Local jurisdictions need to act to prevent police brutality

Staff Editorial

Unsigned staff editorials reflect the opinion of the majority of the editorial board.

Derek Chauvin was found guilty on April 20 for the murder of George Floyd. While Chauvin being put behind bars is a necessary step in addressing police brutality, it’s not enough just for guilty police officers to be held accountable after the fact. 

Unnecessary police killings need to stop entirely. 

While we were glued to our TVs to watch the Chauvin trial last month, another unneeded death happened in our backyard, when Danville police officer Andrew Hall shot and killed Tyrell Wilson on March 11.

In the body cam footage from Hall, he approaches Wilson and tries to question Wilson for jaywalking and allegedly throwing rocks off of an intersection onto I-680. Wilson backs away from Hall and pulls out a knife. Hall tells him to drop the knife. Seconds later, Hall shoots him.

A week after the incident, Wilson passed away and Hall was put on paid administrative leave

What the Danville Police Department is failing to acknowledge is that using a deadly weapon is not acceptable when there are still viable options that preserve human life. Police officers have tasers for a reason.

In 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 392, which specifies when the use of a lethal weapon like a gun is justifiable. According to this bill, a police officer is only allowed to use a gun to “effect an arrest, to prevent escape, or to overcome resistance”. 

In the moments before Wilson was shot, he was not being arrested, escaping, or attacking Hall. He was jaywalking and allegedly throwing rocks off of the highway. Footage from a nearby Town of Danville camera shows a person standing on the I-680 overpass on Sycamore Road, but the footage is grainy so it is not possible to determine who the person is by looking at the video. It is also unclear if this person was throwing rocks, Danville SanRamon reported.

Wilson’s death is not justifiable by law or morality. Unfortunately, this isn’t Hall’s first questionable use of a deadly weapon. 

Hall was recently charged with voluntary manslaughter and assault in the death of Laudemer Arboleda during a low-speed traffic pursuit in Danville in 2018. Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton described his actions as a use of “unreasonable and unnecessary force”, as Hall got himself involved in the traffic pursuit when he was not a part of it in the first place.

A response to a 911 call based on suspicion of abnormal behavior turned into a car chase when Arbodela tried to escape the scene. Hall parked his police car in front of the chase, alongside another patrol car. When Arbodela drove in between the two cars, Arboleda was shot nine times, according to a New York Times article

What the officers did not know at the time was that Arbodela had schizoaffective disorder, which combines symptoms of schizophrenia and mood disorders. This possibly contributed to his erratic behavior, which was reported to the police, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

If Arboleda’s mental health issues had been properly addressed before he took off, his death could have been prevented.

Hall was charged with felony voluntary manslaughter and felony assault with a semi-automatic firearm on April 21, more than two years after Arboleda’s death. 

How does an unnecessary death happen in Danville at the hands of the same police officer, twice in less than three years? Why does he still have a job as an officer? Why did it take three whole years for Hall to be charged? And most importantly, why have Danville and other local jurisdictions not taken the precautions needed to limit tragedy?

Danville’s current response to both deaths is to pursue new training for police officers and hope for a “moving forward from these incidents”, Danville Mayor Renee Morgan told ABC7 News.

Just hoping for a better tomorrow does nothing when families of dead loved ones need to make online petitions demanding justice for their sibling, child, or friend. Instead, Danville, Contra Costa County, and other local jurisdictions need to act to prevent police killings in the first place by implementing the following reforms.

1. De-emphasize law enforcement in mental health responses. – We applaud the San Ramon Police Department and San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District for introducing on Tuesday a pilot program to de-emphasize the role of law enforcement in responding to mental health crises. Their pilot program would still involve a response from law enforcement, but they would be staged away from the scene if the mental health crisis is non-violent. We encourage the city to support this pilot proposal.

2. Remove armed officers from routine traffic enforcement. – In addition to reducing involvement with mental health issues, armed law enforcement should not be responsible for handling routine traffic stops, such as seatbelt violations or missing registration.

Last February, Berkeley City Council voted to shift law enforcement’s attitude to traffic stops, by having them focus on investigative stops and dangerous drivers, as opposed to routine stops. Reforms like Berkley’s proposed BerkDOT, or Berkeley Department of Transportation, will put forth trained citizens to manage routine traffic stops rather than law enforcement. We call on Danville, San Ramon, and other areal cities to establish programs similar to the proposed BerkDOT that would make traffic stops safer.

Smaller offenses like expired registration stickers on cars and not wearing a seatbelt should not be much of a concern to officers when there are more pressing dangers to tend to.

3. Create police oversight commissions. – Last year, voters all across the Bay Area approved several new measures and propositions in hopes of overseeing local law enforcement after nationwide demands of police reforms.

For example, Sonoma County’s Measure P, despite being opposed by the sheriff and deputies’ union, was passed with 65 percent support. Through Measure P, Sonoma County’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) will be granted the power to find evidence and witnesses, and subpoena records.

IOLERO will also be able to publish footage from police body cameras and suggest actions to be taken to discipline police officers under investigation. These measures taken by Sonoma County will ensure more transparency in police investigations to not only get the full story, but to take the necessary disciplinary actions against officers.

It’s time for local jurisdictions to adopt police oversight commissions, like Sonoma County did last year.

4. Charge Andrew Hall for the death of Tyrell Wilson. – If Becton, the county DA, can charge Hall for the death of Arboleda, then she should do the same for Wilson’s death. This time, it should not take three years when there is clear footage of what happened.

Our neighboring cities have begun to take action, so why aren’t we? San Francisco, Oakland, Sonoma County, and other local areas by enforcing new reforms to keep law enforcement in line. San Ramon and Danville need to do the same.

Real action needs to be taken before there are any more Tyrell Wilsons or Laudemar Arboledas, Miles Halls or Mario Gonzalezes, Oscar Grants or Sean Monterrosas, or George Floyds. Law enforcement agencies in the Bay Area and Tri-Valley need to reform before there are any other avoidable deaths at the hands of police officers.