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A collage of family photos shows Pablo Dominguez, who was allegedly shot and killed by Athan Emmanuel Estrada in El Centro in early June. The shooting occurred at the Crown Motel on June 7 and Dominguez died a few days later in Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs. His alleged killer escaped from the Imperial County jail and is still on the loose. | PHOTO COLLAGE COURTESY OF THE DOMINGUEZ FAMILY

OP-ED: We Demand Justice, and If Needed, Change

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an Op-Ed written about the accidental release from the Imperial County jail of murder suspect Athan Emmanuel Estrada on Friday night, July 23, when he assumed the identity of another inmate who was released from custody. Estrada reportedly confessed to the killing of Pablo Dominguez after his initial arrest for domestic violence and criminal threats on Wednesday, July 21. He is still on the loose and is considered armed and dangerous.) 

The Imperial County Sheriff’s Office allowed the man who confessed to killing our brother, Pablo Dominguez, to walk out of their custody as a free man.

Whether due to negligence or incompetency, their actions have made my family and our entire community suffer. At the moment, it feels as if ICSO cares more about protecting its public image than the community. It has now been days since the incident occurred and my family as well as the community have yet to hear from Sheriff-Coroner Ray Loera.

His silence speaks volumes. We as a community deserve better than a sheriff that allows and tolerates these types of mistakes and then refuses to address the public nor inform the victim’s families. 

My family found out about ICSO’s mistake through Facebook posts like many members of the community. When trying to inquire more information about what occurred, we were treated rudely by ICSO staff. Even those who tried to assist our family to get basic information, such as a phone number or email, were given the same cold shoulder by ICSO.

If you look at the original Facebook post by ICSO, you will see it was changed so that the charges against the man they let loose were hidden from the public. Most people know this man was a confessed murderer thanks to members of our community in the comment section rather than ICSO. 

Why is that? 

Regardless of how you feel about the sheriff, his agency, or law enforcement in general, we as a community must continue to make noise about this incident. Removing agents that act with negligence will ensure this, or something like it, never happens in our community again.

While comical to some, we can’t forget a family is reliving the pain of losing a loved one and a murderer is walking around in our neighborhoods. This pain could’ve been prevented by ICSO if they handled this case with the appropriate amount of care. 

We do not doubt that the ICSO is working diligently with other law enforcement agencies to find our brother’s murderer, and that includes the sheriff himself. Our family is extremely grateful for their hard work and thank them for their service, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that we have already been hurt by the system and those who swore they would find justice for my brother.

Working hard is the least these agencies could be doing right now. After all, it is their fault all of our brother’s murderers are among you and me in our community. Don’t forget that. 

To those who have criticized my family’s approach to call out and apply pressure to Sheriff Loera, it is our duty as members of this community to demand better service from ALL elected officials including the Sheriff.

We have elected Sheriff Loera to lead the ICSO and take responsibility for mishaps such as these. If he cannot handle this criticism, he shouldn’t be our acting sheriff. Until his office can provide us an explanation for how two inmates (who look nothing alike) could be mixed up, we will continue to apply pressure on Sheriff Loera as well as any other public law enforcement figures if needed.

We have the authority to demand better for our community if Sheriff Loera continues to fail to address the community and provide an explanation for his office’s mistake or refuses to hold those who caused this pain accountable.

It’s what my family deserves. It’s what the Imperial Valley deserves. It’s what our little brother Pablo deserves. 

Let’s not forget a murderer is on the loose and ICSO put them there. Regardless of whether you’re pro or anti-law enforcement, you can agree that ICSO has acted with the highest degree of negligence, and they have failed to meet their oath to protect our community.

We demand justice, and if needed, change as well. 

Pablo Dominguez, 27, of El Centro, passed away leaving behind two young daughters. Pablo had a love and passion for God and found peace within his Church’s community. He had a playful spirit and was full of life spreading joy everywhere he went. Pablo was loved and cherished by many for his positive attitude, big heart, and warm light.

The flier issued on Saturday morning, July 24, advising of the accidental release/escape of murder suspect Athan Emmanuel Estrada on Friday night, July 23, from the Imperial County jail. | COURTESY IMAGE