(CN) — A San Francisco Bay Area officer was charged with voluntary manslaughter on Wednesday for shooting and killing a man at a Walmart store this past April in what may be the first prosecution of a police officer under a new use-of-force law that took effect in California this year.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced the charges against San Leandro police officer Jason Fletcher in a video statement Wednesday.
Fletcher was responding to a call about a baseball bat-wielding shoplifter inside the San Leandro Walmart store at approximately 3:12 p.m. on April 18. Multiple cellphones captured on video a confrontation in which Fletcher shot the alleged shoplifter Steven Taylor in the chest with his service pistol.
Taylor entered the Walmart at approximately 3 p.m., grabbed an aluminum baseball bat and tent, and tried to leave the store without paying, according to the DA’s Office. A security guard called 911.
Upon arriving at the store, Fletcher confronted Taylor and unsuccessfully tried to pry the bat from his hand. Fletcher then drew his taser and ordered Taylor to drop the bat. When Taylor refused, Fletcher fired the taser at him. Taylor began to lean and stumble forward toward the officer with the bat pointed at the ground.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, Taylor struggled to remain standing as he pointed the bat at the floor, posing no threat to Fletcher or anyone else in the store.
Fletcher shot Taylor one time in the chest with his service pistol. Taylor dropped the bat, stumbled away and fell down. He was later pronounced dead.
O’Malley said statements from witnesses and officers, physical evidence and multiple videos of the shooting show “it was not reasonable to conclude Mr. Steven Taylor posed an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury to either officer Fletcher or to anyone else at the store.”
O’Malley said her office’s critical incident review team that investigates police shootings had to thoroughly analyze the facts and the current law, which changed this year.
Last fall, the state Legislature passed a law that raises the bar for using deadly force from “reasonable” to “necessary.” Assembly Bill 392 calls for officers to only shoot when there is an imminent deadly threat, requires them to consider nonlethal alternatives and narrows the definition of imminent harm to one that “must be instantly confronted.” The law took effect on Jan. 1.
“It is the intent of the Legislature that police officers use deadly force only when necessary in defense of human life,” O’Malley said.
The district attorney acknowledged that police officers’ work is critical to the health, safety and wellbeing of communities in Alameda County. She said police have one of the most demanding jobs in our society, “especially in these current challenging times.”
However, she said Fletcher’s actions coupled with his failure to attempt de-escalation techniques before firing his pistol “rendered his use of deadly force unreasonable.”
“We understand the anger, frustration and grief that this killing has brought to you, and I assure you we will seek justice,” O’Malley said.
Fletcher faces a maximum penalty of 11 years in state prison.
He is scheduled to be arraigned at the East County Hall of Justice in Dublin on Sept. 15.
In a statement Wednesday, San Leandro Police Chief Jeff Tudor said of Fletcher’s prosectuion, “it is important that we allow the judicial process to take its course.”
“As the Police Chief of San Leandro, I know the loss of Steven Taylor has deeply affected this community,” Tudor said.
San Leandro Police Officers Association President Mike Olivera did not immediately return an email requesting comment Wednesday.