A man was shot to death Monday morning by a Woodland police officer after allegedly charging at the officer with a knife.
The man was identified as Jeffrey Towe, 53, by his niece, Shelby Brown. She said Towe was diagnosed 24 years ago with schizophrenia and had relied on medications to treat his illness.
The incident immediately drew criticism from local activists who have coalesced in recent days around opposition to the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. About 40 activists gathered Monday evening in Woodland to march and protest, repeating chants such as “No justice, no peace!”
At 5:51 a.m. Monday, officers responded to College Manor Apartments in the 400 block of Elliot Street after a neighbor called to report yelling or screaming, Woodland police Sgt. Brett Hancock said.
In a statement Monday evening, police said the man displayed a knife and threatened the officers when they arrived.
“Officers attempted to negotiate with the suspect asking him to drop the knife,” the statement said. “The suspect then charged at one of the officers and that officer, fearing for his life, shot the suspect.”
Brown said Towe moved to Woodland less than a year ago to live a block away from his sister, who was his caretaker. Woodland police and coroner’s officials had not identified him as of late Monday.
Mary Hermsmeyer, manager for College Street Apartments in Woodland, woke up at 6 a.m. Monday to a call from police who believed that one of her tenants was causing a disturbance.
Hermsmeyer informed police that the man didn’t live in her complex, but instead across the street at College Manor. She returned to her home, then heard gunshots shortly after.
“I went into my apartment, and I wasn’t in there for more than four minutes before I heard three shots,” Hermsmeyer said.
No officers were injured, Hancock said. The Davis Police Department is investigating the shooting.
Hermsmeyer said she recognized Towe, whom she saw lying on the second-story balcony, as a man who often wore an orange ball cap and “kind of talked to himself.”
Several neighbors watched the incident and some filmed it on their phones, Hermsmeyer said. She hadn’t had any issues with the man personally, but she said she heard tenants of College Manor Apartments complain about his behavior.
Brown, an Elk Grove resident, remembered Towe as a mellow Army veteran with a severe hip problem. For her uncle to act violently would have been “very out of character.” “It shouldn’t take three bullets to the chest to calm him down,” she said.
“I believe that if the cops saw that he was having issues, even if he was screaming, it is their job and their duty to help them as much as possible – not to just shoot him,” she added.
Towe’s death prompted local activists to converge Monday evening in Woodland, already motivated by their frustration with the fatal police action in Ferguson and law enforcement response to protests there. They congregated at East and Main streets in the city’s downtown, at one point blocking the intersection.
Protesters waved signs and chanted, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” It was the same chant that has dominated protests for days in Ferguson.
No one among the protesters appeared to know the man killed early Monday in Woodland. Many came from Sacramento, others from much farther away, such as Oakland and Los Angeles. They carried signs that called on passers-by to “Film the Police,” shouting to motorists that “you could be next.”
A number of motorists honked their horns or thrust fists out of their windows in support.
The Woodland event was organized by Christina Arechiga, who also convened a Ferguson-focused rally Sunday in Sacramento. Her cousin Ernest Duenez Jr. was shot and killed by a Manteca police officer in 2011.
“They don’t have to kill,” she said. “If we don’t hold them accountable, nothing we do will matter. Nothing will stop the violence against the citizens.”
Woodland police did not comment Monday on the protest or criticism of the morning shooting. The Police Department has encouraged anyone with information to call 530-661-7800.