By Jordan Varney
DAVIS — At the Police Accountability Commission (PAC) meeting on Monday Oct. 5, they discussed the shooting timeline for the Davis Police Department’s (DPD) officer-involved shooting of Christopher Gray in December 2019.
The city’s independent police auditor, Michael Gennaco, described the succession of the officers’ shots the night Christopher Gray died.
“Two officers fire, Mr. Gray goes down,” Gennaco explained. “The third officer fires his rounds 4.5 seconds after the last round that the two other officers have fired. By the time that third officer had started to fire, Gray was already on the ground, having fallen from the effects of the first two officer’s rounds.”
To emphasize the time between the first set of shots and the second, Gennaco counted out the first two officer’s shots and then counted the 4.5 second pause before the third officer shot.
“What that third officer said,” Gennaco reported, “is that he believed at the time he fired that Mr. Gray was still up and coming in his direction when in fact all the evidence shows at the time he fired, Gray is on the ground.”
Gennaco finished his explanation, stating, “That’s a discrepancy and the question I would ask you is whether you think that that discrepancy needs to be further explored by Davis Police Department as part of their internal review.”
Commissioner Sean Brooks responded, “Yes, absolutely,” immediately.
Brooks also asked about the delay in shooting, “Is that within the norm? Is this the kind of thing that happens in the moment? Is this like a total aberration?”
Brooks emphasized that “given the broader discussion in our community about the role of policing” it would be helpful to know “the way that this has escalated” from “calls related to a member of our community in mental distress” to “the severity of what happened.” Brooks said he would be in favor of looking at the longer timeline of calls relating to Mr. Gray even if that analysis takes longer.
In response to Brooks’ first question Gennaco called the gap in officers’ shooting “quite extraordinary.” Gennaco’s colleague, Julie Ruhlin, said, “It’s not within the norm… There are some potential explanations for it… but the question is do we know enough about that officer’s frame of mind and his condition when he fired those shots?”
“We have what he believed,” Ruhlin explained, “but he hasn’t been confronted with the video and asked some follow up questions and I think there’s a lot more we need to know about this particular case before you can characterize it.”
Ruhlin said, “It’s striking when you hear it, those 4 seconds. It’s a long time especially when you take into consideration…rounds from the first 2 officers, at least 2 of those shots were likely fatal shots” and that there are “a lot of unanswered questions about that time gap.”
Ruhlin agreed with Brooks that there was “a lot for the PAC to learn” and that the case presented the question of understanding “police activity and mental health services and the interactions between all those.” She also added there was “a lot for DPD to learn in terms of the shooting…what were some of the alternatives, what were some ways that tactically officers might have handled things differently.”
Gennaco thought it was important to know “why [the third officer’s] observations are so inconsistent with what the video shows and why it is that he felt he needed to shoot so much later” and that it “can’t be answered unless he’s asked those questions in an administrative interview.”
The Yolo County District Attorney’s office did a criminal investigation but Gennaco earlier explained that the DA’s office was only going to determine “whether or not a crime has been committed” so they had “relatively limited responsibility.”
Christopher Gray was not unknown to the DPD and had had repeated interactions with the police.
Ruhlin earlier in the meeting said that the officers involved in the shooting were aware that he was “somebody who suffered from mental illness and that this had been a repeated type of contact,” but “it’s not clear that those responding officers knew that as recently as just eight hours prior,” there had been officers at the house so there were “differing degrees of specificity about what they knew.”
Commissioner Mary Bliss in responding to this asked about the call that came in to DPD about Christopher Gray the evening before the shooting.
“By what Julie’s saying you’re sounding like they were different sets of officers,” Bliss said, “they decided he didn’t need a 5150 [involuntary psychiatric hold].”
Bliss said she wanted to know “what were the criteria they looked at and how did they make that decision” because “that alone could have prevented a whole lot four or five hours later.”
Commissioner Don Sherman asked, “What role could less than lethal force have played here?” and “What role do the traditional police play as opposed to social services or less than lethal force?”
Gennaco clarified that the third officer used the taser, which “may partially explain his slow transition, not entirely.” The taser that was deployed “didn’t have any apparent effect.” Gennaco said this was “part of the analysis that one would hope the agency would engage in.”
Regarding the discussion about policing and mental health, Gennaco said that they should recognize “there are few tools that police have in dealing with the mentally ill” and brought up “whether they should be the first responders at all.”
In regards to DPD’s investigation, Commissioner Dillan Horton stated, “It was my understanding when this process originally started that there was, no matter what, going to be a criminal investigation by the DA’s office and a policies and practices investigation by the department.”
Gennaco said yes but that the details were a little uncertain. Gennaco said he would let the department know that the PAC wanted a “full throated review.”
Commissioner Judith MacBrine summed up what the PAC would like to find out from a DPD investigation, “Toxicology, … looking at the history from both alternatives and how 911 was engaged, the four second delay in shooting, the decisions in general to engage or not engage and how that would impact alternatives, any issues with regard to suicidal thoughts on the part of Mr. Gray, and then the beliefs that are behind the procedures or the policies that people are engaging in at DPD with regard to mental health (chronic and danger mental health, which is very rare).”
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