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California Governor Signs Bill Limiting Police Use Of Deadly Force

Under the new law, California officers must only use deadly force when "necessary."

Sacramento, CA – California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed off on a bill that will require law enforcement officers to only use deadly force when “necessary,” and prohibits officers from shooting fleeing suspects unless they pose an immediate danger.

Under the previous law, officers’ use of deadly force had to be “reasonable,” Assembly Bill 392 read.

“I’m ready to sign this damn thing!” Newsom declared during the signing ceremony of AB 392 on Monday, flanked by the family members of Stephon Clark and rapper “Willie Bo” McCoy, according to National Public Radio.

“As California goes, so goes the rest of the United States of America,” the governor boasted. “And we are doing something today that stretches the boundaries of possibility and sends a message to people all across this country — that they can do more.”

Under the new law, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2020, prosecutors will be able to consider the actions of the suspect and the officers during the time preceding an officer-involved shooting, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Previously, prosecutors were only able to consider the moment that deadly force was used, and whether or not it was reasonable to believe that the officer felt the suspect was endangering the lives of the officer or bystanders.

“This is remarkable to get to this moment on a bill that was so controversial but it means nothing unless we make this moment meaningful,” Newsom told the paper after he signed the bill. “And so that is the goal and the desire of all of us, law enforcement and members of the community, to address these issues in a more systemic way and that’s going to take a lot more work than passing a piece of legislation.”

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who co-authored the legislation, said that the new law will help boost the public’s level of trust with regards to law enforcement officers, National Public Radio reported.

“Significant change is never easy, but those who voted today looked to their conscience and found the courage to do the right thing for California,” Weber said when the bill was passed by the state legislature in July. “I have to thank the families who have lost loved ones to police violence. They have been the energy and the moral compass for making this possible.”

On Monday, Weber declared that the new law “will make a difference around the world,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

“For 400 years, people of color have often had a different kind of justice than others in this nation,” she added, according to the Los Angeles Times. “And after 400 years of demonstrating our commitment and our humanity to this nation, we deserve fairness and justice.”

Clark was fatally shot by Sacramento police in 2018, after he smashed out multiple car windows and shattered the sliding glass door of an occupied home, according to the Sacramento Bee.

A police helicopter and officers on the ground spotted him in a back yard, but he took off running with an object in his hands that officers said they believed was a gun.

During the foot pursuit, Clark turned in a shooting stance and advanced towards officers with the object extended towards them.

He was just 16 feet away from police when they opened fire.

Officers subsequently learned that the object Clark was holding was a cell phone.

Clark was wanted for domestic violence and violation of his probation at the time of the confrontation.

He also had alcohol, Xanax, codeine, hydrocodone, marijuana, and cocaine metabolite in his blood, and had been searching the internet for ways to commit suicide.

In February, Vallejo officers were called to a Taco Bell restaurant for a report of an unresponsive man sitting in a vehicle in the drive-thru, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The man, later identified as McCoy, had a gun sitting on his lap when officers arrived, and his vehicle was still in drive, bodycam footage showed.

The officers tried to remove the weapon from McCoy’s lap without disturbing him, but discovered that the car doors were locked.

McCoy suddenly began to move, and reached his right arm up to his left shoulder, bodycam footage showed.

Officers then ordered him to show his hands, but McCoy bent forward at the waist and reached for the weapon, police said.

That’s when the officers opened fire through the windows of the suspect’s vehicle.

Six officers discharged their weapons, firing an unknown number of rounds during the four seconds that followed, according to The Guardian.

The officers pulled McCoy out of the vehicle and began delivering lifesaving aid, but he died at the scene.

Police later confirmed that the .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun in McCoy’s lap was fully operational, and that it had been reported as stolen in Oregon, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“I would be honored if you would join us up onstage,” Newsom told Clark and McCoy’s family members just before he signed the measure into law on Monday, according to National Public Radio.

“The reality is, officers rarely face consequences, and families like mine are left to wonder who is policing the police,” McCoy’s brother, Kori, later told the news outlet.

He said that the new law “offers a ray of solace” for his family.

“[We] hope that it will spare other families from bearing this burden with us,” Kori added, according to National Public Radio.

Shortly after the fatal shooting, McCoy’s cousin, David Harrison, alleged that Vallejo police “profiled” and “targeted” McCoy, KGO reported.

“No one trusts the police in Vallejo,” he told The Guardian at the time. “We are being targeted…Police have a campaign of executing young black men who fit a certain profile. Willie dressed the part. He represents hip-hop music. They are profiled.”

Harrison also posted a video to Facebook after the shooting, warning children in the neighborhood about the danger of law enforcement officers.

“Police is not your f–king friend,” he said in the video. “They’re not there to serve and protect. They here to control and patrol, man. They wanna control you.”

“It’s going to continue to happen until we make these mother–kers pay!” Harrison continued. “They gotta pay for this s–t. This s–t ain’t free. Can’t just keep killin’ us in the street like this.”

“We at war,” he declared. “It’s these mother–kin’ pigs is your f–kin’ enemy!”

Clark’s brother, Stevante, said the new law should be tougher on law enforcement officers.

“The bill is watered down, everybody knows that,” Stevante told the Los Angeles Times. “But at least we are getting something done. At least we are having the conversation now.”

“This is Stephon Clark’s law,” said Stevante declared. “The cost, the price that had to be paid for this, it hurts…I hate that this had to come out of such a tragic situation, but at the same time, it helps the healing process to know his name could possibly prevent something like this from happening again.”

The original version of the bill was strongly opposed by law enforcement groups because it would have made prosecution possible if it were determined that there were other options available, The Sacramento Bee reported.

Originally, AB 392 called for officers to verbally persuade offenders to surrender or utilize crisis intervention skills or other de-escalation techniques instead of using deadly force.

The largest groups representing California law enforcement removed their objections to the legislation after the latest round of amendments, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“We will not support the bill, as it is far from perfect, but the amendments have addressed our biggest fears,” Ron Hernandez, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said in a statement.

Six major law enforcement groups, including California Highway Patrol, Peace Officers Research Association of California, and California State Sheriffs’ Association, all removed their objections and took a “neutral” position on AB 392 following the latest changes to the bill, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The heart of the dispute over the legislation centered on changing the word “reasonable” to “necessary” when describing the standards required for an officer to use deadly force with a suspect.

The substantially-changed legislation kept the word “necessary” but dropped the definition of the word, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The deleted language said officers could only shoot when there was “no reasonable alternative,” according to the Associated Press.

The language requiring an officer to try to de-escalate an incident by exhausting all non-lethal alternatives before turning to a deadly use-of-force was also stripped out of the bill.

Instead, the revised legislation makes clear that officers are not required to retreat or back down when a suspect resists, nor do they lose their right to self-defense if they use “objectively reasonable force,” the Associated Press reported.

“It’s one thing to sign a piece of paper, pass legislation,” Newsom said of the bill, according to KSWB. “It’s another to change hearts and minds, to change culture. To change the way people conduct themselves, to hold themselves to a higher standard.”

“That’s the work that we, collectively as a community, need to manifest at peril of missing this moment and missing the point of this moment,” the governor added.

California Association of Highway Patrolmen President Rick LaBeske and other law enforcement groups urged the legislature to also pass SB 230, which would provide law enforcement agencies with training related to SB392, The Sacramento Bee reported.

“With the passage of the AB 392 and SB 230 legislative package, California will go further than any other state in the country to provide our officers with the tools and training they have requested and deserve,” LaBeske said. “This legislative package will serve as an example for other states to follow when updating their own use of force policies.”

Holly Matkin - August Tue, 2019


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