A California police officer who was captured on video fatally shooting a Black man who had a baseball bat inside a Walmart this year was charged Wednesday with voluntary manslaughter, authorities said.
The office of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said that Steven Taylor, 33, did not pose an imminent threat to anyone in the store or to the officer, Jason Fletcher, when he shot Taylor to death April 18.
“The decision to file the criminal complaint was made after an intensive investigation and thorough analysis of the evidence and the current law,” O'Malley said in a statement.
A security guard at the San Leandro Walmart, southeast of Oakland, called 911 after Taylor tried to leave the store with a baseball bat and a tent without paying, the statement said.
In disturbing cellphone and body-camera video of the encounter, Taylor can be seen standing in the store’s checkout area when Fletcher approaches him and tries unsuccessfully to take the bat.
Taylor backs up several feet, bat in hand, and Fletcher tells him to drop it, which he doesn’t. From a distance of roughly 17 feet, according to the DA's statement, Fletcher drew a stun gun, then fired as Taylor moved toward him.
The prosecutor’s office said Taylor was “clearly” in shock after he was stunned and struggled to remain standing with the bat pointed toward the floor. In the video, customers can be heard shouting “put it down, put it down,” before Fletcher opened fire, striking Taylor in the chest.
In the video, Taylor then tosses the bat to the floor and walks a few feet before collapsing. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The San Leandro Police Officers Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Fletcher’s lawyer, Michael Rains.
Rains told the San Francisco Chronicle that he was “very disappointed” in the charges, which he said were “undeserved.”
“I am very confident that the jury hearing all the evidence in this case will acquit this officer in short order,” he told the newspaper.
A lawyer for Taylor’s family, Lee Merritt, has said that Taylor was struggling with a mental health crisis when Fletcher shot him to death. “It was [an] involuntarily break from reality,” Merritt said. “He needed help. He got brutality.”
In a statement Wednesday, San Leandro Police Chief Jeff Tudor said he knew the “sudden loss” of Taylor had “deeply affected” San Leandro, a city of roughly 90,000. “It is important that we allow the judicial process to take its course,” he said.
The charges were filed under a bill signed into law last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom that limited when officers can use deadly force. Under the previous law, a killing could be considered justified if it was "reasonable" and the person had committed a felony and was fleeing or resisting arrest. The new law states that officers can use deadly force only when necessary to defend human life.
A study published earlier this year by researchers at Harvard found that Black people in the San Francisco Bay Area are five times more likely to die in an encounter with police than whites. The California legislature estimated that between one-third and half of fatal police encounters involve people with mental health issues and intellectual or physical disabilities.