By David M. Greenwald
Oakland, CA – A family has filed a federal suit citing 14th Amendment equal protection claims against Oakland Police and the Alameda County Probation Department—which they argue are responsible for a man’s death at the hands of a violent, mentally ill next-door neighbor in 2020.
Miles Armstead was killed in 2020 by a mentally ill neighbor following probation and police department failures and refusals to intervene in a months-long campaign of harassment and terror against Armstead.
Adante Pointer, who is representing the family, told the Vanguard on Tuesday that Armstead had invested in the community, purchasing a home for his family in East Oakland.
“And he was essentially ignored and frankly belittled by all the government agencies,” Pointer explained. “As we got deeper into the case, it’s proof positive that the county essentially abdicated their duty to supervise (the neighbor).”
According to the lawsuit filed this week, the Oakland Police emboldened the man’s threats and violence against Miles Armstead and his family “by dismissing their fears, with responding officers telling Miles — in front of the next door neighbor — that his concerns would never be a priority for them, and they would do nothing to help.”
They allege that this “lackadaisical, hands-off approach to Jamal Thomas, who was on supervised release, only emboldened the family’s tormentor.”
According to them, the probation department did not know where he was staying, lost contact with him, and failed to look for him in the two months leading up to the murder.
“He was in violation of the protective order the very first time they met with him,” Pointer said,
“The County is complicit in the killing of Mr. Armstead,” Pointer said. “Thomas was purportedly on the highest level of supervised release, yet they turned a blind eye to supervising him, granting him the leeway and the confidence to continue menacing the frightened family with impunity.”
The records show in a six-month time, the Armsteads made more than 23 calls to Oakland Police complaining about the conduct of Thomas, which they claim was violent.
The police, however, responded to less than half of those calls despite reports that Thomas “broke into their house, threw stones and bricks through their windows, severely injured Melina Armstead while she was pregnant, threatened to burn down their house, and repeatedly violated the restraining order the Armsteads had against him.”
Pointer told the Vanguard when the police did respond, “they told (Armstead) you’re acting like a (pejorative term), you’re acting like a little girl, essentially a baby. What are you complaining about?
“This sneering lack of seriousness from Oakland Police, and the probation department’s failure to do their job, freed Thomas to escalate his campaign of terror,” Pointer said.
The harassment and assaults grew more dangerous, forcing the Armsteads to board up their newly-purchased home to try to protect themselves from Thomas.
“This guy was bashing in their windows,” Pointer explained. He asked, “I mean how many people buy a house and then board up all the windows?”
At this point, with the police failing to protect the family, they decided to move away and they sold their home in April 2020.
Ironically it was on May 1 that Armstead was shot to death, as he was tidying up the yard for the new homeowners.
“At the time, the Armsteads believed Thomas was still in the county jail for violating the restraining order, but Alameda County probation officers failed to warn the Armsteads that he’d been set free,” the lawsuit alleges.
Armstead, 44, was a wealth manager at Fremont Bank. When he died he had three biological children and a stepdaughter, and his wife, Melina Armstead, was expecting their first child. A devoted father, he coached and refereed for youth soccer, was a mentor and active school volunteer.
Pointer told the Vanguard that the county probation officer and his supervisor “did not take their job seriously.”
He said, “Thomas was supposed to be on the highest level of supervision and they’re supposed to see him face to face at least two times a month.” But also to talk to him once a week, find out where he stays and make sure he is not getting in trouble. “They did none of those things,” Pointer said.
At the same time, he said, “Then you have the city police when, you know, those are the people you usually see more aggressive beating up people, shooting people. Clearly, I have a ton of those cases. And so you see it where they’re over-aggressive in these situations.”
But in this case, “The police are essentially like, Hey, you know, this is Oakland. We got a whole bunch of other more serious things to supposedly do, so we’re not worried about this.”
He said, “This was a fire that was smoldering and ultimately turned into an inferno. The entire time the police department didn’t do anything.”
He said, “Tragic circumstances, but clearly avoidable.
“The murder of Miles Armstead serves as a reminder that law enforcement officers have a duty to protect and serve their communities, and any failure to do so can have tragic and irreversible consequences,” Pointer said.
The lawsuit filed April 3 (Armstead, et al, v. County of Alameda, et al; Case 3:21-cv-05257-LB) is an amended complaint after a judge dismissed a motion for summary judgment filed by attorneys representing the county and the city.
The city sought to dismiss the initial lawsuit filed in 2021 by arguing that it had no duty to protect anyone from third parties. That argument was rejected last March by U.S. District Judge Laurel Beeler, who ruled that the city could be found negligent for escalating the danger Thomas presented to the Armsteads.