A California police officer was charged on Wednesday with felony manslaughter for fatally shooting a Black man inside a Walmart in April in a swift confrontation that the district attorney said displayed an unreasonable use of deadly force.
District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley of Alameda County said in a statement on Wednesday that charging Officer Jason Fletcher of the San Leandro Police Department “is not a decision that is made lightly, nor rashly.” She faulted the officer for “his failure to attempt other de-escalation options,” which “rendered his use of deadly force unreasonable and a violation” of state law.
According to the district attorney, the encounter on April 18 between Officer Fletcher and the victim, Steven Taylor, 33, unfolded in a matter of seconds. “From the time Officer Fletcher entered the store to the time he shot and killed Mr. Taylor, less than 40 seconds elapsed,” the statement said.
The announcement came days after a Black man was fatally shot by deputies in Los Angeles and a week after an officer in Kenosha, Wis., shot a Black man seven times in the back. Both shootings, like the confrontation inside the Walmart, were captured, or partially captured, on video.
Around 3 p.m., the police in San Leandro, a city south of Oakland, received a call from a security guard at a local Walmart store who reported that a man, Mr. Taylor, was holding an aluminum baseball bat and a tent and was trying to leave the store without paying.
When Officer Fletcher arrived, Mr. Taylor was standing near several shopping carts. Officer Fletcher “did not wait for his cover officer and immediately contacted Mr. Taylor,” according to the district attorney’s office.
After briefly conferring with the security guard, Officer Fletcher confronted Mr. Taylor, the office said. The officer pulled out his gun “at the same time” he tried taking the bat away from Mr. Taylor, according to the office.
“Mr. Taylor pulled the bat from Officer Fletcher’s grasp and stepped away from Officer Fletcher,” the office said. “From a distance of approximately 17 feet, Officer Fletcher drew his Taser with his left hand and pointed it at Mr. Taylor.”
Then, Officer Fletcher yelled at Mr. Taylor to “drop the bat man, drop the bat.” As Mr. Taylor moved toward the officer, he shot him with his Taser, the office said.
At that point, Mr. Taylor “clearly experienced the shock of the Taser” and was “struggling to remain standing as he pointed the bat at the ground.”
Then, for reasons that are unclear, Officer Fletcher shot Mr. Taylor in the chest, according to the office. The shooting occurred “just as” a backup officer arrived at the store, according to the office. Mr. Taylor died at the scene.
Mr. Taylor “posed no threat of imminent deadly force or serious bodily injury to defendant” nor “anyone else in the store,” the statement said.
Chief Jeff Tudor of the San Leandro Police Department said in a statement, “I know the loss of Steven Taylor has deeply affected this community” and “It is important that we allow the judicial process to take its course.”
A request for comment left with his office was not immediately answered.
Ms. O’Malley declined to discuss the case further but she expressed empathy with local residents. “We understand the anger and frustration and grief that this killing has brought to you,” she said in a video statement accompanying the announcement of the charge. “And I assure you that we will seek justice.”
Efforts to locate Officer Fletcher for comment were not successful on Wednesday evening and it was unclear if he had a lawyer.
The charge against Officer Fletcher came days after two Black men were shot in separate episodes that touched off a fresh wave of protests over police misconduct.
On Monday in Los Angeles County, deputies fatally shot a man who they say was reaching for a handgun. The deputies had initially sought to stop the man, Dijon Kizzee, because of a code violation related to his riding of a bicycle, the authorities said.
Last week, police officers in Kenosha, Wis., shot a man seven times in the back after the police were called about a domestic disturbance complaint. The victim, Jacob Blake, is now paralyzed, his family has said. The shooting was captured on video by a bystander and was followed by a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest.