New questions after videos show police shoot fleeing …

New questions after videos show police shoot fleeing …

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Newly released videos show two Northern California police officers shooting and killing fleeing suspects, raising questions about whether the officers should be criminally charged and whether years of scrutiny and reforms have improved how police use deadly force.

In one case, a Danville officer stepped into the path of an unarmed driver who was trying to elude a chase and fired a volley of shots through the windshield at close range.

In the other, an officer in the Stanislaus County city of Ceres fired more than a dozen shots at a 15-year-old armed suspect running away through an almond orchard. As in the Danville case, the Ceres officer gave no commands before opening fire.

Both killings occurred last year — the Ceres shooting on Aug. 18, the Danville shooting on Nov. 3 — but police officials released body-camera videos this week, sparking outrage and underscoring the power of such footage.

A decade ago, before a national movement against police brutality, most police shootings were not captured on video. Now, nearly all of them are.

Officials with the district attorney’s offices in Contra Costa and Stanislaus counties said they would not comment on potential charges in the cases because they remain under investigation. But it appears that in both cases the officers’ departments ruled the shootings justified.

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In the Ceres case, Officer Ross Bays — who had killed another person less than a year earlier and has since retired — jumped out of his patrol car after a high-speed chase and fired about 14 shots at Carmen Spencer Mendez as the boy ran through the orchard.

Danville police officer Andrew Hall shoots, kills Laudemer Arboleda on November 3, 2018, in Danville.

Only after emptying his gun, and fatally striking Mendez in the back and arm, did he yell, “Get on the ground.”

Mendez had dropped and then picked up a handgun after jumping out of the car Bays was chasing, officials said. An attorney for the city, Bruce Paet, said Bays was “worried about a possible ambush.” Ceres paid $2.1 million to the teen’s family.

In Contra Costa County, Sheriff David Livingston has defended Danville Officer Andrew Hall, a five-year member of the force who shot 33-year-old Newark resident Laudemer Arboleda, saying the man had been “trying to run down and murder a police officer.” Danville contracts with the sheriff for police services.

But the video released this week appears to contradict Livingston, showing that Hall — who has since returned to active duty — stepped out from behind his vehicle into Arboleda’s path. The officer fired rapidly with his semiautomatic pistol, and he appeared to continue to fire even as the car rolled past him.

Until this week, Arboleda’s family and the public had little evidence to dispute the sheriff’s claim. The precise circumstances of the killing were unclear, with only a single distant dash camera video played at a county coroner’s inquest.

At that hearing, a jury determined Arboleda died “at the hands of another, not by accident.”

In releasing videos from multiple angles, Jimmy Lee, a sheriff’s spokesman, echoed Livingston by saying the shooting took place “as the result of a suspect trying to run down an officer.”

Adante Pointer, an attorney representing Arboleda’s family in a lawsuit against the police, said Hall should be criminally prosecuted. He called the shooting a “flat-out criminal homicide.”

The fact that the department is defending the shooting, he said, is even more troubling.

“This is the gamesmanship that law enforcement plays too often to try to excuse bad conduct,” Pointer said. “They mislead the public to think a situation is more dangerous or life-threatening than it ever was. The truth is you have poor policing and officers who overreact.”

The pursuit began when police responded to reports of a man acting suspiciously, and possibly ringing doorbells, in a residential neighborhood.

One body-camera view showed an officer chasing Arboleda’s silver Honda, which became blocked by Hall’s patrol cruiser at Front Street and Diablo Road. Arboleda steered left around Hall’s vehicle and moved through a gap between that vehicle and a third police vehicle, an SUV that had pulled up.

Hall jumped out of his car, ran behind it and fired. “Oh, s—, he shot him,” one officer said, according to the footage.

Arboleda’s car rolled into a nearby barrier. He was later pronounced dead. Hall was unharmed.

“The video showed this was a low-speed pursuit and they simply wanted to talk to the young man because he rang some doorbells,” Pointer said. “He was met with a death sentence.”

Unlike some law enforcement agencies, like San Francisco’s police force, the Sheriff’s Office does not have a policy explicitly banning officers from shooting into moving vehicles. Contra Costa County deputies can shoot into vehicles, but only when necessary.

“He put himself in a position that exposed himself to danger and then extricated himself from any danger and fired his weapon as he backed away,” said Tom Nolan, a use-of-force expert who worked for Boston’s police force for 27 years and is a sociology professor at Emmanuel College in Boston.

Nolan said it’s questionable whether police should have pursued Arboleda, because there was no apparent “probable cause or reasonable suspicion that he was involved in any criminal conduct.”

“The question I’d be asking is: Was that necessary? You killed this guy and what crime was involved?” Nolan said.

The Danville shooting and the Ceres police shooting both happened after police pursuits, which can spike officers’ adrenaline, Nolan said.

“But if you are experienced and competent, you tamp that down,” he said.

John Crew, a retired lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and a police policy expert, said the Danville shooting appeared to illustrate why departments around the country are increasingly banning shooting into vehicles.

“This is a situation where some of the officer’s shots hit the driver, and the vehicle kept going in the direction it was already going,” he said. “The driver being shot didn’t cause him to put his foot on the brake. The justification for the shooting is illogical and it never works.”

Recent police transparency laws have compelled law enforcement agencies like the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office and the Ceres police force to release body-camera footage.

Crew said there needs to be “far more transparency” around use-of-force incidents by police.

“One of the reasons that this stuff is still going on is because of the lack of sunshine,” he said. “And the sun is just coming out and it is revealing some things that are pretty darn ugly and ought to be intolerable.”

Evan Sernoffsky and Matthias Gafni are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: esernoffsky@sfchronicle.com, mgafni@sfchornicle.com Twitter: @evansernoffsky @mgafni

Published at Fri, 06 Dec 2019 23:01:00 +0000

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