From: The Mercury News
By: Nate Gartrell
OAKLAND — A former San Leandro police officer will stand trial on manslaughter charges in the killing of a 33-year-old man inside a Walmart, although the Alameda County judge who issued the decision expressed doubt a jury would return a guilty verdict.
Former Officer Jason Fletcher was charged last year in the April 2020 killing of 33-year-old Steven Taylor, whom Fletcher shot as Taylor grasped a bat a few steps away from the police officer inside a San Leandro Walmart.
Alameda County prosecutors charged Fletcher, arguing that the officer did not attempt to de-escalate the confrontation before fatally shooting Taylor once in the chest after using a Taser on him multiple times.
Calling the case a “battle of the experts” — an apparent allusion to the two-day preliminary hearing consisting of expert witness testimony from both sides — Superior Court Judge Don C. Clay said Wednesday that while he found the prosecution’s evidence sufficient for the case to proceed, he doubted a jury would convict Fletcher in a trial.
“If this is just it right now in front of a jury, there’s no way in the world,” Clay said in court. He added that he could not “under any circumstances” see “12 people saying the evidence here is sufficient to support a guilty verdict” — or an acquittal, either.
“I just don’t see it. Twelve people aren’t going to agree to that.”
Fletcher was charged months after the controversial shooting, becoming the first officer in Alameda County to be charged in a fatal police shooting since BART Officer Johannes Mehserle was charged with murdering Oscar Grant more than a decade ago at the Fruitvale BART station. Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and acquitted of the murder charge.
An independent report released in June 2020 found not only that Fletcher should have called for backup and used de-escalation rather than use a Taser on Taylor three times and shoot him once, but that a colleague should not have used his stun gun either.
“The mistaken belief here is that at the moment lethal force was used, it was reasonable. Based upon the evidence, it was not,” Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Timothy Wagstaffe argued in court this week.
Body camera footage of the confrontation showed Fletcher shot Taylor as he slowly approached two officers, gripping an aluminum baseball bat in his hands. Police were called to the Walmart at 15555 Hesperian Blvd. in San Leandro because Taylor appeared to be shoplifting and grabbed the bat when staff confronted him, said Michael Malone, a security guard who was called as a defense witness Wednesday.
Malone said that after he warned Taylor that police were on their way, Taylor repeated, “‘I don’t give a f—‘” and started taking “practice swings” with the bat.
“I told him the situation, you know, how things are going with Black men and police,” said Malone, who is Black, adding that he told Taylor, “They’re about to kill you.” Taylor’s response, according to Malone, was, ‘I don’t care, I’ll wait for police to get here.”
Fletcher’s attorney, Michael Rains, argued that his client had “less than a minute” to decide whether to use lethal force. He also claimed that the District Attorney’s office did not bother checking with San Leandro police investigators before filing charges against Fletcher, under a change in state law that says police shootings must be necessary,
“I say to this court, I don’t think, even in light of the new use-of-force law, we are in the stage where police officers have to wait to get hit over the head with a baseball bat, and to use Officer Fletcher’s words, to have his brains bashed in, before that officer takes appropriate action,” Rains said.
Fletcher’s trial date has not been set.