SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — The family of a man killed by a menacing neighbor near his East Oakland home says the police, county jail and probation department failed to stop the killer or warn them of his release from jail, despite knowing of his violent threats and harassing behavior.
Miles Armstead, a 44-year-old father of three who was expecting a child with his second wife, was doing yard work at his home on the corner of 76th and Ney Avenues in East Oakland on May 1, 2020, when he was shot and killed by a man who police were told had been terrorizing the family for months.
In a federal lawsuit filed Thursday, Armstead’s wife and two children say Alameda County and the city of Oakland failed to inform them that their neighbor, who had been arrested for violating a restraining order, was about to be released from jail. The neighbor, Jamal Thomas, immediately returned to the home where he was illegally squatting when he spotted Miles Armstead and fired the fatal bullet.
In the months leading up to the murder, the Armsteads say police did little to nothing when they called for help about their neighbor’s increasingly volatile conduct and violent threats.
“Oakland police officers failed to make an arrest, detain and/or curb the behavior,” the family says in their complaint. “Instead, officers complained they were understaffed, overworked and the family’s pleas for help were not high priorities.
When the Armsteads moved into their new home on 76th Avenue in October 2017, they had a cordial relationship with their neighbors for two years, according to the lawsuit. That changed in October 2019 when their former neighbor, Thomas, started squatting at the property next door after being evicted two months earlier.
The family says Thomas had obvious mental health problems that contributed to his “violent, uncontrollable yet persistent outbursts.”
On Thanksgiving Day 2019, Thomas frantically banged on Armsteads’ front door yelling unintelligibly as he tried to break in. He continued to terrorize the family with taunts, verbal threats, door knocking and doorbell ringing day and night and other irritating behavior. When the Armsteads reported these incidents to police, they were told officers were understaffed and that such incidents were not a high priority for the department, according to their complaint.
The Armsteads contacted the owner of the property where Thomas was illegally squatting, but the landlord, Jessie Chambers, refused to secure the property and stop Thomas from illegally occupying it, according to the lawsuit. Chambers is also named as a defendant in the suit.
On Dec. 20, 2019, a suspect believed to be Thomas threw a large rock through the family’s front window, sending glass shards flying and injuring Miles Armstead’s wife, Melina Armstead. Police reportedly told the Armsteads there was nothing they could do because it was a low-priority act of vandalism. Police never questioned Thomas about the incident, according to the complaint.
Eventually the Armsteads went to court and got a restraining order against Thomas, but they say that only served to further enrage their unstable neighbor. Thomas went on to break the family’s windows 14 times.
One day, Miles Armstead saw Thomas talking to his probation officer and asked to speak with the probation officer about his neighbor’s threats and behavior. According to the lawsuit, the probation officer assured Armstead he would address the situation. Armstead reportedly called the probation officer twice to follow up and received no response.
At some point, Thomas was arrested for violating the restraining order. This arrest “foreseeably fanned the flames of his rage,” the Armsteads say in their lawsuit.
The Armsteads had asked to be informed about the status of Thomas’ prosecution and custody as required by the California Victims' Bill of Rights Act of 2008, or Marcy’s Law.
Thomas was released within a day or so of being served a copy of the restraining order in jail. He immediately returned to the Armsteads’ neighborhood, where he shot and killed Miles Armstead.
The Armsteads' claims against the city and county include wrongful death, negligence, state-created danger and violation of Marcy’s Law. They also filed a negligence claim against Jesse Chambers, the landlord of the property where Thomas was illegally squatting.
They are represented by Adante Pointer of Pointer & Buelna in Oakland.
The Oakland City Attorney’s Office and Alameda County Administrator’s Office did not immediately return phone calls requesting comment Thursday.
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