SAN LEANDRO (CBS SF) — A San Leandro police officer charged with voluntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a man wielding a baseball bat inside a Walmart store in April was taken into custody following a court hearing Tuesday.
Officer Jason Fletcher, 49, is accused in the death of Steven Taylor, 33, on April 18 at the Walmart store on 15555 Hesperian Blvd. in San Leandro. Following Tuesday morning’s hearing at the East County Hall of Justice in Dublin, the judge ordered Fletcher’s bail to be set at $200,000.
Fletcher’s attorney requested that Fletcher be allowed to post bail immediately, but Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Dickinson denied the request. Deputies immediately placed him in handcuffs and took him to jail. A bail hearing was scheduled for next month.
“It’s justice. Lock him up,” said Steven Taylor’s brother Michael outside court Tuesday. “I feel a lot of emotions. Mostly sickness and anger. It’s more of the same … Because nothing’s changing. It’s just the same thing over and over again.”
The case is one of the first cases filed under a new, more restrictive California law that narrows the scope of the lawful use of legal force by an officer. Fletcher will be one of the first officers to face it in court.
“The issue was going to be, did he attempt to de-escalate the situation before using lethal force, and the answer is most assuredly he did,” said Fletcher’s attorney Michael Rains outside court Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley filed manslaughter charges against Fletcher, who shot Taylor within 40 seconds of arriving at the Walmart store after Taylor refused his commands to drop the aluminum bat and his Taser gun proved ineffective.
Fletcher is the first Bay Area law enforcement officer to face charges for killing a civilian while on duty since BART Officer Johannes Mehserle was charged with killing Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day in 2009.
“A thorough review of the statements of witnesses and involved police officers, physical evidence and the review of multiple videos of the shooting shows that at the time of the shooting it was not reasonable to conclude Mr. Taylor posed an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury to Officer Fletcher or to anyone else in the store,” said O’Malley in a prepared statement.
“I believe Officer Fletcher’s actions, coupled with his failure to attempt other de-escalation options rendered his use of deadly force unreasonable and a violation of Penal Code Section 192(a), Voluntary Manslaughter.”
On Monday, the San Leandro Police Officers’ Association offered condolences to Taylor’s family but said the charges against Fletcher were politically motivated.
“While the District Attorney has mischaracterized the shooting as a ‘failure to attempt de-escalation options,’ we are confident that the evidence will establish that this incident was an unfortunate example of de-escalation techniques simply proving to be ineffective,” said the POA in a prepared statement. “While we wish that every call for service could end peacefully, in our mission to safeguard the community, officers are sometimes left with no option but to make a split-second decision to use deadly force to defend themselves and the public.”
Taylor’s family had demanded charges be filed against the officers involved, saying they were not trained to deal with someone having a mental health crisis.
“The way our police should be reformed is to help people with mental illnesses; that when you call an officer on a Black person, it’s not going to end well,” said Taylor’s mother, Sharon Taylor, in June.
“For the families that we work with, that’s the number one thing they want and they never get in terms of justice is for the officers that killed their loved ones to be charged and ultimately convicted,” said Cat Brooks with the Anti-Police Terror Project.
Brooks hopes these charges send a message to law enforcement to use every de-escalation option possible, before taking a life.
“I do think it would be an incentive for them to not pull the trigger so fast. Even though our humanity should be that incentive, clearly it has not been,” said Brooks.