Pulled over around 2 a.m. on the side of Interstate 95 by a Maryland State Police officer working DUI enforcement, a terrified Julio Cesar Moran-Ruiz made the last phone call of his life, pleading with a friend not to hang up the phone.
“Whatever happens,” the 36-year-old Dundalk man told her, “please speak with my sister.”
A short time later, Moran-Ruiz was dead, shot by police after he sped off in his vehicle, allegedly dragging a trooper more than 2,000 feet down the highway with him. Now, loved ones are trying to piece together what happened in the Aug. 28 encounter and figure out how to return his body to his hometown of Acapulco, Mexico.
At a news conference the morning after the shooting, Woodrow W. “Jerry” Jones III, superintendent of the Maryland State Police, said a trooper initiated a traffic stop around 2 a.m. after seeing a red Ford Escape weaving in and out of I-95′s northbound lanes near Route 100 in Elkridge. The driver, identified as Moran-Ruiz, pulled over onto the right shoulder, and the trooper called for backup to conduct a routine sobriety test, Jones said.
Moran-Ruiz had no identification on him at the time and allegedly gave state troopers a false name upon being questioned, Jones said. He was asked by troopers to step out of the vehicle and refused, showing obvious signs of impairment, according to police.
Maryland State Police Woodrow W. “Jerry” Jones III, talks about a trooper fatally shooting a man who police said dragged the trooper after being pulled over.
The trooper saw Moran-Ruiz put the vehicle in drive, so he reached into the car and attempted to take the keys from the ignition, Jones said.
“With the trooper leaning inside the vehicle, the driver accelerated away and drove down the interstate, dragging the trooper alongside of his vehicle,” Jones said at the time.
According to Jones, the trooper repeatedly yelled at the driver to stop and warned he would shoot.
“Fearing for his life while being dragged by the car, the trooper fired his department-issued pistol at the driver, striking him," Jones said. “The trooper was thrown from the car into the center median. He was found by another trooper not far from where the vehicle came to rest.”
Moran-Ruiz was pronounced dead at the scene. Jones reported that investigators found alcohol containers in the car and a machete under the driver seat.
The trooper, Robert Kreczmer, suffered injuries to his lower extremities and was treated and released from the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center that morning. Kreczmer has recovered from his injuries and is on administrative duties, said MarylandState Police spokesman Ron Snyder.
Loved ones say Moran-Ruiz was undocumented, that he had been deported several years ago and had come back to help care for his children. He was afraid of police, and afraid of being deported again.
Franca Muller Paz, a grassroots organizer in Baltimore’s Latino community, said many immigrants are aware of multiple instances of police violence. But they also fear detention centers, because of the unsanitary conditions amid COVID-19 and the reported deaths in these holding facilities.
“I just think it puts a lot of fear into the hearts of our community,” said Muller Paz, who is running for a Baltimore City Council seat as a candidate for the Green party.
The man’s sister, Juana Moran-Ruiz, 33, said her brother was moving furniture that night. She said she was surprised that police described him as weaving on the road, and possibly drunk, because outside of Christmas or holidays, she said he rarely drank alcohol. She also found it surprising that he was so far from home, on the other side of town. He worked renovating houses near Johns Hopkins Hospital.
That night, Moran-Ruiz called his friend, Jocelyne Henriquez, 45, about 2 a.m. After he told her that he had been pulled over and was afraid, she asked him to send his location and said she would come get him.
“I’m not going to be let go. I’m scared,” Henriquez remembered him telling her.
Interviews with Juana Moran-Ruiz and Henriquez were conducted in Spanish and translated to English.
He told her to stay on the line and be quiet, so she could hear what was happening.
At one point, near the end of the roughly 20-minute call, she said she heard two other voices.
“They started mistreating him inside the car, yelling at him, insulting him, threatening him," Henriquez said. "The only thing I heard them tell him was ’Get out, you don’t have to be driving!' From there, I heard absolutely nothing, just a struggle, that they were fighting with him in a struggle.”
The call dropped. She called back and called back. No answer.
Later that morning, after the family got the news, his sister went to see Moran-Ruiz’s car at an impound lot. She said she didn’t see much blood in the vehicle, which surprised her. Police told her, she said, that her brother had been shot in the jugular vein.
She later learned from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner that Moran-Ruiz died from multiple gunshot wounds. The Chief Medical Examiner would not confirm that to The Baltimore Sun.
“The car has no blood, no more than two drops of blood,” Juana Moran-Ruiz said. “A gunshot would result in a lot of blood.”
She said it doesn’t look like her brother was shot in the car.
Snyder, the state police spokesman, would not comment on the case.
State police officers do not have body cameras, but their vehicles have dash cameras, and there is footage of the incident. Snyder said there is no date for the release of that footage, and he could not say when the investigation will be complete.
“If they committed an error with my brother, all I want is for them to pay and be held responsible, because as I told the police officer when he came to give me the news, there were other ways."
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As part of a reciprocal agreement, because the case is an officer-involved shooting in Howard County, it is being investigated by the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office.
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“It would be premature to comment further on the case," said Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office, in an email. “We will review evidence, interview witnesses and go where the facts take us.”
The family was told by the medical examiner’s office that they will receive the autopsy results in four to six weeks. They want to do a second, independent autopsy but don’t have the money for one. Attorneys Aarron Johnson and Stephen Patrick Beatty are lookinginto the case for the family. "No one deserves to die like this, and at the hands of people who are supposed to protect them, even if someone is undocumented, they don’t have the right,” Henriquez said.
Meanwhile, family members are trying to find a way to get Moran-Ruiz’s body back to Mexico. The paperwork alone is taking weeks. To raise the money, Juana Moran-Ruiz has asked for a loan from her husband’s boss, contacted the Mexican consulate for help, and even put donation boxes in places where Julio was known.
“If they committed an error with my brother, all I want is for them to pay and be held responsible," she said, “because as I told the police officer when he came to give me the news, there were other ways."
Stephanie Garcia is a 2020-21 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project, a national service program that places emerging journalists in local newsrooms. She covers issues relevant to Latino communities.