Alameda County DA O’Malley Charges Officer in Murder of Steven Taylor

By Lauren Smith

District Attorney Nancy O’Malley announced that, after an “intensive [independent] investigation and thorough analysis of the evidence” and due to a failure to attempt de-escalation options, her office has filed a criminal complaint against Officer Jason Fletcher for voluntary manslaughter based on his actions resulting in the death of Steven Taylor.

“The work of Police Officers is critical to the health, safety and well-being of our communities. Their job is one of the most demanding in our society, especially in these current challenging times. They are sworn to uphold and enforce the laws,” DA O’Malley said in a statement on Wednesday.

She added, “When there is use of force by a police officer that results in death, the District Attorney’s Office conducts an independent and thorough investigation of the facts. We are mandated to apply those facts to California law. The decision must be made based solely on the facts and the current law. Justice demands this process to be done in an unbiased and legally sound manner.”

O’Malley and her office have been criticized for not filing criminal charges in several high profile officer-involved killings in the last few years.

However, under new state law, which took effect January 1, pursuant to Penal Code section 835a(a), the California Legislature declared that the authority to use physical force conferred on peace officers is a serious responsibility that shall be exercised judiciously and with respect for human rights and dignity and for the sanctity of every human life.

It further set forth that, in changing the law, the intent is that peace officers use deadly force only when necessary in defense of human life. The legislature declared officers shall use other available resources and techniques if reasonably safe and feasible to an objectively reasonable officer.

On April 18, 2020, Officer Jason Fletcher responded to a report of a shoplifter holding a baseball bat in a Walmart.

That day, Steven Taylor attempted to leave a Walmart with a tent and aluminum baseball bat without paying, but was stopped by store security and asked to return the items. When he refused, the security guard called 911 reporting the theft. Two police officers were dispatched to investigate.

Arriving first on the scene, Officer Fletcher did not wait for backup Officer Overton before entering the Walmart and confronting Mr. Taylor.

After being briefed for 10 seconds about the situation by the security guard, he immediately made contact with Mr. Taylor by the car area. Officer Fletcher grabbed the bat with his left hand, while simultaneously drawing his service pistol. In his attempt to take the bat from Mr. Taylor, a struggle ensued. Successfully pulling the bat way from Officer Fletcher, Mr. Taylor stepped back from Officer Fletcher.

From about 17 feet away, Officer Fletcher tasered Mr. Taylor before telling him to “drop the bat man, drop the bat.” Advancing on Mr. Taylor, Officer Fletcher again shot him with the taser.

In obvious discomfort and pain, Mr. Taylor leaned forward over his feet and stumbled. As he struggled to remain standing, the bat was pointing toward the ground, and Mr. Taylor posed no imminent danger or threat to Officer Fletcher or anyone else in the store, according to the DA’s account.

Just as backup Officer Overton arrived inside the Walmart, Officer Fletcher shot Mr. Taylor in the chest.

Mr. Taylor dropped the bat, fell to the ground, and was later pronounced dead.

Between the time Officer Fletcher entered the Walmart to the time he shot and killed Steven Taylor, less than 40 seconds had passed.

O’Malley stated, “I believe Officer Fletcher’s actions, coupled with his failure to attempt other de-escalation options, rendered his use of deadly force unreasonable and a violation of Penal Code section 192(a), Voluntary Manslaughter.”

Alameda DA O’Malley now joins other prosecutors across the nation in charging officers with the murder of unarmed black men, including three Mississippi officers—Desmond Barney, Lincoln Lampley and Anthony Fox—who are charged with second degree murder in the death of 62-year-old George Robinson.

Defendant Jason Fletcher with be arraigned on September 15, 2020, in Department 702 of the East County Hall of Justice.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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  1. David Greenwald

    Those of you who were arguing the Sac shooting was justified, here’s now the DA in Alameda making a similar finding: “I believe Officer Fletcher’s actions, coupled with his failure to attempt other de-escalation options rendered his use of deadly force unreasonable and a violation of Penal Code Section 192(a), Voluntary Manslaughter.”

      1. David Greenwald

        IN the other case the guy was shot, bleeding out, passed out, and the gun was out of reach. THey had four minutes on the video to clear the gun further if that was an issue. Why did they shoot him?

        1. Ron Oertel

          More “trial via blog”.

          Not my idea of how the justice system should work.

          Maybe it is about time for all such cases to actually go before juries, rather than assist in pressure for settlements, etc. (Not specific to any particular case.)

          Similar to how you suggest that cities should fight CEQA lawsuits.

          Maybe juries will be smart enough to actually apply the law in each case, rather than get caught-up in political b.s.

        2. Keith Olsen

          I watched the video, the cops continually told the guy to stay down, but he didn’t and he wasn’t passed out when it looked like he made another move.  You pull a gun on the cops then it’s all on you from that point on.

          1. David Greenwald

            He made a small movement, he was basically not conscious at that point and bleeding out. They made a huge mistake not clearing the gun out of there.

        3. Keith Olsen

          They made a huge mistake not clearing the gun out of there.

          And how were they to do that?  Run up and hope the guy didn’t get it before they got there?  There was also a woman near the guy that could’ve been in danger if the guy was able to get to the gun.

  2. PhilColeman

    Well, only because I was specifically asked, I’ll respond in a professional capacity to the particulars of this case.

    There is no question that had this case been reviewed by a California district attorney prior to the recent governing statute the officer using deadly force would not have been criminally charged. The recent wave of photographically documented questionable shootings surely had an influence as well. We can anticipate that more shooting like this in California, should they happen, will result in identical filings and rationale accompanying them. We can expect further that such instances will decline in frequency.

    The appropriate tactical police action in situations like this is to delay, when possible, direct confrontation until the arrival of reinforcements. Sometimes, this can’t be done as the safety of innocent bystanders is a greater issue. Expect the accused officer to raise that as a defense, I doubt is will prevail.

    The “Escalation of Force” protocol preached continually in most law enforcement agencies in California was violated here judging from all available evidence pre-trial. Until the suspect actually demonstrates his willingness to assault someone else, you can’t legally use deadly force. You can’t assume the suspect may or will start swinging that bat at others as justification to shoot at the suspect as a “pre-emptive strike.”

    Should the suspect start swinging that bat, and responding officers and innocent bystanders have the ability to retreat from the potential arc of the swing, the justification for deadly force does not yet exist. Yes, the antiquated Penal Code language does say the officer “need not retreat,” but the implicit “sanctity of life” is to be considered as well. The cited recently enacted statute would profit from additional clarification that says the above in a more direct and forceful manner.

    There is no professional shame or intimation of cowardness for law enforcement officers to temporarily delay or withdraw if it prevents or delays the necessity of shooting someone. Indeed, such judgment is laudable and should be praised administratively afterward.

    The only caveat to be noted here is the delay and withdrawal cannot increase the peril of others in the immediate area.



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