By David M. Greenwald
Martinez, CA – Earlier this week, the Vanguard reported on the conviction of Danville police officer and a Contra Costa sheriff’s deputy, Andrew Hall, in the 2018 shooting death of Laudemer Arboleda. However, the jury hung on the manslaughter charge and only convicted him of assault with a firearm.
Because the shooting occurred in 2018, the case was charged under the old use-of-force standard which made conviction much more difficult.
“While the world has changed, it’s not a totally different world as it relates to the difficulty in holding officers accountable,” Attorney Adante Pointer told the Vanguard in a phone interview this week.
Pointer was a bit skeptical when they couldn’t reach a manslaughter verdict, given that they held the officer “assaulted and essentially attempted to kill Laudemer with his gun… you know a voluntary manslaughter should easily flow from that.”
At the same time, he acknowledged, “We have to understand that the jurors are evaluating this under the old laws and not the new laws that are in California around the officer can only use deadly force if necessary.”
A day after the verdict, it was announced that Contra Costa County had reached a $4.9 million settlement with the family of Arboleda.
“The settlement in and of itself doesn’t make anyone whole—certainly doesn’t make the family whole,” Attorney John Burris said. “The message it should send is that a human life is significant and that if you take it wrongfully, which we believe, then a significant amount of money should be paid.”
While not the verdict her office sought, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton said on Tuesday this marked a measure of justice.
“Today’s guilty verdict holds accountable defendant Andrew Hall for his excessive use of force in the fatal shooting of Laudemer Arboleda,” Becton said in a statement released by her office.
She added, “Deputy Hall’s actions were not only a crime, but they tarnished the badge and they harmed the reputation of all the good, hard working police officers that work for our community. My office extends our condolences to the family of Mr. Arboleda.”
With the hung jury, Becton’s office could retry the former officer. She did not commit to a course of action on Tuesday.
Becton said, “With regards to the voluntary manslaughter count, we will take the matter under review to determine the appropriate next steps.”
Pointer told the Vanguard “the family certainly would love to see him tried for the more serious charge.”
At the same time they are realistic.
“The family also understands that for Contra Costa County, for the Bay Area and for the country as a whole it’s very rare that an officer who shoots and kills someone is convicted of anything.”
He said, “They’re happy that there was some justice.”
Among the speculation is that the DA’s office under Diana Becton had not been inclined to file criminal charges against Hall until he ended up killing another man last spring. Tyler Wilson was a homeless Black man diagnosed with schizophrenia.
That shooting is still being investigated by the Contra Costa DA’s Office.
Pointer was not sure the connection there, noting, “It’s sad that someone else had to lose their life before it was done.”
But he also expressed concern in the power that the sheriff’s office has in Contra Costa County.
In fact, Sheriff David Livingston was outspoken against the verdict.
“Although I wish the jury had returned a not-guilty verdict on all counts, I respect their service. We ask our officers to make split-second decisions and many of the jurors understood that,” said Sheriff Livingston in a statement. “I urge DA Becton not to retry this case. I also urge her to take down the posts on her reelection campaign social media where she touts this prosecution.”
Danville actually contracts with the sheriff’s department for policing service.
A sheriff’s investigation after the 2018 incident cleared Hall of any wrongdoing.
“That’s the reality. The sheriff is still supporting a convicted felon and was willing to put them back on the streets, on patrol even after he shot killed a second person,” Pointer said. “This is what the DA was up against on top of the fact that it’s something that’s unprecedented for that office to do.”
Pointer explained that “it’s an uphill battle not only because it’s difficult to prosecute cops” but also to find a “DA who’s willing to do it and do it well.” But, “also to convince jurors who come in with these notions, you’re up against the way the law is written and on top of that you have to deal with a judge who can easily put their thumb on the scale and tip the way in which the outcome can come out.”
Adante Pointer pointed out as well that the most outrageous part of this is that for a convicted felon, who has been found to have violated the law resulting in two people’s death, “the judge ruled that he was not a threat to the community. (He) was let (go) and allowed to walk out of there, out of the courtroom.”
“I’ve done criminal defense in Martinez… if a person shoots and kills someone and they are convicted of with a deadly weapon and all the enhancements you’re going to jail right there on the spot,” he said.
Instead, Pointer told the Vanguard, Hall will go home and hope that his defense attorneys find a legal loophole or the judge gives him a slap on the wrist or probation.
“This doesn’t happen for anybody other than a police officer… I cannot believe the judge said that he’s not a threat to the community,” he said.