Henry K. Lee
The Oakland police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man as he was running from a car is a rookie who graduated from the police academy last year, an attorney for the slain man’s family said Sunday.
Mack “Jody” Woodfox III, 27, did not pose a threat when Officer Hector Jimenez opened fire at about 3:50 a.m. Friday near East 17th Street and Fruitvale Avenue in Oakland’s Fruitvale District, said Oakland attorney John Burris, who indicated he plans to take legal action against the city, including filing a claim, a precursor to an expected lawsuit.
Police have said the officer fired at Woodfox because he appeared to be reaching for his waistband after he ran from a car after a brief chase. But no gun was found on Woodfox. Burris said Woodfox, the father of two sons, has a minor criminal record.
“There was nothing about his conduct that would justify the use of deadly force,” Burris said at news conference that was attended by some 20 relatives of Woodfox. “Our view is that he should be prosecuted criminally for his conduct.”
Woodfox’s sister, Kennitta Vaughn, 35, said, “Our family is hurting. His friends are hurting. We believe that it was senseless, that it could have been avoided. A life could have been saved. He could have been with his sons today had they not acted in such haste.”
But Harry Stern, an attorney for the Oakland Police Officers Association, said Sunday, “It wasn’t like this guy was just walking down the street and reaching for his waistband to scratch his belly button. This was someone who led police on a pursuit, jumped out of his car, ran toward the officer and suddenly reached into his waistband.”
Jimenez could not be reached for comment.
Burris said he intends to ask Alameda County prosecutors to charge Jimenez with murder. The attorney said he also plans to write to the FBI and the U.S. attorney urging those agencies to open up civil-rights investigations into Jimenez’s actions. Oakland police declined comment Sunday. Officials from the Alameda County district attorney, the FBI and the U.S. attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
On New Year’s Eve 2007, Jimenez and another officer shot and killed Andrew Moppin, 20, whom they believed was reaching for a gun in his waistband, Burris and a source familiar with the case said. No weapon was found.
“This officer appears to be a very panicky-type person,” Burris said. “He lacks good judgment and is not the kind of person that should be a member of the Oakland Police Department.”
Shamika Steele, 28, who was a passenger in the Buick that Woodfox was driving, struggled to control her emotions as she described how her friend had his hands up when he got out of the car. The officer started shooting and Woodfox began running across Fruitvale to escape the gunfire, Steele said. Woodfox was then hit and collapsed in the middle of the street, she said. At the time he was shot, “he was not reaching for anything,” Steele said.