Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Tag: Steven Taylor

Alameda County’s 51-50 Crisis

Reversing 51-50 Approaches in Alameda County with Jovanka Beckles, Mental Health Advocate

Alameda County’s 51-50 Crisis has exploded! Did you know that more people suffer from mental health crises in Alameda County than anywhere else in California? According to the State Dept. Of Health Services, Alameda County has the highest rate of involuntary psychiatric holds (51-50) in the entire state. And we are FAILING miserably to respond to people in crisis.

Instead of responding with care or concern, we are putting people in custody in conditions of confinement that violate the U.S. Constitution. Alameda County’s 51-50 crisis is real. The U.S. Dept. of Justice (DOJ) is ready to sue Alameda County to force it to improve its mental health care services. DOJ’s four-year study with a preliminary report in 2017 and follow-up in 2019 is a harsh indictment of our County’s mental health system.

A Mental Health Crisis Should Not Be A Death Sentence

Too often, in Alameda County, a mental health crisis becomes a death sentence. The DOJ found that fourteen (14) people killed themselves in Santa Rita County Jail between 2015 and 2019. That is at a rate twice the national average. Jail staff estimate that about 40% of the people in Santa Rita need mental health treatment. Mental health staff are only allowed to treat people for two (2) hours a day. And the time allotted for each person is limited to 10-15 minutes. Plus, these “confidential” conversations take place where they can be overheard by other prisoners and the jail officers.

The DOJ found that Santa Rita regularly releases mentally ill people without a treatment plan or adequate medication. People leaving Santa Rita “often receive little more than a sheet of paper that lists programs in the community.” Not surprisingly, many of them show up at the John George Psychiatric Pavilion or become homeless. Between 2012-2017, 4,200 people released from Santa Rita ended up at John George within 30 days.

Between 2017-2019, the DOJ found almost 1,600 people were admitted to John George four or more times. Eleven percent (11%) of people discharged from the inpatient unit were readmitted within two weeks. DOJ investigators found many people occupying inpatient beds at John George had been cleared for discharge but had nowhere to go. In 2019, 39% of our unhoused community members reported having a mental health issue.

In 2020, Disability Rights Advocates sued Alameda County for the unnecessary segregation of people with mental health disabilities – especially Black people – in psychiatric institutions and failure to provide services to people with disabilities. Their investigation found that 55% of the people Alameda County psychiatrically institutionalized ten (10) or more times since 2018 are Black. Black men are 30% more likely to end up psychiatrically institutionalized when there is an emergency mental health crisis call compared to others.

A Death Sentence for Christian Madrigal

In the summer of 2019, Jose Jaime and Gabriela Covarrubias called 911 to request a 5150 transfer to a psychiatric facility to help their son Christian Madrigal. They called 911 as instructed by a Santa Clara Psychiatric clinic. Christian was only 20 years old and appeared to be having a psychotic break. The Fremont police were supposed to escort Christian back to the clinic. Instead, Christian was put into a WRAP device (a binding that covers the legs and torso) and taken to Santa Rita. There, Christian was chained to a door in his cell and left alone. As the deputies joked about his mental crisis, Christian used the chains provided to him by the deputies to hang himself. 

Christian’s family had to wait almost a year before the Sheriff’s office took any action against the supervisor. Instead of firing the supervisor, the he was able to retire with a full pension. In October 2020, the County agreed to pay Jose and Gabriela $5 million for the death of their son. Alameda District Attorney O’Malley did not investigate Christian’s death or file any charges. Jose and Gabriela just wanted answers. They were left in the dark for so long as to what really happened. O’Malley has not responded to their requests for information. Jose and Gabriela have endorsed me in the race for Alameda County District Attorney.

The Circle of the Crisis

Alameda County’s 51-50 crisis often starts and ends on the street. Even before the involuntary psychiatric hold (51-50) starts, police officers are forced to respond. They are ill-equipped to respond, resulting in the unnecessary use of force with tragic consequences. Across the County, heartbreaking stories of the death of a loved one cry out for change in our criminal justice system.

In July 2013, Hernan Jaramillo was having a mental health crisis and begged Oakland police officers for his life. Video footage was not released by police until 2 years after his death. It shows Mr. Jaramillo pinned to the ground by OPD officers who ignored his cries of “I can’t breathe.” That same cry was heard around the world on May 25, 2020, and the murder of George Floyd under similar circumstances galvanized the fight for racial justice. DA O’Malley’s office reviewed OPD’s investigation and concluded that no officer should be charged with anything.

In August 2018, Jacob Bauer was having a mental health crisis. His parents had contacted the Pleasanton police multiple times before the incident to warn them of Jacob’s mental illness and plead for care and mercy if police encountered him. As many as eight (8) police officers violently restrained Jacob. They tasered him and pinned him to the ground by kneeling on his body while he cried out in pain, saying “I can’t breathe.” Within minutes Jacob lay unconscious as an officer struck him in the legs with his baton and then stomped on Jacob’s chest three times. Paramedics who arrived on scene were at first denied access to the unconscious Jacob by Pleasanton police officers. DA O’Malley cleared all of the officers of any wrongdoing. Jacob Bauer’s parents have also endorsed me in the race for Alameda County District Attorney.

In April 2020, San Leandro police shot and killed Steven Taylor in a Walmart store on a Saturday afternoon. Steven Taylor was allegedly mentally ill, with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He appears to be in a mental health crisis when 2 San Leandro police officers approach him. He refused to put down a bat and pulled away as the officers tased him. They then shot and killed him in front of dozens of shoppers. The video shows that an officer actually tased Steven Taylor as he lay on the floor bleeding to death. Only one officer has been charged by DA O’Malley, her first ever prosecution of a police officer for an in-custody death.

Reversing Approaches to Alameda County’s 51-50 Crisis

In May 2020, I introduced a resolution at the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee to call for an independent investigation into Steven Taylor’s murder. The resolution called upon the California Attorney General to “investigate, manage, prosecute or inquire about any incidents of use of deadly force by law enforcement officers to ensure that the laws of the State are being adequately enforced and in particular, to ensure compliance with AB392 codified as Penal Code Section 835a.” It passed unanimously, but then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra denied the request.

AB392, however, changes the standard for the use of force by police in California. Now, when we talk about “a reasonable police officer” we get to question that force is the first policeman’s first response to every situation. Additionally, AB1506, California’s Deadly Force Accountability Act, now requires the Attorney General to investigate all police shootings that result in the death of an unarmed civilian and issue a public report of the investigation. The law also requires the Attorney General to establish a unit by 2023 that will review police departments’ use of force policies upon request.

As the next Alameda County District Attorney, my job will include holding every police department in the County accountable under the new standards of conduct. I will also work to ensure that every police department, including the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, is committed to care and concern for those suffering from mental illness and/or addiction. I commit to advocate for the expansion of community-based mental health services with the Board of Supervisors and every decision-maker in our criminal justice system. Our County deserves nothing less and nothing else.

To join the conversation for new approaches to solve Alameda County’s 51-50 Crisis, join me and Hon. Jovanka Beckles on Saturday, May 15th from 3-5 pm. RSVP at https://www.pamelaprice4da.com/mental_health.

Death in San Leandro

Steven Taylor, Killed by Police  in San Leandro
Steven Taylor Killed by San Leandro Police, April 18, 2020
Photo Courtesy of S. Lee Merritt

Death in San Leandro

I live in Oakland California about 3 miles from San Leandro California. San Leandro is what some call a “bedroom community” to Oakland. It’s a City where restrictive covenants and land use permits were used to stop Black people from moving from Oakland to San Leandro. Local celebrity Brian Copeland tells the story of how he grew up in San Leandro when it was 94% white. Copeland wrote a play and a book about it.

Most folks in the East Bay know San Leandro’s history. So when San Leandro police shot and killed Steven Taylor in a Walmart store on a Saturday afternoon, it was not a surprise. Steven Taylor was allegedly mentally ill, with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He appears to be in a mental health crisis when 2 San Leandro police officers approach him. He refused to put down a bat and pulled away as the officers tased him. They then shot and killed him in front of dozens of shoppers. The video shows that an officer actually tased Steven Taylor as he lay on the floor bleeding to death.

This is the second recent police killing in San Leandro. On June 11, 2019, San Leandro police shot Anthony Gomez, an unarmed allegedly intoxicated Latino man. An officer shot him from the street as he stood alone on his mother’s front porch. Officers claimed he had a block of wood in his hand that looked like a gun.

Mental Illness Should Not Be A Death Sentence with Police

There is an increasing recognition that mental illness is a reason to spare people not from responsibility for their crimes but from the ultimate sanction of death. Simply put, a mental health crisis should not be a death sentence.

Gwen Woods and her son, Mario Woods
Courtesy: ABC News

Steven Taylor’s murder in San Leandro is so so reminiscent of the murder of Mario Woods by police in San Francisco.

The same month that San Leandro police shot and killed Anthony Gomez, Walnut Creek police shot and killed 23-year-old Miles Hall. Walnut Creek is another almost all-white enclave in Contra Costa County. Hall’s family members reportedly sought mental health assistance from police in the days before he was shot by two officers who came to his home. Miles Hall was Black.

California’s New Law

In California, a new law changed the standard for use of deadly force, effective January 1, 2020. The law is based in part, on the recognition that “individuals with physical, mental health, developmental, or intellectual disabilities are significantly more likely to experience greater levels of physical force during police interactions, as their disability may affect their ability to understand or comply with commands from peace officers. It is estimated that individuals with disabilities are involved in between one-third and one-half of all fatal encounters with law enforcement.”

The new law allows the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer only when the officer reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person. The impetus for the Legislature to pass the law was the murder of 22-year-old Stephon Clark. Clark was an unarmed Black man shot dead in Sacramento after officers mistakenly thought they saw a gun. He was shot 8 times, including 3 times in the back, in his grandmother’s backyard. Assemblywoman Shirley Weber wrote and pushed for AB392 in response to the murder of Stephon Clark.

Steven Taylor’s murder in my Assembly District 18 provides an early test for the new law. Regrettably, the person in my district who will interpret the new law is District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. DA O’Malley has never prosecuted a cop in Alameda County for murder.

Death in Alameda County

Between 2010 and 2015, at least 6 people died at the hands of police in Alameda County: Hernan Jaramillo, Roy Nelson, James Greer, Kayla Moore, Mark Bennett and Martin Harrison.

Hernan Jaramillo was allegedly having a mental health crisis and begged officers for his life. Video footage was not released by police until 2 years after his death. It shows Mr. Jaramillo pinned to the ground by officers who ignored his cries of “I can’t breathe.” (Sound familiar??) DA O’Malley did not even investigate Mr. Jaramillo’s death because she did not have a policy to investigate in-custody deaths that don’t involve shootings.

In March 2017, Fremont police officers shot and killed Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon, a 16-year-old passenger in a botched police attempt to arrest the driver of the car. Ebbie was shot 5 times with AR-15 styled rifles when plainclothes officers fired into the moving vehicle.

While the DA’s investigation was pending, O’Malley accepted a $10,000 donation from the Fremont police union to her re-election campaign. Shortly thereafter, she cleared the shooters – the Fremont police union president and another officer – of any wrongdoing in Ebbie’s death. She ruled that the shooting was “justified.”

2018 Police Killings in Oakland

In January 2018, a BART police officer ran from the West Oakland BART station onto the street and shot Sahleem Tindle in the back. Tindle was unarmed at the time. O’Malley declined to bring any charges. In March 2020, however, a jury found BART liable for wrongful death and awarded Sahleem Tindle’s family $6.34 million dollars.

In March 2018, Oakland police shot and killed Joshua Pawlik. A federal court monitor ruled that the police essentially executed Mr. Pawlik, when they woke him up and shot him as soon as he moved. Again, O’Malley’s investigation exonerated the officers and she released her report a year later in conjunction with OPD. She released her report on the same day that OPD released theirs with the same conclusion – no fault. The fallout from Mr. Pawlik’s murder ultimately led to the firing of former OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick. The settlement of the lawsuit by Mr. Pawlik’s family for $1.4 million is pending.**

The Conflict of Interest

Our experience with DA O’Malley in Alameda County is a clear example of the conflict of interest that district attorneys experience when asked to hold police officers accountable. O’Malley’s investigation of Mr. Gomez’ death is not yet finished almost 9 months after police shot him on his mother’s front porch. Clearly, Mr. Gomez’ death and determining whether police acted justifiably or wrongly is not a priority for DA O’Malley.

Maybe if DA O’Malley had taken the San Leandro police shooting of Anthony Gomez seriously, Steven Taylor would still be alive?

Fortunately, there is a solution. I have introduced a resolution to the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee to support Steven Taylor’s family’s call for an independent investigation into his murder. The resolution calls upon the California Attorney General to “investigate, manage, prosecute or inquire about any incidents of use of deadly force by law enforcement officers to ensure that the laws of the State are being adequately enforced and in particular, to ensure compliance with AB392 codified as Penal Code Section 835a.”

The Oakland East Bay Democratic Club, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, John George Democratic Club and the Coalition for Police Accountability also support the resolution. It is based on Article V, Section 13 of the California Constitution which allows the Attorney General to supervise and supercede the powers of every District Attorney. The resolution was passed unanimously by the Alameda County Central Committee.**

A Test for California Law

Steven Taylor’s murder will be one of the first cases to “test” the enforcement of California’s new law for use of deadly force. If the Attorney General accepts the call, he could create a statewide standard for police accountability when deadly force is used.

The murder of Steven Taylor happened in our Assembly District 18. Therefore, I called upon the leaders of our Assembly District to support the resolution at the Central Committee. Both Assemblymember Rob Bonta and his former District Director and Alameda City Councilmember, Jim Oddie have a vote. Central Committee member and San Leandro City Councilmember Corina Lopez has already pledged her support of the resolution.

I am hopeful that the leaders of our community and Attorney General Xavier Becerra will be found standing on the right side of justice. Hopefully, accountability for police use of deadly force will be established before another person is killed unnecessarily.

** This piece was updated to reflect that the Alameda County Democratic Party unanimously passed the resolution on May 6, 2020 and that a settlement payment of $1.4 million by the City of Oakland to the Pawlik family is pending.

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