A California police officer was charged Wednesday with felony voluntary manslaughter for fatally shooting a Black man inside a Walmart in April, authorities said.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley said San Leandro Police Officer Jason Fletcher’s actions during the April 18 incident constituted an unreasonable use of deadly force, noting there was no “imminent threat of death or great bodily injury” and he did not attempt other methods of de-escalation.
Fletcher was called to the Walmart in San Leandro, southeast of Oakland, on April 18 to confront 33-year-old Steven Taylor, who a security guard had reported for allegedly attempting to shoplift an aluminum baseball bat and a tent.
When Fletcher arrived, he “did not wait for his cover officer and immediately contacted” Taylor, who was still holding the bat, according to a probable cause statement. Fletcher attempted to grab the bat and “pulled out his service pistol at the same time.”
Taylor backed away from the officer, still holding the bat, and Fletcher then tased him from 17 feet away. Fletcher said, “drop the bat man, drop the bat,” and tased Taylor two more times, per the probable cause statement.
At this point, Taylor “clearly experienced the shock of the taser as he was leaning forward over his feet and stumbling forward” and “was struggling to remain standing as he pointed the bat at the ground.”
Fletcher then shot Taylor in the chest just as his backup officer arrived. Taylor dropped the bat, fell to the ground, and was later pronounced dead.
“From the time Officer Fletcher entered the store to the time he shot and killed Mr. Taylor less than 40 seconds elapsed,” the probable cause statement reads.
The incident was captured on body camera footage, which police released to the public days after it happened. (Warning: The video contains graphic images.)
“That’s not worth a life!” one shopper can be heard saying after the shooting.
Shortly after Taylor was killed, Lee Merritt, an attorney representing the family, tweeted that Taylor had been “suffering a mental health crisis when he was approached by police.”
Merritt told the Guardian that Taylor had previously been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar depression.
“Each shot or shock delivered after Steve had been disarmed was excessive & illegal,” Merritt tweeted.
After the charges against Fletcher were announced, San Leandro Police Chief Jeff Tudor said in a statement that he “know[s] the loss of Steven Taylor has deeply affected this community.”
“It is important that we allow the judicial process to take its course,” Tudor said.
An attorney representing Fletcher, Michael Rains, claimed to ABC 7 News that his client shot Taylor out of fear for his life.
“You know the law doesn’t require officers, even in today’s day and age, to have their brains bashed out with a lethal instrument, which a baseball bat is,” Rains said.
Fletcher is expected to be arraigned on Sept. 15.