Henry K. Lee, 3/5/11
An Oakland police officer who was fired after fatally shooting an unarmed drunken-driving suspect in the back has won his job back through arbitration, his attorney said Friday.
Officer Hector Jimenez was fired two years ago in connection with the July 25, 2008, shooting death of Mack “Jody” Woodfox III, 27, in the city’s Fruitvale district. Woodfox was shot three times in the back, his family said.
The department fired Jimenez after concluding that Woodfox had posed no threat to him.
But arbitrator David Gaba ordered Jimenez reinstated with full back pay and benefits. He said Jimenez had been justified in opening fire because the officer said he had seen Woodfox “jam” his hand into his waistband and run toward another officer, Joel Aylworth.
“For whatever reason, Mr. Woodfox made a decision to run in the general direction of Officer Aylworth,” Gaba wrote. “While this decision is irrational, the decision could have been the product of the cocktail of ecstasy, alcohol and cocaine that Mr. Woodfox had imbibed.”
Gaba added that “sacrificing Officer Jimenez on the altar of public opinion” would not bring Woodfox back.
Jimenez’s attorney, Justin Buffington said, “Even though it was a long road, I’m not at all surprised by the decision. Hector was the victim of political persecution.”
John Burris, an Oakland attorney representing Woodfox’s relatives and the family of another unarmed man Jimenez killed in 2007, said Friday that he was stunned by the arbitrator’s ruling.
“Instead of getting his job back, he should be prosecuted,” Burris said. “It was flat-out murder.”
Officer Holly Joshi, a department spokeswoman, said she could not comment because the department had not been formally notified of the ruling.
Police have said Woodfox was shot after jumping from his car and running from police after a chase that ended at East 17th Street and Fruitvale Avenue.
His family settled a wrongful-death federal civil rights suit against the city and Jimenez for $650,000. The complaint cited the previous fatal shooting involving Jimenez as evidence that the officer had been poorly trained.
On New Year’s Eve 2007, Jimenez and Officer Jessica Borello shot and killed 20-year-old Andrew Moppin-Buckskin at 47th Avenue and International Boulevard after he ran from his car after a traffic stop.
Moppin-Buckskin was not armed, but the officers told investigators that they believed he had been reaching for his waistband. The officers did not violate any policies, the department said.