DA O’Malley Announces Filing of Voluntary Manslaughter Charges Against San Leandro Officer

Oakland, CA- Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley has announced that her office has file a criminal complaint charging San Leandro Police Officer Jason Fletcher with Penal Code Section 192(a), Voluntary Manslaughter, a felony. The charges are based on the Officer’s use of force resulting in the death of Steven Taylor on April 18, 2020 in the San Leandro Walmart Store.

“The decision to file the criminal complaint was made after an intensive investigation and thorough analysis of the evidence and the current law,” states DA O’Malley. “The work of Police Officers is critical to the health, safety and well-being of our communities. Their job is one of the most demanding in our society, especially in these current challenging times. They are sworn to uphold and enforce the laws.

When there is use of force by a police officer that results in death, the District Attorney's Office conducts an independent and thorough investigation of the facts. We are mandated to apply those facts to California law. The decision must be made based solely on the facts and the current law. Justice demands this process to be done in an unbiased and legally sound manner.”

The District Attorney’s Critical Incident Review Team conducted an extensive investigation of this shooting. As is protocol, once the investigation was complete, there was a deep and thorough analysis of the facts and the current law, which was effective January 1, 2020. Pursuant to Penal Code Section 835a(a), the California Legislature declared that the authority to use physical force conferred on peace officers is a serious responsibility that shall be exercised judiciously and with respect for human rights and dignity and for the sanctity of every human life. It further set forth that in changing the law, the intent is that peace officers use deadly force only when necessary in defense of human life. The legislature declared officers shall use other available resources and techniques if reasonably safe and feasible to an objectively reasonable officer.

Charging a police officer with Voluntary Manslaughter is not a decision that is made lightly, nor rashly. As with any homicide prosecution brought by the District Attorney, the decision demands thoughtful deliberation and careful legal analysis.

Background:

As stated in the Declaration of Probable Cause, on 4/18/2020 at approximately 1512 hours San Leandro Police Officer Jason Fletcher #304 responded to the Walmart Store at 1555 Hesperian Blvd., San Leandro on the report of a shoplifter holding a baseball bat.

On that date, at approximately 3:00 pm, victim Steven Taylor entered Walmart Store, grabbed an aluminum baseball bat and a tent, and attempted to leave the store without paying. Mr. Taylor was stopped by store security and asked to return the items.

The store security guard Danny Saephanh called 911 reporting the theft and possible robbery. Two SLPD units were dispatched to Walmart to investigate the theft. Officer Jason Fletcher was already in the vicinity of Walmart when he received the dispatch. As Officer Fletcher approached the front entrance on foot, he observed backup SLPD Officer Overton arrive at the Walmart parking lot.

Meanwhile, two different store customers approached Mr. Taylor and tried to help him. A female customer offered him several dollars, to which Mr. Taylor said no thank you. Store security told Mr. Taylor they had called the police and they were on the way. Mr. Taylor said he would wait for the police to arrive. Mr. Taylor waited near the shopping cart area and an older lady stood nearby.

Officer Fletcher spoke with store security guard Danny Saephanh for approximately 10 seconds briefing him on what was happening and specifically told him it is not a PC 211 or PC 417, information Officer Fletcher relayed via radio to police dispatch. Security Guard Saephanh then pointed out Mr. Taylor standing next to the shopping carts. Officer Fletcher did not wait for his cover officer and immediately contacted Mr. Taylor in the shopping cart area. Officer Fletcher grabbed the bat with his left hand and attempted to take the bat from Mr. Taylor’s right hand. Officer Fletcher pulled out his service pistol at the same time he tried to take the bat from Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor pulled the bat from Officer Fletcher’s grasp and stepped away from Officer Fletcher. From a distance of approximately 17 feet, Officer Fletcher drew his taser with his left hand and pointed it at Mr. Taylor.

Officer Fletcher told Mr. Taylor to “drop the bat man, drop the bat.” Officer Fletcher shot Mr. Taylor with his taser as he advanced towards Mr. Taylor. Officer Fletcher tased Mr. Taylor again, and Mr. Taylor clearly experienced the shock of the taser as he was leaning forward over his feet and stumbling forward. Mr. Taylor was struggling to remain standing as he pointed the bat at the ground. 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.

Mr. Taylor dropped the bat and turned away from Officer Fletcher and fell to the ground. He was later pronounced dead. From the time Officer Fletcher entered the store to the time he shot and killed Mr. Taylor less than 40 seconds elapsed.

A thorough review of the statements of witnesses and involved police officers, physical evidence and the review of multiple videos of the shooting shows that at the time of the shooting 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.

The defendant is expected to be arraigned on September 15, 2020 in Department 702 of the East County Hall of Justice.

A copy of the criminal complaint and the declaration of probable cause are attached to this press release.

A high resolution, video-taped statement for by DA O’Malley may be accessed for viewing and/or reuse here.

Because this is now an active criminal prosecution, the District Attorney’s Office will not make any further comments or statements on the matter.

Posted on Sep 2, 2020