California Police Officer Charged with Manslaughter After Being Forced to Shoot Criminal Who Had a Weapon
Kim Clark, Law Enforcement Today, September 3, 2020
A California police officer is facing a voluntary manslaughter charge more than four months after shooting an accused shoplifter in a Walmart store.
The Alameda County District Attorney announced Wednesday that she has filed a criminal complaint against Officer Jason Fletcher.
In a statement posted to the department website, District Attorney Nancy O’Malley wrote:
“The decision to file the criminal complaint was made after an intensive investigation and thorough analysis of the evidence and the current law.”
The statement goes on to say:
“When there is use of force by a police officer that results in death, the District Attorney’s Office conducts an independent and thorough investigation of the facts. We are mandated to apply those facts to California law.”
Officer Fletcher’s body camera captured his interaction with 33-year-old Steven Taylor just inside the front doors of the store on April 18.
In a matter of less than 40 seconds video shows the situation escalates to gunfire.
In the same statement announcing the case against Officer Fletcher, the district attorney goes into detail about what happened in the minutes leading up to the shooting.
It says on April 18 around 3 p.m., security guards reported a shoplifter holding a baseball bat.
The shoplifter, Taylor, was reportedly trying to leave the Walmart with an aluminum baseball bat and a tent. Store security asked him to stop and return the products before calling police.
The statement says Officer Fletcher responded. He got to the store as another patrol car was also pulling in to park.
Simultaneously, inside the store, District Attorney O’Malley said two other customers tried to help Taylor. One of them offered him money, which he declined.
He told security he would instead wait for police. He was still standing by the shopping cart area when the video shows Officer Fletcher walk in.
The statement describes what happened next:
“He grabbed the bat with his left hand and attempted to take the bat from Mr. Taylor’s right hand. Officer Fletcher pulled out his service pistol at the same time he tried to take the bat from Mr. Taylor.”
The video shows Taylor back away and Officer Fletcher pull his taser and order him to “drop the bat man, drop the bat.”
The district attorney said Officer Fletcher first tased Taylor and then shot him in the chest just as back-up was walking in.
Her statement said:
“Mr. Taylor clearly experienced the shock of the taser as he was leaning forward over his feet and stumbling forward. Mr. Taylor was struggling to remain standing as he pointed the bat at the ground.
Mr. Taylor posed no threat of imminent deadly force or serious bodily injury to defendant Fletcher or anyone else in the store.
Defendant Fletcher shot Mr. Taylor in the chest just as backup Officer Overton arrived in the store.”
She said the choice to shoot, coupled with a failure to try to de-escalate the situation, made the use of deadly force unreasonable.
Officer Fletcher is scheduled to appear in court on September 15.
Local breaking news reporter David DeBolt tweeted about the announcement:
“BREAKING: Alameda County DA Nancy O’Malley has filed voluntary manslaughter charges against San Leandro Police Officer Jason Fletcher in the killing of Steven Taylor inside WalMart in April.
First officer in Alameda County charged in a killing since Johannes Mehserle.”
It sure seems as if officers are ending up in no-win scenarios now.
Take, for example, what happened in July:
PHILADELPHIA, PA – The Philadelphia District Attorney, Larry Krasner, issued a statement Wednesday morning detailing charges filed by his office against a police officer. These charges were for actions of the officer, captured on video, during a Black Lives Matter protest on Interstate 676 back in early June.
According to ABC 6, Krasner said:
“Richard Paul Nicoletti, 35, ‘assaulted three protesters’ with OC spray, or pepper spray, while they were kneeling on the highway.
“Nicoletti turned himself in to authorities Wednesday morning, sources told Action News.”
The DA stated that Officer Nicoletti has been charged with one count of possession of an instrument of crime, and three counts each of simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and official oppression.
It remains to be determined if a charge of an instrument of crime charge will stick if the officer can prove that he was following orders.
FOP President John McNesby released a statement saying that the FOP “will provide an appropriate defense for Officer Nicoletti as this process moves forward.”
ABC 6 reported:
“Nicoletti was among the state and local authorities who responded to a large group of protesters who had walked onto I-676 and stopped traffic.
At approximately 5:00 p.m., the SWAT unit, including Nicoletti, wearing the full SWAT uniform and gas masks, arrived in the westbound lanes of 676 near the 20th Street overpass, investigators said.”
Video of the incident shows what Krasner detailed. However, no footage has been released showing what led up to the officer’s decision to deploy the spray on the protesters.
District Attorney Larry Krasner wrote in an emailed news release:
“The complaint alleges that Officer Nicoletti broke the laws he was sworn to uphold and that his actions interfered with Philadelphians’ and Americans’ peaceful exercise of their sacred constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.
“The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office will not make excuses for crimes committed by law enforcement that demean the democratic freedoms so many Americans have fought and died to preserve.”
But Nicoletti’s attorney tells another side of that story.
Fortunato Perri said:
“Richard Nicoletti is being charged with crimes for simply following orders. His unit was ordered by commanders to clear the highway with the approved use of tear gas and pepper spray.
“The city’s leadership was given the opportunity to apologize for approving the orders and use of force but Nicoletti finds himself fired and charged with crimes.”
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said that what she saw on the videos was disgusting, and has also apologized publicly for authorizing the use of pepper spray for the purpose of crowd control and disbursement.
During that apology speech, Outlaw said:
“To that end, effective immediately, I’m declaring a categorical moratorium on the use of tear gas for the dispersal or control of crowds, which includes any persons who are peacefully assembling or passively resisting.”
Outlaw also said “the only time officers should consider deploying tear gas” is when confronted with an armed and dangerous individual.
We previously detailed that apology, shown again below.
On June 1st, hundreds of protesters swarmed Interstate 676, a major highway in Philadelphia, causing all traffic to stop.
Video footage at the scene shows cars backed up on an exit ramp, almost to the highway itself, a bridge covered in protesters. The entire area was blocked by people yelling, chanting, and holding up signs.
The State Police and the Philadelphia Police Department responded to the scene, ordered to clear up the roadway.
Upon their arrival, according to initial police reports, officers were met with people throwing rocks at them, along with their yelling and screaming.
Officers were struck in the head with rocks and one marked State Police car was surrounded.
Conflicting reports have been circulating regarding the vehicle: initial reports were that the trooper was stuck in the car, unable to move or get out as protesters began rocking it and spray-painting the windshield. Other reports suggest that the trooper had abandoned his vehicle before the damage occurred.
Deputy Police Commissioner Dennis Wilson had command of the scene that day. In early reports, Wilson stated that he witnessed violent acts being committed by the protesters and he heard officers reporting such on their radios.
In addition, he heard the Trooper call for help as he was stuck in his vehicle in the middle of the crowd.
Based on this information, Wilson authorized the use of a chemical agent and rubber bullets, less lethal implements of force, on the protesters in order to gain control and disperse the crowd.
Protesters immediately began to flee up an embankment and out of the way of the police response. SWAT officers were seen on a news helicopter video walking up the interstate in formation.
Another SWAT officer is shown walking up to protesters, kneeling in the middle of the interstate and spraying them with chemical agents in order to get them to move as they refused.
On June 1st, the Mayor, Jim Kenney, and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, both supported the use of less lethal force on the unruly crowd.
Outlaw released a statement regarding the incident, stating:
“[Protesters had] surrounded a State Trooper, who was alone and seated in his vehicle, and began rocking the vehicle, with the trooper having no safe means of egress.”
Outlaw also stated:
“Members of the crowd began throwing rocks at the officers from the north and south sides, and from the bridges above the officers. The crowd also began rushing toward the officers.”
With this and witness information, the use of less lethal force was authorized.
At least one leader isn’t afraid to let her police be the police.
Or so we thought.
This week on Thursday, Outlaw held a news conference with Mayor Kelley. During the conference, Outlaw and Kenney both apologized for the use of forced used on protesters.
Outlaw stated that she now believes that the use of force was “unjustified” after watching the NY Times news video footage of the scene.
“The second I find out as the leader of this department and organization that there’s contradictory information to what I personally came out and said … it’s important for me to come out and clarify what now I’ve seen.”
To further the apology session, Deputy Police Commissioner Wilson took his turn at the podium to speak on his decisions that day.
“I didn’t call the commissioner. I gave the approval. And it was me and me alone. For violating the rules of engagement and the commissioner’s trust, I’m going to take a voluntary demotion.”
Yeah. He said that.
Wilson’s demotion took effect immediately and he moved down one rank. Outlaw also alluded to the possibility of the SWAT officer seen spraying the protesters being terminated.
While parts of the nation may be in full support of the Commissioner’s actions and apologies, officers and the head of the union question if she made the right call. It is no secret that the rank and file have little respect for the leadership within the agency.
This is something that is not new with Outlaw, who came from being the Chief of Police at the Portland Police Bureau.
During a protest in Portland after a fatal police shooting, protesters blocked the roadways in the city. One person, driving a Lexus, struck one of those who was blocking the roadway. It’s unknown if the strike was intentional or not. After the crash occurred, protesters were seen chasing after the vehicle, striking it with batons, with Portland Police Officers standing by and watching.
The officers did not engage in the incident and the driver left the scene, later filing a police report in which he lists $3,000 worth of damage done to his vehicle.
When Chief Outlaw was questioned about this incident, she stated:
“The complexity of each demonstration/protest is different and requires thoughtful decision-making. We will continue to review the most appropriate course of action and proper balance in our responses for these dynamic events.”
She had also ordered her officers to stand down so as to not “escalate tension” between them and the community.
Both of these incidents pertain to protesters blocking major roadways. Both had very different outcomes.
Based on her wishy-washy actions, it appears that Outlaw is still unsure of herself as a leader. In Portland, she under-acted and her officers essentially stood on the sidelines watching crime literally pass them by.
Then she goes to Philadelphia, and decides she would actually allow her officers to do what they were trained to do and get an unruly crowd under control and open traffic back up. But then after it’s all said and done, for whatever reason, she apologizes for it.
It makes no sense.
Maybe if we complain about it, she’ll apologize.