From: Contra Costa Times
A coroner’s jury decided today that a 35-year-old man died in May by accident when a police officer aimed his gun and shot him from 5 to 10 feet away.
The jury heard testimony at a coroner’s inquest about the shooting of San Pablo resident Melvin Hardnett on May 29 in Richmond. Witnesses included the officer who shot Hardnett and a forensic pathologist who said Hardnett was under the influence of cocaine.
Hardnett had led Richmond police Officers Mark Galios and Frank Perino on a car chase about 5 p.m. through the streets of San Pablo and Richmond, reaching speeds up to 60 mph, Galios testified.
Hardnett stopped the car at Fifth and Maine Streets in Richmond, where he and a passenger got out and started running in opposite directions, Galios said. The officers followed Hardnett, chasing him through nearby backyards.
Perino caught up with Hardnett on the 200 block of South Fourth Street and began wrestling with him. Pinning Hardnett down to the ground, but weary from the fight, Perino testified that he asked a man passing by to help.
The man laughed and refused, Perino said, pausing during his testimony to collect his emotions.
“I just held on,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to die at that point.”
Galios then caught up and tried to handcuff Hardnett, without success, Perino said. Hardnett appeared to grow stronger, rather than more tired.
Meanwhile, a crowd of 50 to 75 people had formed, some rooting for Hardnett.
Hardnett and Galios both struggled for Galios’s pistol, Perino testified. Galios told his partner to shoot if Hardnett got the gun.
As Galios and Hardnett continued to struggled, Perino testified that he, without yelling a warning, he fired a single bullet from 5 to 10 feet away into Hardnett’s chest.
“I didn’t want him to kill Mark,” Perino testified, wiping his eyes. “No one was there to help. … If he had gotten that gun, you would have found two cops lying there.”
Forensic pathologist Brian Peterson testified that Hardnett had enough cocaine in his body to have caused an overdose.
The officers’ attorney, Harry Stern, said after the hearing that the jury’s decision did not surprise him because the officers depicted the dangerous situation they faced.
“There’s a real reluctance on the part of these juries to hold these officers any way responsible for the death,” Stern said. “It was very, very clear that (the officer) acted with intention and purpose. There was no way in the world it was actually an accident.”
Inquest juries convene after deaths involving law enforcement. The juries can decide whether the victim died of natural causes, suicide or at the hands of another not by accident. The decision does not determine guilt.
Ben Nisenbaum, the attorney representing Hardnett’s family, said he plans to file a claim against the city in the next two weeks.
He said the officer’s gun was not processed for fingerprints to determine whether Hardnett touched it.