‘The people must demand the answers’: Fatal FBI shooting in East Oakland raises questions

A photo of an FBI seal.
(San Diego Union-Tribune)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, September 20. I’m Justin Ray.

On Sept.13, an FBI agent shot and killed a man inside a store in East Oakland. Over the past week, some details have emerged about the shooting, but we have yet to get the full picture. First, I’ll lay out what authorities have said. Then, I’ll tell you what witnesses and family say.

What authorities have said about the incident

The shooting took place in the Fruitvale neighborhood shortly before 3:30 p.m. The FBI agent was working with a U.S. Marshals Service task force that was serving an arrest warrant, according to Oakland police and a statement from the FBI’s San Francisco Division obtained by The Times.

The man — who the FBI said was armed — was wounded in the shooting and taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He has been identified by TV station KTVU as Michael Jonathan Cortez, 30. The agent wasn’t hurt in the shooting. At the time of the shooting, Oakland police said there was no public safety concern.


“The FBI takes all shooting incidents involving our agents or task force members seriously. In accordance with FBI policy, the shooting incident is under investigation by the FBI’s Inspection Division,” the agency said in its statement. “The review process is thorough, objective, and is conducted as expeditiously as possible under the circumstances.”

No other details about what circumstances led up to the shooting have been released.

What family and witnesses have said

Faisal Aldahmi, the owner of Discount Cigarettes, where the shooting took place, told KTVU his son sold Cortez a beverage and beef jerky shortly before the shooting. Aldahmi said Cortez frequented the shop and stayed with a girlfriend in a unit above the store.

Aldahmi told the station his son was looking at the surveillance camera when a man entered the store with a gun. His son initially thought the shop was being robbed because the FBI agent was in plainclothes. He said authorities have confiscated his security equipment, and he hadn’t had a chance to review the footage before it was taken.

“To see a human being get killed is not a good feeling,” Aldahmi said.

Family members told KTVU Cortex was on parole for a drug-related conviction and that he had been employed at a supermarket at the time of the shooting with hopes of starting a food truck business. One of his sisters told KTVU “he was a good person, always smiling, happy.”

“We have expressed concern about increased contact between our communities and these law enforcement agencies,” said the Anti Police-Terror Project, an Oakland-based coalition that seeks to hold local police departments accountable. The organization listed questions on social media, including: Under what jurisdiction was the FBI agent operating? What is the scope of the FBI’s presence in the City of Oakland? How would the City of Oakland hold the FBI and the individual agent accountable?


“There’s not enough information yet to know what happened or why. But we know the people must demand the answers or they will never come,” the coalition wrote.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Last month, California added jobs at three times the rate of the nation, as teachers returned to classrooms, entertainment venues reopened, and vacationers traveled despite a surge in COVID-19 infections. Payroll jobs in the state grew in August by 104,300 to a total of 16.63 million, accounting for 44% of U.S. job growth, officials reported. The nation’s employment recovery was unexpectedly slow last month as vaccination rates in many states lagged behind that in California. Los Angeles Times

A teacher collects crayons from students in Calabasas.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)


A magnitude 4.3 earthquake was reported Friday evening just before 8 p.m., according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Social media had a lot to say about the quake that was felt through the Los Angeles Basin, Orange County and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys. By the way, The Times recently published a guide to help you achieve earthquake readiness and resilience. Los Angeles Times


Our daily news podcast

If you’re a fan of this newsletter, you’ll probably love our new daily podcast, “The Times,” hosted by columnist Gustavo Arellano, along with reporters from across our newsroom. Every weekday, it takes you beyond the headlines. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts and follow on Spotify.

2021 Emmy winners: The 2021 Emmy Awards, or the nominations themselves, seemed to reflect what TV critic Lorraine Ali called “the central TV-watching habit of the last year: the turn to comforting shows.” Here’s a list of winners from last night’s Emmys. Los Angeles Times


Photo of San Francisco Mayor London Breed sparks backlash. Breed was seen at a nightclub and was not wearing a mask, despite the city’s requirement to wear face coverings in indoor public settings. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Breed and most other patrons at the Black Cat nightclub, which serves food and drinks, were not wearing masks while in attendance. The city’s health order says that attendees at live indoor performances must remain masked except when actively eating or drinking. Earlier this year, Breed agreed to pay $22,792 in fines related to a series of ethics violations while in office. Los Angeles Times

What just happened with single-family zoning in California? Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday signed two bills meant to make it easier to build more housing in California. The first, Senate Bill 9, makes it possible to build more than one housing unit on land that was previously designated for only one unit. The second, SB 10, allows for denser development near public transit corridors, such as bus and train lines. The Times published an explanation of the new laws. Los Angeles Times


A jury on Friday found Robert Durst guilty of murdering Susan Berman. After a five-month trial that included an 11-week presentation from prosecutors and 15 days of testimony from Durst himself, jurors deliberated for just eight hours over a span of three days. While the trial ostensibly centered on the murder of Berman, who was found in her Benedict Canyon home, blood pooling around her head, on Christmas Eve in 2000, it became a probing account of Durst’s entire life, one characterized by enormous wealth, strained relationships with family and a curious pattern of those closest to him turning up missing or dead. Los Angeles Times

Real estate heir Robert Durst sits during his murder trial
Real estate heir Robert Durst sits during his murder trial in March 2020.
(Associated Press)

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At least 250 students in a school district in Stanislaus County were quarantined, including the entire varsity and junior varsity football and volleyball teams. Two games were canceled after three Denair High School athletes tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a school news release. “We all practice together, so everybody’s potentially exposed,” coach Anthony Armas said. The Modesto Bee


Greg Boyle, S.J., the founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang rehabilitation and reentry program, talked about his work in a recent interview: “The essential principle around here is that we belong to each other, and every single person is unshakably good,” Boyle says. He also shared thoughts about morality: ”I also think we get stuck in moral outrage, and we shouldn’t settle for that. We should hold out for moral compass, which is quite different.” America magazine

Oakland police Instagram scandal: Personnel with Oakland Police Department have been disciplined for their use of a now-deleted Instagram account that contained racist and sexist memes. The nine who violated department policy range from police officers to lieutenant. The disciplinary action ranges from three-day unpaid suspension to 25-day unpaid suspension. The department became aware of the account back in January. KTVU

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Los Angeles: Sunny 86. San Diego: 75. San Francisco: 76. San Jose: 85 Fresno: 90 Sacramento: 91

*I have received a ton of emails about pink lemonade, so let me finally explain its possible origins. Smithsonian Magazine says there are two plausible explanations. Citing a book by Josh Chetwynd, the magazine says one is that a dude accidentally dropped red-colored cinnamon candles in a vat of lemonade. The second one is gross: Basically a dude was selling lemonade at the circus and ran out of water. He grabbed dirty water in which a woman had just finished wringing out her pink tights. Anyway, I told my mom about your emails and she says you can make lemonade pink with food coloring, grenadine, cranberry juice or pomegranate juice. I imagine the food coloring wouldn’t taste different, but if you try any of those other juice choices, let me know how it tastes!



Birthdays this week:

Sophia Loren was born Sept. 20, 1934. She talked to The Times this year about “The Life Ahead,” a movie directed by her son Edoardo Ponti.

Billy Porter was born Sept. 21, 1969. In an interview with The Times last year, the actor reflected on working over 25 years in the industry before experiencing mainstream success and recognition.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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