HEADLINE: DA Nancy O’Malley charges a police officer for manslaughter.
THE STORY: The horrific shooting death of Steven Taylor by a San Leandro police officer last April angered many in the city and the region as another instance of overzealous, perhaps racist, cops. During Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley’s decade on the job, other fatal shootings appeared, to some, as worthy of prosecution. But O’Malley never sought manslaughter charges on any of them until last September. Progressives and police accountability activists were happily astonished when O’Malley announced she would prosecute San Leandro police officer Jason Fletcher for voluntary manslaughter. “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,” O’Malley wrote on Sept. 3. The aftermath of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter movement certainly led O’Malley to press charges, but there was also a new state law that now requires police officers to only use deadly force in the defense of human life. O’Malley elicited further surprise when in October she acquiesced to calls by Oscar Grant’s family to reopen an investigation into former BART cop Anthony Pirone’s involvement in the 2009 death.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2021: The cynic will say O’Malley’s change of heart when it comes to charging police officers was fueled by the increasing likelihood that East Bay Assemblymember Rob Bonta will challenge her re-election in 2022. But despite Bonta coveting O’Malley’s office, his eyes have always been on statewide office. After California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra was tapped this month to become Health and Human Services secretary in the Biden administration, the calculus has changed locally. Bonta is on the shortlist for the AG appointment, meaning no viable candidate to challenge O’Malley in 2022 currently exists. Will she dramatically pump the breaks on prosecution of bad cops next year and beyond? There are indications that she will. In just the past two weeks, Oscar Grant’s family has alleged O’Malley’s office is dragging their feet on reopening the Pirone case.