Henry K. Lee
An Oakland police officer who shot and killed an unarmed drunken-driving suspect last week was cleared of wrongdoing in a similar fatal shooting last New Year’s Eve, authorities said Monday.
Officer Hector Jimenez, who graduated from the police academy in February 2007, fired numerous shots at 27-year-old Mack “Jody” Woodfox III early Friday, hitting him in the back, said Oakland homicide Lt. Ersie Joyner.
Jimenez believed Woodfox had been reaching into his waistband for a gun after Woodfox jumped from his car and ran after a chase that ended at East 17th Street and Fruitvale Avenue in the Fruitvale district.
Woodfox was not armed, however, and his relatives say they intend to sue police. John Burris, the family’s attorney, said he also plans to ask Alameda County prosecutors, the FBI and the U.S. attorney to prosecute Jimenez on criminal charges, including murder and civil-rights violations.
The incident is under investigation by the Police Department and the district attorney.
Joyner said Monday that investigators do not know yet whether the shooting followed department guidelines. The fact that Woodfox was shot in the back doesn’t necessarily mean Jiminez was not justified in seeing him as a threat, Joyner said.
Jimenez was one of two officers who shot and killed Andrew Moppin, 20, at 47th Avenue and International Boulevard on New Year’s Eve. Moppin was also not armed, but Jimenez and the other officer, who wasn’t identified, believed he had been reaching for his waistband, authorities said.
In that case, a department investigation determined that Jimenez “acted within our policy,” Assistant Chief Howard Jordan said. After a separate review, Alameda County prosecutors “did not find any criminal negligence in Officer Jimenez’s actions,” he said.
Joyner offered his condolences to Woodfox’s family. “We know this is an emotional type of event that has transpired,” he said.
Burris said Monday, “It’s important that the police acknowledge the pain and suffering of the family and also acknowledge that the family is within its right to want to make sure that there’s some accountability for this.”
Woodfox, father of two sons, had convictions for drugs, assault and auto theft, court records show. He was arrested in a 2004 attempted-murder case in San Francisco, but prosecutors did not file charges. Woodfox filed a federal civil-rights suit alleging that a San Francisco sheriff’s deputy had assaulted him, records show.
Oakland police have shot five people to death this year, the same number as all of last year, Another two suspects have been wounded in police shootings this year, compared with seven in all of 2007, said Sgt. Roland Holmgren, a department spokesman.
Of the five fatal shootings last year, one involved Sgt. Pat Gonzales, a 10-year veteran who shot and killed Gary King Jr., 20. Gonzales also shot and killed a suspect in 2002 and wounded another in 2006. Oakland police and prosecutors cleared Gonzales of any wrongdoing in the first two shootings and are still investigating last year’s fatal incident. King’s family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court.
The number of times officers fire their weapons is relatively small when compared with the number of contacts they have with suspects and the number of guns they seize, Jordan said.
Still, Woodfox’s attorneys say Jimenez has been involved in far too many shootings for his short time on the force. Burris questioned whether the department is improperly hiring too many inexperienced, young officers without proper review.
Jordan denied that Monday, saying, “We have not made any sacrifices in our recruiting efforts.” The department treats all officer-involved shootings seriously, he said, adding, “It’s not the Wild Wild West in Oakland.”
Jordan acknowledged that about half of the department’s 300 patrol officers have less than three years on the force.
The issue of young officers also arose in 2001, when two rookies shot and killed an undercover narcotics officer they didn’t recognize.
Harry Stern, an attorney with the Oakland Police Officers Association, said officers who fire their weapons are often the ones who are the most aggressive, “dealing with the most dangerous people in the most dangerous city.”