Cindy Chavez was standing outside her apartment complex last week when a Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy approached her clutching paperwork. She was being served a restraining order, the deputy explained, to protect the officer who killed her son.
Chavez is not related to Supervisor Cindy Chavez, a San Jose mayoral candidate.
The temporary restraining order, filed by the San Jose city attorney in September, requires Chavez, 58, to stay at least 300 yards from San Jose Police Department Sgt. Mike Pina, who fatally shot her son, Jacob Dominguez, in 2017. Chavez was shocked.
“I looked at him and said, ‘Are you for real?’” Chavez told San José Spotlight. “My stomach just turned. This cop killed my son, and now he wants to do this to me? I don’t even know who he is.”
Pina fatally shot Dominguez during a traffic stop in 2017. In the aftermath of the shooting, the police department claimed that Pina believed Dominguez was reaching for a gun, but he was unarmed. The Santa Clara County District Attorney declined to charge Pina in the shooting. In August, a civil jury found the officer used excessive force when he shot the 33-year-old and awarded Dominguez’s family $1 million. Pina has since been promoted to sergeant.
The restraining order, obtained by San José Spotlight, came two months after the family won their suit against San Jose. The order forbids Chavez from contacting Pina’s family and visiting department property unless she needs police help. Chavez doesn’t know the names of Pina’s family members or where they live, she said, and she’s never tried to contact him or his family.
Police misconduct attorneys said it’s rare for cities to file restraining orders against families after a civil case has been resolved and questioned whether the order was justified. City officials argued the restraining order is necessary to protect their employee from harm.
The city attorney claims in the order that Chavez “made a credible threat of violence” against Pina, and includes five examples of social media posts and other written messages about Pina that the city attorney’s office said are threatening toward the officer.
Two of the social media posts were authored by people Chavez claimed not to know. A third was authored by a family acquaintance, Chavez said, but she did not contact that person before or after he wrote the comment, and she never interacted with any of the posts. Only two of the exhibits detail statements Chavez admitted making. In one Facebook post, Chavez declared Pina had murdered her son and her family had proven the officer liable for Dominguez’s death.
“His day will come he’s not guaranteed to go home!!!!” the post reads. “I know god don’t like ugly but u don’t know what I wish upon Pina (…) One day he will feel my PAIN!!!!!!”
Chavez also said in the post she knows what Pina looks like clean-shaven or bearded. She wrote the Facebook post on Sept. 15, the five-year anniversary of her son’s death. Her comments were not intended to make the officer fear for his life or safety, Chavez said, and the public has a right to know what Pina looks like so they can avoid him.
In another instance, Chavez admitted to writing “F— Mike Pina his day will come” on a cup and placing it on her son’s grave, a picture of which was included as an exhibit in the restraining order. Chavez insisted her comments were those of a grieving and enraged mother who had lost her son. The post was meant to convey her wish that the officer would someday understand her anguish, she said, not a threat of violence against the officer.
“I may put stuff out there because that’s how I feel, but I’ve never threatened him like I’d go after him,” she said. “I wouldn’t put myself in a situation where I’m going to be sitting in jail and my grandkids are out there.”
Chavez’s intent is irrelevant, said City Attorney Nora Frimann, whose office requested the restraining order.
“The issue is whether the threat could cause an employee to reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of their family,” Frimann told San José Spotlight. A restraining order is neither a criminal action or a lawsuit, she added, “it is a way for the city to protect its employees.”
The San Jose Police Department declined to comment.
A rare restraining order
Chavez intends to fight the restraining order, and her family has begun crowdfunding to pay legal fees. A court hearing for the restraining order is set for Dec. 13.
Chavez’s sister, Rosie, told San José Spotlight her family has been vocally critical of Pina and SJPD since the shooting, so they’re confused why the city would choose to file a restraining order just as their yearslong legal battle with the city comes to a close.
“It’s telling that you come up with this restraining order tactic to try to continuously throw salt on our wounds,” Rosie Chavez said, adding the restraining order forced them to relive the trauma of losing Dominguez. “Go on with your life. Leave us alone now.”
John Crowley, who represented Dominguez’s widow in the civil case against Pina, called the restraining order “ambiguous,” and said if he takes on the case, he’s fairly confident he’ll be able to convince a judge to dismiss it.
“It lacks specific objectivity that would lead a reasonable trier of fact or a judge to believe that Officer Pina needs to be protected from this woman, whose son was killed five years ago,” Crowley told San José Spotlight. He is skeptical Chavez’s comments are a direct threat to Pina, saying he interpreted her comment that Pina’s “time will come” as a statement about karma catching up to the officer.
One police misconduct attorney questioned the reasoning behind the restraining order.
“It looks like sour grapes—they lost the trial, a jury found that the officer violated the law,” said Michael Haddad, an attorney who’s represented numerous families in police shooting cases. “It seems to me that the officer and the city attorney office should have a little bit more humility in this situation.”