More turmoil over alleged lack of equal treatment at Tulare Cemetery

On March 27th the family of Jessica Martin arrived at the Tulare Public Cemetery to say their final goodbyes.

What they got instead were orders to stay in their cars and watched in horror as Office Manager Leonor Castaneda and four groundskeepers almost dropped the young woman’s casket.

No policy exists at the Tulare Public Cemetery District (TPCD) defining who is permitted to serve as pallbearers, but for reasons unexplained Castaneda forbade the Martin family to carry Jessica from the hearse to the gravesite.

When the Director of  Miller’s Tulare Funeral Home and a family friend called a few days prior to the service to ask Castandeda to reconsider – what they received was a threat. Castaneda told the family friend that if one more person called concerning Jessica’s funeral she would lock the gates and the family would have to watch the service from outside the fence.

Jesse Martin, Jessica’s father, said it has been a very emotional time and his daughter’s death at only 30 years old was so unexpected. He said knowing how certain families have received preferential treatment at Tulare Cemetery and the way he was treated has only extended the family’s grief.

Martin is currently in consultation with his lawyer and is considering legal action. The following is a letter to TPCD and reproduced here with the family’s permission.

To the Tulare Cemetery Board:

My name is Jesse Martin, and this letter will serve as a complaint toward the handling of my daughter’s funeral on 3/27/20.

My daughter Jessica passed away on 3/18/20 and funeral arrangements were immediately made with Miller’s Funeral Home. On 3/19/20, I was told by the funeral director that due to the circumstances involving the Covid-19 pandemic we would have to stay in our cars the day of the funeral. I asked her if she could intercede for us, in hopes that at least the pallbearers and immediate family would be allowed to escort the casket. She told us that she would try.

On Friday 3/20/20 I went to the North Cemetery to purchase the space. As we drove into the cemetery a funeral service was being performed and all of the mourners were out of their vehicles and allowed to accompany their loved one. I asked the cemetery personnel if I could purchase the space and I was directed to the downtown cemetery. I proceeded to the office where I purchased the space and there I was also informed of the new policy. I let them know that I just witnessed a funeral at the North Cemetery where all of the mourners were allowed by the casket with their loved one. I was informed that the new policy was going into effect on 3/23/20. I asked about being able to just have the immediate family get out of their cars if we had masks and gloves on. I was denied because according to the cemetery administrative staff this was the new policy and would be enforced from now on until further notice.

As any other grieving parent would I reached out to a board member in an attempt to see if there might just be a way to get permission for just the immediate family to get out of the cars or just the pallbearers. I was again denied for the safety of the cemetery staff. During this time another family member had contacted the cemetery office and spoke to Leonor Castaneda in hopes that some accommodations or compromise could be made. She was told by Ms. Castaneda that nobody could get out of their cars and that if another family member called regarding this issue she was going to make the family stay outside the cemetery and look through the fence while the funeral services went on.

Upon hearing this I became very upset; however, I instructed my family to stop calling. I did however have another daughter send an email to the board detailing this incident. I assumed this issue was going to be brought up at the next board meeting. However all she received was a generic email with no location of where the next board meeting would be held and no board members reached out to investigate the issue.

During my daughter’s funeral we all stayed in our cars following this insensitive policy. I say insensitive because how easy could it have been for cemetery staff to keep a distance and tell us where to escort the casket and then for us to get in our cars and allow cemetery staff to lower the casket.

Instead there were only five people (including the priest) moving my daughter’s casket, instead of the six which are required. My family and I were horrified watching as they almost dropped the casket. With all of the sorrow that we were feeling at that moment we continued to stay in our cars abiding by the new policy.

I was later informed and sent a video of a funeral ceremony that took place 10 days after our daughter’s where you can clearly see the family of the deceased being allowed to get out of their cars and assist in the escorting of the casket. It can also be seen that other people can get out of their cars and stand outside their cars watching the ceremony.

This really infuriated me because I not only was not allowed to give my daughter a proper burial and goodbye, but a staff member also threatened to close the PUBLIC cemetery to my family and me. I believe I was improperly treated and robbed of the opportunity to give my daughter a proper burial and start the grievance process. I hope that none of you have ever been through a situation like losing a son/daughter. I can tell you that a part of you dies with them.

Our experience with the Tulare Public Cemetery was deplorable.

Additionally, on 4/29/2020, I was informed by Leonor Castaneda, that the decision to have my family wait in our cars the day of the funeral was made by the funeral director (of Miller’s Chapel). Of course we know this to be false due to our being with the director while she continuously called for updates regarding the policy and asking if accommodations could be made. I was there when the funeral director asked if just the pallbearers wearing face masks and gloves could escort the casket and was denied. I was there when she asked the cemetery staff if we could help with carrying the casket and again she was told “no.” (I have a recording of the 04/29/20 conversation.)

If people in management positions can lie so blatantly and not be held accountable something is wrong. This is why I am seeking a written apology; as well, I would like information on how to get on the cemetery board because I do not want this to happen to any other family no matter who they are or who they know.

On 4/29/2020 I was also told by Leonor Castandeda that the cemetery is not funded by taxpayers and instead funded by what is collected from the sales of the spaces. Well, as someone who paid the same cemetery fees as everyone else who buried their loved ones I would expect to be treated with the same respect and dignity. Respect and dignity should be given in all cases, especially with the sensitive nature of the business that is being conducted, especially if your only source of income depends on it. I would rather not seek legal action, however if this is not addressed, I will have no other choice.

Thank you for your time and I regret having to write this grievance, however I feel I owe it to my daughter to stand up for her.

Jesse Martin


9 thoughts on “More turmoil over alleged lack of equal treatment at Tulare Cemetery

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  1. Mr. Jesse Martin, please accept my sincere apology for the unethical and discriminatory manner that you and your family were subjected to by the office manager and staff of Tulare Public Cemetery District. I am a Trustee on the Board and I can assure you that there was no such policy adpoted by the board of Trustees as what you and your family were told by the office manager and/or anyone else. I want to make it clear that the office manager does not have the authority to make any policies on behalf of the cemetery. The job of the office manager is to comply and adhere to the polices of the Board of Trustees. The policies established by the board of trustees prohibits falsification of official records, unethical acts of discrimination, and making false claims/statements. The cemetery is funded by the taxpayers of the district and other means. Every customer or member of the public is to be treated with respect and dignity by cemetery staff and the board of trustees. Respectfully, Alberto Aguilar/Trustee

  2. This is a sad story. I would not be looking for an apology but a attorney. That women way over steps her bounds. No family should be p through this.

  3. that is plain wrong and bad that so called person really angers me and that leonor should lose his job what a looser ….

  4. Unfortunately Covid 19 came upon us unexpectedly, and fast. I’m not condoning what has happened. But with the lack of training and being forced closure to all businesses without any guidance from our Government, and the fear of spreading the virus has affected everyone differently. My deepest condolences to the Martin family, I’m sorry any of this has happened to you.

    • If a person needs guidance from the government on how to be empathetic and sympathetic when working and dealing with mourners who have lost a loved one then that person is obviously working in the wrong business. As for lack of training…..attitudes reflect leadership. Constant infighting and negative attitudes between Board members are being co-opted by cemetery staff. Differences on how to perform oversight duties have turned into personal vendettas. Time to clean house. Time to hire new Cemetery Board members… one serving on this current Board need apply. As far as Ms. Castaneda goes….. she really should just go work elsewhere … unless she has truly learned that empathy and sympathy is required as part of her job description/duties. Treat all mourners equally….no special treatment should be tolerated. My condolences to the Martin family. Cherished your memories and keep them close to your heart. She will never be far away as long as you hold on to them. My hope for you is that you will come to have more smiles than tears through those memories.

  5. What happened to the Jesse Martin family is deplorable and unconsciousable. There are no excuses for the way Jesse and his family were treated. Jesse’s letter was included in the Cemetery’s Board Trustees’ packets, as well as Posted on the cemetery’s website “tulare” Jesse wanted accountability and a written apology. I was so sad and appalled when I read his letter and learned of the way he was mis-treated.
    I was not able to attend the meeting on 5/28/20 in person, but participated thru tele-conferencing due to the Covid-19 situation. All 5 Trustees of the Board had an obligation to listen to Jesse and address his concerns. Just as Jesse started to speak, the teleconferencing functionality was “lost,” and not restored for another half hour, so not only was I unable to participate, but neither was Trustee Alberto Aguilar. The meeting should have been stopped until the problem was “fixed.”I learned later by viewing the video recorded on Facebook Caring Cause, that the 3 Board members in attendance did not do anything ( those three being Steve Presant, Xavier Avila, and Jim Pennington).
    I was able to contact Jesse Martin the following week to express my distress and to personally offer my apologies. Jesse told me the only follow-up he had had was by Chair Presant’s phone call the day following the meeting to offer his condolences.
    So, Jesse and his family were wronged again – first, by Office Manager Leonor Castaneda acting upon her own and making poor decisions, In addition to threatening to lock the gates and having family members view the services thru the bars, and second by the Board for not taking responsibility. This is not ethical and it is immoral.
    A Special Meeting was called on June 9th to discuss a water leak. During Trustee Comments, I discussed the deplorable treatment that Jesse Martin and His family had received. Again, no comments or redress – the Board majority (Presant, Avila, and Pennington) did not want to discuss. This is not acceptable.

  6. I am the person that called Leonor Castaneda on behalf of the Martin family .I asked Mrs Castaneda. If she would allow Jessica Martins Parents 1 dghter and her husband to get off the car while she was being buried.She said No I asked her if they could have at least there own pallbearers she said no if anyone from the Martin family calls again I will close the cementary and make them watch from the other side of the fence .Than they almost dropped Mr Martins Dghters casket while she was being carried because there were only 4 available workers to carry her ,Leonor had to help as Mary Mendonca of Millers funeral home. I was horrified by her obnoxious behavior .Her unproffesionalism , Her disrespectful , inconsiderate behavior to say the least .while days later another acquaintance of ours died and was being buried ft from Mr Martins dghter Jessica and they were allowed to have there own family as pallbearers.we personally have videos of both incidents .I do believe the cementary does show special treatment My sons lights were thrown away while they claim to clean out cementary I called Leonor why she claims it’s our policy.I asked her if they can give me my sons lights back she said no they couldn’t but I noticed about 5 graves there stuff was untouched I called Leonor and she said that it hadn’t been cleaned out yet I TOLD her I have video this side has been cleaned out the other side is the one that hasn’t been cleaned .Mind you my husband cuts the lawn with our lawn mower puts ferterlizer and waters daily my sons gravesite and the north east side of the cementary were the water pump is at .I told her of these graves that there stuff were left untouched Leonor said I’ll be there today after lunch she never went out .You know why? That parent whose son is buried ft from mine said Leonor said hers was fine ,As long as no one else started to do it ..When I brought it up at the board meeting I told them to there face & they act and excused her behavior.Than days later while visiting my son ,That mother confronted me.That they had removed her sons things because of my fault Leonor told her that ,That I had went to complain and they were forced to remove her sons belongings .Which the right thing leonor should have said it’s our policy and it has to be fair for everyone.obviosly this parent was upset.I have talked to a board member but they seem to excuse Leonors ratchet behavior They excuse her attitude They are non chalant to people’s feelings at the board meeting they told Mr Martin that’s it’s been rough couple of months like I told them yes it has been try burying your child and get treated like Leonor treated them .To some they might say Get over it!! But when it’s your child and your denied the right to carry them to there final resting place ,as a parent that has lost a child that would be devastating,and a slap in the face for days later they let another family bury there loved one.I do believe Mr Martin should make them accountable for there actions .You might have not been the one saying it,But you known of Leonors behavior. And have remained in silence and that speaks volumes.There is a virus going around and it’s called Leonor Castaneda

  7. We’re are the board members att Xavier Avila,,Steve Presant,& Jim Pennington State your excuse for her actions since at the board meeting They shove everything under the rug .I Talked to one which was Steve or Jim These two Scratch Leonor and she scratches them if you know wat I mean they back EACHOTHER up .Come out I want everyone to here your excuse for your employees behavior

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