started at my brother’s apartment and ended less than a mile away. The police reported to the media that they had received calls of a man acting erratically and exposing himself to others. We have never heard these calls, however I have reviewed some documents that were disclosed. One of the witnesses stated he never saw Michael flash anyone. Yet this lie was still heavily released into the media. The cops claimed they were never inside his house, but dismiss the evidence of there being a crime scene in the apartment which was in total chaos and had blood on the walls. There was also blood outside of Michael’s apartment on top of his car. Some type of assault started inside my brother’s apartment. There was broken pottery all over the outside, yet cops claimed that any type of interaction happened where he was killed, less than a mile away. These facts never made it to the media. So the questions that still need to be answered are: who assaulted my brother inside his apartment and why had there not been a thorough investigation done to help get answers?
What I do know is that his last words were, “I can’t breathe,” and that he said it multiple times as officer Gray mocked him telling him that he can breathe, as she sat her whole body on his legs as he was face down in the mud while four male officers were physically assaulting him and on top of him. When they first approached him with guns drawn, he was repeating clearly and loudly with his arms up that he was not a threat and unarmed. He was wearing basketball shorts so it visibly was clear he didn’t have a weapon. A witness claimed that right before this Michael went by his front yard asking for water and told him he was “just jumped by three guys.” Another witness told me the officers were indeed tasing him after he was already faced down in handcuffs and that he didn’t know why they did that, but that what he heard was just awful.
Going back to that day, I immediately felt dishonesty from law enforcement and I saw right through their bullshit. I honestly don’t know if or when the police would have contacted us about my brother’s death. When police kill, oftentimes the family is notified much later. However my family was at the hospital shortly after my brother was killed since an acquaintance had called my mother saying we needed to get there NOW and that her son was there.
I remember the moment I was told Michael was gone like it was yesterday. I lost control, my body dropped to the ground and I was screaming for him. My mom, grandmother and older brother were now inside a room at the emergency room, two doors down from the room where his body was but the door was being blocked by multiple law enforcement officers.
When a nurse attempted to take my mom inside the room, they blocked her from entering. They also blocked the hospital's chaplain from attempting to take my mom into the room to have her last moments with her son.
I will never forget the chaplain's words when he came into our room to do a prayer for my brother with the family: “Michael died a very brutal and violent death.”
They never did let us in that room and I regret not bursting in there like my heart was telling me to. I will always regret that.
Next, I ditched the hospital and headed over to my brother’s home because I had been told police were there. It was just a couple hours after my brother was killed and I was face-to-face with Detective Joshua Moruso and officer Jeff Moe, both officers of Woodland Police Department.
It was here when I truly realized that these cops cannot be trusted and are now our enemies because they chased me, lied to me and shook their handcuffs at me in an attempt to intimidate me. They wanted me and my eyes to be gone.
They didn't kill him at his home and they had no warrant, so it was my belief that they had no business being there.
Yet they threatened to arrest me for “borderline breaking a law,” as they lied through their teeth.
These officers had already ransacked his home and deadbolted it from the inside, laughing at me as I tried to open the door with the key. I made sure to record all of this and have them later admitting to going inside the home without a warrant using a fabricated excuse.
Following his death, we were never allowed to even identify his body from the Yolo County Coroner's Office, although we demanded it. That was the second time we were denied seeing my brother’s body. Instead, they told us the body must be transported to McNary's Chapel funeral home, which I later learned was another piece to this sick puzzle.
After taking to Facebook for advice, I received tips from multiple former funeral home employees that we needed to get his body out of there now because they do shady work and are in bed with local law enforcement agencies. What prompted me to ask is that we were being denied for a third time now, to see my brother’s body. We had him moved to another funeral chapel, which took them two days as they claimed they don’t work on weekends. When we were finally able to see his body five days after the killing, the next funeral home director confirmed to us that it did indeed look like they did work on his body. They understood the circumstances and were not supposed to do any type of work or changes on my brother's body, but they did.
A flyer demanding justice for Michael Barrera, displaying images of the police officers involved in his death.
Flyer design by Marissa Barrera.
A couple months later we received the autopsy and coroner's report, which listed the manner of death as “undetermined,” claiming they were unable to determine if his death was an accident or a homicide. Eventually we also learned that the Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig deemed my brother’s killing to be justified. Reisig is very well known for his over prosecution of Black and Brown people, aggressively convicting innocent people. Even internal complaints have come from his very own investigators. A simple internet search on this man brings up that he's corrupt.
This should be a no-brainer as it’s obvious Michael would still be here if it wasn’t for the brutal assault. It's not like he slipped and hit his head.
The autopsy showed that my brother had injuries all over his body including multiple, large contusions on his face as well as taser burns marks.
However, the press releases that were issued to the media and community claimed my brother had, “no visible, physical injuries on his body."
False facts, cover ups and deceit were just the beginning. Their story changed four times in two days after they released a horrible press release full of lies, basically telling our community that they did us a favor. This is a normal routine when police kill. They create and spread false narratives, they assassinate the victim’s character, and oftentimes get cheered on by community members, for killing our loved ones.
Woodland Police first claimed that Michael was some crazy naked man, walking around in a trenchcoat, exposing himself to people, swinging around a knife, scissors and a golf club, as well as breaking into cars. They claimed he charged the officer with the golf club. In the next couple days they said Michael dropped the golf club. Then it also came out that none of the weapons were actually on Michael. He was unarmed. I knew this as well and that he was not naked, but in basketball shorts, as I viewed video surveillance he was captured on, just before he was killed. I believe someone went into his home, assaulted him and then ran him out of his own home. This is based on what I saw in the videos, the condition his home was in, and the fact that he told a witness he had been jumped. On video, he kept looking back as if he was being followed. Again, I will never have all the answers, and that’s hard to deal with.
A photo of me speaking from "Rally for Justice" at the Woodland Court House which focused on many stories of injustices from the community in Yolo County, November 12, 2017. - Marissa Barrera
After Michael was killed, I took it upon myself to be the fighter, the detective, the spokesperson for my family. I couldn’t just let this go - who could? I needed to share and find the truth of my brother’s story and demand accountability and transparency.
Let’s just say, the Woodland Police Department and half the town hate me for that. I literally went door to door questioning people where it happened, interviewing eyewitnesses, obtaining surveillance video that captured some of my brother’s last moments alive.
The year 2017 ended with a total of 1,194 recorded killings by police in the United States with Michael being #141. Since his death, I've connected with and now organize with hundreds of other families across the country who have lost loved ones to police violence. I call them my “Justice Families.” Our stories of the aftermath are eerily similar; from how we heard (or didn’t hear) of the death, how our loved one's bodies were hidden from us, to the media’s lies, being gang-stalked by police after speaking out, and the fact that no one gets any justice.
We are treated horribly, lied to, manipulated and our rights are violated. All of this happening at such a vulnerable time has prompted me to write my book, “When Kops Kill," which will serve as a manual to guide families and share our truths.
Christine Amaro, mother of Michael Barrera, speaking about her son's killing at "Rally for Justice," at the Woodland Courthouse, Woodland, CA, November 12, 2017. - Marissa Barrera
I continue to fight and raise awareness about the police brutality epidemic, for my brother, and all lives stolen. For this, I’ve been mocked, ridiculed, and have been retaliated against. But I will not be stopped, and I let it be known: cops picked the wrong sister.
My family currently has a pending civil case against the officers involved and the City of Woodland. We have a trial date set for 2022. My family and other impacted families struggle to find good lawyers with integrity to take on our cases and many of us go through multiple lawyers, most not being able to even have a day in court. My family has several items about my brother's killing, including documents, photographs, video, and audio. However, we’ve been told that these materials are under a protective order and that we cannot share them or make them public. Apparently our former attorneys agreed to this order. We never had knowledge of it until recently when we obtained these items.
The Michael Barrera family at the 5th Annual Walk for Justice Rally, May 19, 2019, Bakersfield, CA. Courtesy of Marissa Barrera
One of the hardest things in this fight is not being heard, and not being able to force the changes that are deeply needed in our country when it comes to policing and the judicial system in general. However, we continue to push forward.
They took my brother’s last breath and I will keep fighting until my last breath.
Rest In Power, Michael Barrera.
Our family with Michael and myself standing on the right side of the back row. - Marissa Barrera