RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CN) – Riverside County Sheriff’s Sergeant Michael Hamilton told jurors in a wrongful death trial Wednesday that he had no choice but to shoot to kill 18-year-old Matthew Tucker after responding to a 911 call seeking suicide intervention support for him.
Tucker’s mother, Jenny Tucker, called police on May 4, 2016, saying her son was locked in his room with thoughts of killing himself after going through a breakup. She told police Matthew had access to a knife and was seeking “suicide by cop.”
Testifying under oath before U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal, Hamilton said his patrol car computer informed him that Tucker was threatening to kill himself at his family’s home in the city of Temecula in Riverside County.
Hamilton said that after he arrived, he didn’t call for backup or support from officers trained in suicide intervention because his training dictated he stop any immediate threat first.
“A suicidal subject can be a danger to themselves and others,” Hamilton said, adding that Tucker’s access to a knife made him a “deadly threat.”
The family’s attorney, Darryl Exum, asked Hamilton if he understood that depression is type of mental health issue that should dictate considerate actions during a confrontation between deputies and an individual.
After Hamilton said he did, Exum asked why he didn’t then consider using a Taser or other non-lethal weapons, or try to get the knife away from Tucker in order to talk to him.
“We don’t have exaggerated abilities to disarm someone,” Hamilton said. “This isn’t Hollywood.”
The other officer involved in the incident, Rosa Calderon, appeared in court as a defendant in the case but did not testify on Wednesday.
After walking through the home, Hamilton found Tucker in the garage with a knife in his hand.
“His eyes were steely and he was just glaring,” Hamilton said, adding that Tucker held the knife and jumped around like a boxer.
Hamilton said Tucker didn’t respond to commands to drop the knife and was shot after lunging at the officers.
“I had no choice but to shoot him,” said Hamilton, who at the time was assigned to investigate officer misconduct in the department. “I had to kill him or allow him to kill my partner.”
Both officers are represented in the case by Tony Sain and Lynn Carpenter of Manning & Kass.
Tucker’s family and other loved ones could be heard sobbing during Hamilton’s testimony. Some family members, such as Tucker’s aunt traveled from Arizona to testify in the case.
On the day he was killed, Tucker had been going through a break up with his girlfriend, Tiffany Kampf.
Kampf testified Wednesday that she and Tucker had been in a long-distance relationship but were going through problems. She held a blank, teary-eyed expression and stared at the ceiling of the courtroom while Carpenter asked her questions.
Race has not factored into the parties’ arguments, as of yet, despite activists at protests after the shooting calling it motivated by race.
Tucker identified as black, according to Exum, even though the dispatch information sent to deputies that day said he was white.