The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office on Friday released findings that three officers who shot a mentally ill homeless man in south Sacramento acted lawfully and will not face charges.
Officers Jeffrey Carr, Eric Toomey and Dustin Southward fired 16 shots and struck Dazion Flenaugh seven times during the April 8 incident.
The District Attorney’s Office concluded that the officers were justified because they reasonably believed they were defending themselves and others from death or severe injury. All three have returned to regular duty, according to the Sacramento Police Department.
The district attorney’s report said Southward saw Flenaugh standing behind a gray SUV on Center Parkway, after responding to a call in which multiple officers were searching for the suspect after he escaped from the back of a patrol car on a nearby street.
Southward yelled for Flenaugh to “come over here, get down on the ground,” according to the report. Carr and Toomey were behind Southward and witnessed the interaction.
Flenaugh allegedly “stared at (Southward) and moved down the driveway towards the rear of the SUV.” There, he “sprinted down the sidewalk at full speed directly towards” Southward holding what the officer “thought looked like a large meat cleaver in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other hand.”
Southward “feared that Flenaugh was going to kill him” and fired eight shots. Carr fired twice, and Toomey fired six times, both from a distance of about 25 feet, according to the report.
Though the findings weren’t made public until Friday, the District Attorney’s Office sent its report to the Sacramento Police Department on Wednesday, the same day that police widely released video and audio recordings in the case. The Sacramento Bee obtained the footage Tuesday after having filed a Public Records Act request for the recordings.
About half an hour prior to the deadly confrontation, the report said, Officer Paul Fong had encountered Flenaugh after responding to a call that a suspicious man was peering into yards and windows. Flenaugh was initially calm and accepted Fong’s offer of a ride home without being under arrest.
While sitting in the back of Fong’s police cruiser, however, Flenaugh grew agitated and frantically sought a way to escape the car, based on the footage released this week. When Fong opened the door, Flenaugh bolted out and ran down the street.
He then jumped over fences and went through backyards, at one point grabbing a pickax and swinging it three times at a front door. He later broke into a woman’s house, sending her screaming outside, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
Flenaugh got hold of a 12-inch butcher knife and 13-inch narrow-bladed kitchen knife and held them in his hands as he stood on the street, according to the report. Officers said they told him to drop those weapons before he charged at Southward.
Flenaugh, 40, was a homeless man who suffered from bipolar disorder, according to his family. He was in the south Sacramento neighborhood after having stayed overnight at his mother’s home a few blocks away.
Officials have not released a toxicology report, but the District Attorney’s Office said amphetamine and methamphetamine were found in Flenaugh’s blood.
The report was released Friday hours after the family of Dazion Flenaugh held a news conference to protest the way in which police handled the incident. They asserted that officers should have recognized that Flenaugh was mentally unstable and done more initially to calm the situation.
They took issue with Fong calling Flenaugh a “freak” and telling a bystander to “just hit him with a baseball bat a couple times” to “mellow him out,” based on police video. Fong faced an administrative review for his remarks because his comments were “unbecoming of an officer,” according to police spokesman Bryce Heinlein.
Flenaugh’s brother, Damon Flenaugh, said Friday afternoon that he was not surprised by the district attorney’s conclusion but disagreed with the outcome.
“I’m heartbroken,” he said. “You would hope that a human life would mean more for a society as a whole.”
Damon Flenaugh said he still believed more could have been done to de-escalate the tense situation that led to the shooting of his brother. It was clear from video footage before the shooting that his brother’s mental state was impaired, he said.
Mark Harris, an attorney representing the Flenaugh family, said Friday that relatives had not been allowed to see toxicology, autopsy or police reports related to the case.
“The bottom line is that I would love to see the evidence that has led her to her conclusions,” he said of the district attorney’s review.
Harris submitted a report Friday to Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg that investigated the policies and practices of the Sacramento Police Department. The review was conducted by nationally renowned firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and is part of an effort by activists to force police changes.
The Police Department offered thoughts and prayers for the Flenaugh family and said such incidents “weigh heavy on the hearts of our officers and are a constant reminder of the challenges of the profession.”
“This incident is heartbreaking and has impacted the family, community and our organization,” Interim Police Chief Brian Louie said in a statement. “The officers involved in this incident acted courageously to protect the citizens of our community. I am very proud of the work these women and men do daily, serving our city.”