Investigation Launches Into Mysterious Death of Indigenous Bayview Woman

Jessica Nicole Alva, mother of six, worked for an organization to help Native Americans get back on their feet.

Jessica Nicole Alva, center, recently got back on her feet. (Photo courtesy GoFundMe)

On April 2 around 6:30 a.m. San Francisco police responded to an apparent hanging in the Bayview, and discovered the unconscious body of Jessica Nicole Alva. Despite the work of paramedics and doctors, the brain damage was too severe; four days later she passed away, at the age of 35. 

Friends and family describe her as a loving mother to six children in the prime of her life, which was filled with activism centered. She worked for Friendship House Association of American Indians in the Mission after going through their program to get on her feet.

Jessica Nicole’s death was preliminarily ruled as a suicide but her family claims she was in an abusive relationship and is demanding that police investigate it as a possible homicide.

Jessica Nicole’s brother, Anthony Alva, says the police didn’t approach them about an investigation for three days — only after a flurry of attention on social media. (Her partner has denied the allegations and could not be reached by press time.)

“He obviously abused my sister,” Anthony said about his sister’s partner, saying she had large bruises all over her while in the hospital. “Even if the police have their suspicions or questions about the homicide charges … to not do a proper investigation from the beginning is ridiculous.”

Despite the pending investigation, the Indigenous nonprofit Sovereign Bodies Institute already counts Jessica Nicole as one of the 461 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) cases tied to domestic violence. Of those, 135 cases are in California — and 75 percent in Northern California. According to the organization, San Francisco is home to 15 of such cases. The organization gathered data from SFPD in July 2018.

“Jessica is a victim of systemic neglect by law enforcement and policymakers,” said Annita Lucchesi, of Sovereign Bodies Institute and the MMIW Database, in a statement. “Northern California is an epicenter of violence against Native women and girls, and it’s time we start asking the tough questions of our law enforcement and policymakers on what they plan to do about it. It starts with justice for Jessica.” 

With a booming order to “do your job,” Supervisor Vallie Brown called for District Attorney George Gascon to investigate the case at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. 

“This future was stolen from Jessica, and we need to make it right,” said Brown, who is of Indigenous heritage. “I stand with the community to say loud and clear: No more stolen sisters.”

But Max Szabo, spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, reports that the medical examiner has preliminarily ruled it a suicide.

“If that changes, SFPD’s homicide detail will investigate and if their investigation unveils sufficient evidence, we will file charges,” says Szabo. “Our job is to follow the evidence wherever it may lead so charging someone at this juncture would seem to be putting the cart before the horse.”

That leaves any change in the investigation to the medical examiner’s office, which is still determining the cause and manner of death. The special victim’s unit is conducting an investigation, according to SFPD spokesperson Officer Robert Rueca.  

Too little, too late, says Jessica Nicole’s family. Anthony himself, who lives in Roseville, is unclear about the exact circumstances that brought his sister to the hospital. But he reports smelling bleach and seeing rearranged furniture when returning to her apartment to get clothes for the three children she had in her care — which makes the evidence that much harder to collect. But they are still seeking answers, and raising money for her funeral and children through GoFundMe.

“There needs to be some proper accounting for the proper procedures,” Anthony says. “My mom’s going through a lot of mental anguish right now. It’s beyond frustrating to not have any answers on it and not be confident that Jessica’s story is going to be told.”

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