By Sydney Kaplan
SAN LEANDRO, CA – San Leandro Police Officer Jason Fletcher is being held for trial after his preliminary hearing Wednesday here in Alameda County Superior Court for voluntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of 33-year-old African American Steven Taylor that occurred just outside a Walmart in April of 2020.
Witnesses called to the stand included a security guard at Walmart, who claims to have witnessed the entire interaction between Fletcher and the victim.
This witness was called by the defense, led by defense attorneys Michael Logan Rains and Julia Fox. The prosecution was led by Deputy District Attorney Matthew Rupert Golde.
Allegedly, tension first rose when the victim, who happened to be holding a baseball bat, displayed signs of shoplifting. A verbal altercation occurred between the victim and a security officer. This verbal altercation alerted other security officers to the scene.
According to the testifying witness, the victim refused to return the merchandise. After the initial altercation with a Walmart employee, another altercation between the victim and an elderly man took place. These altercations combined with the victim’s refusal to return the stolen goods led to the security officers calling the police.
“I told [him] the police were coming and to just calm down because… of all the stuff with Black men and the police,” said the testifying witness, who was also a young African American male, adding, “He [just kept saying] I don’t give a f*ck, they’re going to have to kill me.”
Despite these statements, the testifying witness did not seem to be concerned about the victim’s mental health. “We hear ‘I don’t care, call [the police]’ all the time,” The witness said when questioned by the defense, “I just didn’t think too much about it.”
The victim, who was almost exclusively referred to as “man with a bat” by the defense, had allegedly been swinging the bat in the store and around the elderly man. “They were home-run swings but with golf swing force,” the testifying witness described, although he admitted to never witnessing any of the initial swings.
Officer Jason Fletcher was the first police officer to respond to the scene. The witness said the security team at Walmart was familiar with Officer Fletcher; he would often be the responding officer for shoplifting cases. According to this witness, Fletcher approached the victim and said, “Hey brother, let me talk to you for a second.”
Fletcher entered the Walmart alone and was speaking with the victim. The witness was a few steps back and offset from the two with an “unobstructed view.”
According to the witness, the victim raised the baseball bat “to eye level” when Fletcher walked in. Fletcher allegedly said, “Hey man, calm down, drop the weapon,” and made an unsuccessful attempt to grab the baseball bat with his left hand. It was at this point that Fletcher pulled out his taser.
The victim “seemed to mistake the taser with a gun” and took a few steps backward after seeing it. Fletcher tased the victim and the victim keeled over for a moment. Shortly after being tased, the victim, still holding the baseball bat, began to stand up, said the witness.
“Once [I saw the taser not working] I started brainstorming next steps,” the witness testified, “Walmart has a hands-off policy [and I] was worried… we were going to have to tackle this guy… [and] I would get in trouble.”
The witness, still behind Fletcher and the victim, testified that after the victim began to stand back up, Fletcher pulled out his gun. Upon seeing the gun, the victim was noted saying, “Go ahead. Shoot me… Go ahead.” With his gun already out and aimed, Fletcher reportedly responded with “I don’t want to shoot you. Put the bat down.”
The victim, who was being referred to as the “subject” by the prosecution, had both his hands on the barrel of the bat. He took a step toward Fletcher and was approximately 10 feet away when the San Leandro police officer fired a single deadly shot.
When questioned by the defense, it was uncovered that Fletcher did not explicitly and verbally warn the victim before shooting him. No explicit and verbal warning was issued before the deployment of the taser as well. Reportedly, Fletcher did not attempt any mental health intervention with the victim.
The City of San Leandro found that officers failed to effectively deploy de-escalation tactics and crisis-intervention techniques, and that “had a different approach been taken, the use of deadly force might have been avoided altogether.”
“As Mayor, I feel I can speak for the City Council and many in San Leandro who often reflect on the events of April 18, 2020, and the painful loss of Mr. Steven Taylor. This is not the end of the process. There are still criminal, civil, and administrative actions to take in this matter which limits how much we can elaborate on the content of this report,” Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter said in the statement released with the report.
“I want to make it clear to the residents of San Leandro, that we will learn from this tragic event and make any needed changes to our training, outreach, and culture to ensure something like this never happens again,” she added.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Dickenson set Fletcher’s bail at $200,000, the highest possible bail for manslaughter. Though Fletcher was prepared to post bail, the court “followed procedure” and sent him to jail after the hearing.
Fletcher is scheduled to appear in court again Sept. 28.