Nancy O’Malley finally charges a police officer for manslaughter

San Leandro Police fatally shot 33-year-old Steven Taylor on April 18.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley charged a San Leandro police officer who fatally shot Steven Taylor, a Black man inside a Walmart last April, with voluntary manslaughter. It is the first time O’Malley’s office has filed such charges against a police officer in Alameda County since becoming district attorney in 2010.

San Leandro police officer Jason Fletcher was charged on Wednesday with voluntary manslaughter based on a new state law that raises the bar for when police can use deadly force, O’Malley announced.

On April 18, Fletcher responded to call from the Walmart at 15555 Hesperian Boulevard describing a Black man attempting to leave the store with a baseball bat and a tent without paying. Fletcher entered the store and almost immediately interacted with Taylor.

At one point, Fletcher was close enough to make an attempt at grabbing the bat from Taylor’s hands. Moments later, Taylor was tased before Fletcher discharged his weapon as customers shopping on a busy Saturday afternoon watched in horror.

It was not reasonable to conclude Mr. Taylor posed an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury to Officer Fletcher or to anyone else in the store.

-Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley on Wednesday announcing felony manslaughter charges against San Leandro police officer Jason Fletcher.

“Mr. Taylor was struggling to remain standing as he pointed the bat at the ground,” O’Malley said, after Taylor was tased. “Mr. Taylor posed no threat of imminent deadly force or serious bodily injury to defendant Fletcher or anyone else in the store. Defendant Fletcher shot Mr. Taylor in the chest just as backup Officer Overton arrived in the store.”

Upon arrival at the store, Fletcher took just 40 seconds before firing his gun at Taylor, O’Malley said. “It was not reasonable to conclude Mr. Taylor posed an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury to Officer Fletcher or to anyone else in the store. I believe Officer Fletcher’s actions, coupled with his failure to attempt other de-escalation options rendered his use of deadly force unreasonable and a violation of Penal Code Section 192(a), Voluntary Manslaughter.”

O’Malley’s decision to file charge is based on a new state law that only became effective on Jan. 1, and states police officers must only use deadly force in the defense of human life.

Assembly Bill 392, authored by San Diego Assemblymember Shirley Weber was hotly-debated for about a year before it was signed into law last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The legislation tweaked language that now includes a higher standard for when it is acceptable for police officers to use deadly-force.

O’Malley decision to charge a police officer in Alameda County is stunning turn of events for many of her long-standing detractors who have consistently criticized her perceived ambivalence over the past decade for holding police officers accountable for crimes.

The last police officer charged for manslaughter in Alameda County was BART officer Johannes Mehserle, who fatally shot Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale BART station in 2009. While O’Malley presided over the Mehserles murder trial, she did not charge him. Tom Orloff, who preceded O’Malley at the district attorney’s office, did so before announcing his retirement.

As racial tensions between Blacks and law enforcement continues to be inflamed by further instances of police killing unarmed suspects across the country, the Taylor killing has a proven to be an inflection point in San Leandro politics, along with forcing a reconsideration by the public of the police department’s role in the community.

Since Taylor’s death, hours of testimony at repeated San Leandro City Council has run meetings into the early morning hours as residents and activists repeatedly urged city leaders to hold police accountable for their actions. In June, the City Council moved to shift $1.7 million away from the police department’s budget while vowing to study through a budget task force how to re-allocate additionally funding toward community-based solutions for public safety.