Video of a pair of police officers fatally shooting a Black man in the midst of a mani episode inside of a Walmart store in Northern California over the weekend has gone viral as an attorney representing the victim’s family called the killing “criminal.” Police training for the two San Leandro Police officers was also being questioned for the shooting of Steven Demarco Taylor, the 33-year-old victim who was holding a baseball bat and having a manic episode when he was tasered multiple times and shot on Saturday afternoon.
The video footage filmed by a bystander showed that while Taylor, a father of three, was holding the bat, police maintained enough distance where they didn’t seem to be in any imminent danger that required instant lethal force. The video, as well as multiple photos from the shooting that were posted on social media, are extremely graphic.
On the video, Taylor can be seen pacing back and forth while holding a baseball bat in his right hand. When police approach him, he holds the bat high above his head with his right arm extended, but it didn’t appear to be in a threatening manner. When the first officer asks him to drop the bat, Taylor immediately responds negatively and yells a curse word. The cop then tried to take the bat away, prompting Taylor to spin and move away from the officer, whose partner could also be seen approaching. The first officer utters something unintelligible that may have been a threat to Taser him, to which Taylor responds, “You gonna have to!”
The officer then deploys his Taser on Taylor, forcing the young man to reel around in apparent pain but still clutching the bat. Retreating, Taylor then stops and holds the bat in a batter’s stance while onlookers yelled for him to “put it down.” The camera angle becomes obscured before a single gunshot can be heard. Taylor can be heard yelling in agony but still standing before the other officer comes up from behind and Tasers him again. The cops then move closer to Taylor and begin handcuffing his lifeless arms behind his back.
The video from the shooting follows. View it at your own discretion.
That last part was especially what Lee Merritt, the civil rights attorney who has been retained by Taylor’s family, took umbrage at. He released a press release on Sunday saying in part that the two cops used “force without proper justification” and pointed out they were “poorly trained to deal with individuals suffering from a mental health crisis.” Merritt said the video footage “is sufficient evidence for authorities to issue an arrest warrant for the shooting officers. He also called on the San Leandro Police department to identify the officers, who he said pose a “deadly threat” to the public.
Merritt told the Guardian on Monday that even though they were called to the Walmart because of a suspected robbery, their training should have informed them that Taylor was suffering from mental illness.
“Their job, according to standard operating procedures, was to get Mr. Taylor help,” Merritt said. “He had been seriously wounded and was suffering from a mental health crisis. They had to treat him quickly. They did the opposite and exacerbated his injuries.”
San Leandro Police Chief Jeff Tudor released a video on Sunday to “dispel some rumors” he said were on social media.
One apparent rumor that he did not mention was tweeted along with a graphic photo from inside the Walmart where Taylor was shot. While unverified, the tweet claimed that Taylor “was saying he wanted to die before the police even got there.” That would suggest Taylor wanted to commit a so-called “suicide by cop,” a term the National Institutes of Health defines as “a suicidal individual intentionally engages in life-threatening and criminal behavior with a lethal weapon or what appears to be a lethal weapon toward law enforcement officers or civilians to specifically provoke officers to shoot the suicidal individual in self-defense or to protect civilians.”
Whatever the case was, the bottom line should be that police are employed to protect, serve and use lethal force as a last resort. The video appeared to show that no one was protected or served.
While the video footage was indeed damning, Merritt tweeted information about the Alameda County district attorney that suggested she might not be the most impartial party to investigate Taylor’s killing.
The scene in the San Leandro stood in stark contrast to the peaceful arrests of what seems like a countless number of heavily armed white suspects who have also suffered from mental illness, including but not limited to Dylann Roof and Roger Hedgpeth, the latter of whom was armed with a sheathed knife on his left hip when he was taken into custody a block away from the White House after threatening to kill the president in February.
This is America.