Jorge Ramirez should have been safe. In 2013, the Bakersfield father of five was working as an informant for the police in their pursuit of a wanted felon. And yet this job ended in a shootout and Ramirez’s tragic death. That’s the case at the center of Killing County, ABC and Hulu‘s latest true crime series that investigates the police’s role in this shocking case as well as this department’s history of unnecessary violence.
Produced by Colin Kaepernick and directed by Michaela Dowd, Killing County is exactly what you expect from a docuseries produced from a news network. There are very few narrative flourishes or extraneous interviews. But when it comes to a series that takes a hard, critical look at law enforcement, fidelity to the facts makes a powerful statement.
Jorge Ramirez wasn’t a model citizen. Ramirez wasn’t a violent criminal, but he did have a criminal past due to his drug addiction and history of stealing property. It’s that past that the Bakersfield, Calif., police department used to its advantage. Authorities agreed to push back the preliminary hearing of a pending drug case against Ramirez if he worked as a “citizen informant,” or CI.
That wasn’t the case when it came to Justin Harger. A wanted felon on parole, Harger had a warrant out for his arrest due to a fatal shooting that had occurred weeks before. He was considered to be armed and dangerous. He was also the criminal Ramirez was tasked with bringing to police.
This would have been a risky case for anyone, but Ramirez was especially poised for failure. As a CI, he knew little about going undercover or what was and wasn’t important to report to police. Then there were the officers themselves. It was later uncovered that some of the officers didn’t know that Ramirez was working for them. Others said they didn’t even know what their appointed CI looked like. Ramirez was tasked with one of the most dangerous jobs an average citizen can be given, and yet he was given no safety net.
Ramirez delivered on his end of the bargain, but police didn’t deliver on theirs. On September 15, 2013, he brought Harger to the agreed upon parking lot. Both Ramirez and Harger died in the ensuing shootout.
That’s the story we know know thanks to the painstaking work of Nicole Ramirez, the deceased’s sister who found proof of her brother’s collaboration with the police on his phone. Killing County bounces between highlighting her work and painting a larger picture of systemic police failure in Bakersfield.
To build this argument, the docuseries also explores the deaths of David Sal Silva, James De La Rosa, and James Alderman. Each case is just as disturbing as Ramirez’s. In May of 2013, Silva died while being brutally beaten by several officers and attacked by a police dog. Officers would later admit he posed no real threat, and his family settled for $3.4 million from the county. In 2014, De La Rosa was shot and tased by four officers despite the fact he was unarmed at the time. Even more chillingly, it was later uncovered that one officer tampered with his body, even “tickling” the corpse. De La Rosa later died at Kern Medical Center, and his death inspired protests. In 2015, Alderman was fatally shot six times when he was caught breaking into a Subway.
Killing County isn’t a docuseries for the faint of heart. Over the course of three episodes, it takes an unflinching look at county where 10 unarmed people were shot by police officers in the 2010s and six of those victims died. It’s a docuseries that’s exactly as horrific as it sounds, but at this point that may be what we need.
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