Officials filed a voluntary manslaughter charge on Wednesday against an officer in the shooting death of a Black man at a Bay Area Walmart.
San Leandro Police Officer Jason Fletcher, 49, was charged for the April 18 killing of Steven Taylor, a 33-year-old Black man, after Fletcher responded to a call about an alleged shoplifter holding a baseball bat, according to a press release from the Alameda County District Attorney.
The district attorney concluded after an “extensive investigation” that the officer, a 20-year veteran, did not wait for backup and instead approached Taylor and tried to take the bat from him before firing his Taser and service weapon. The officer had been in the store for less than 40 seconds before the conflict.
“Officer Fletcher’s actions, coupled with his failure to attempt other de-escalation options rendered his use of deadly force unreasonable,” District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said in a statement.
“Charging a police officer with Voluntary Manslaughter is not a decision that is made lightly, nor rashly. As with any homicide prosecution brought by the District Attorney, the decision demands thoughtful deliberation and careful legal analysis.”
Taylor’s family lawyer said they are encouraged by the decision, according to a statement obtained by The Associated Press.
“Mr. Taylor was suffering a mental health crisis and did not represent a threat to officers or the general public before being Tased and shot to death,” the statement said. “Although this is an important first step in seeking justice, the family is eager to see Fletcher convicted and appropriately sentenced.”
On April 18 at about 3 p.m., a security guard called police saying there was a possible robbery when Taylor allegedly picked up an aluminum baseball bat and tent and tried to leave the store without paying.
Fletcher, who saw another officer arrive in the Walmart parking lot, talked to the security guard for about 10 seconds, in which he was reportedly told the situation was not a robbery.
As the officer attempted to grab the bat and pulled out his pistol, Taylor pulled the bat away before Fletcher pointed a Taser at him, the district attorney said. Fletcher told him to “‘drop the bat man, drop the bat’” before Taylor was Tasered twice, causing him to stumble forward and struggle to stay standing.
The district attorney found that Taylor “posed no threat of imminent deadly force or serious bodily injury to defendant Fletcher or anyone else in the store” when Fletcher shot him in the chest.
Fletcher is set to be arraigned on Sept. 15.
San Leandro Police Chief Jeff Tudor said in a statement on Facebook that it was important to let “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.
The charges come as nationwide protests have called attention to police brutality toward Black Americans after the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky.
Kenosha, Wis., broke out in protests last week after video footage circulated showing police shooting Jacob Blake at least seven times in the back as he opened the door to his SUV where his children were sitting.
–Updated at 10:47 a.m.