Crime - Sacto 911

Newly released video of fatal police shooting gives insight into mentally ill man’s death

Sacramento police late Tuesday released video and audio related to the April officer-involved fatal shooting of a mentally ill homeless man in south Sacramento, providing insight into a 29-minute encounter that escalated from a routine incident to a frenzied chase ending with multiple officers firing their guns.

Dazion Jerome Flenaugh, 40, was allegedly armed with knives when he was shot seven times by three Sacramento police officers after a chaotic pursuit, according to police statements and review of video by The Sacramento Bee.

Police spokesman Bryce Heinlein said Flenaugh had a knife in each hand and was “charging” at officers when they shot him. No toxicology report was available Tuesday, but Heinlein said Flenaugh had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his system.

Police released six videos and five dispatch audio files from the April 8 incident near Center Parkway and Lerner Way in response to Public Records Act requests made by The Sacramento Bee. The city blurred out the faces of police officers, Flenaugh and bystanders in the video; the personal information provided by 911 callers was also redacted.

Flenaugh’s death was not captured on video, though dispatch audio captured an officer reporting that shots were fired.

In two videos, officers tell Flenaugh they are going to give him a ride home, then put him in the back of a police cruiser without handcuffs. Flenaugh quickly grows agitated. He chews on his nails. Then he searches for any way to get out of the police vehicle, banging on the door, climbing on the seats to find an exit.

Other videos include a K-9 officer’s body camera footage of his approach to the incident and arrival to the scene after shots were fired, his dashcam video and a resident’s surveillance tape of Flenaugh swinging a pickax into her door three times. A bystander’s cellphone video also shows the aftermath from a distance.

The video and audio files were first provided to the Sacramento City Council during a closed session Tuesday evening. Immediately afterward, members of the Flenaugh family viewed the footage at City Hall, said their attorney, Mark Harris.

After viewing the videos on Tuesday evening, Mayor Darrell Steinberg said there “are some aspects of this early on in terms of some of the actions with the individual that are troubling but ultimately …when you see the video tape you’ll see what I saw …which is that the individual was unfortunately holding knives …it appeared to be a very, very serious situation.”

The first police officer arrived that April morning in the neighborhood of modest ranch homes after a 911 caller said at 8:24 a.m. that a man was peering over fences and into windows.

Flenaugh had spent the previous night at the home of his mother, Christina Robbins, a few streets away from where the 911 call was placed. Robbins said that Flenaugh was gone when she woke up but his wallet, phone and belongings were still there. A Bible he liked to read was sitting on a chair on the front porch. Robbins said she thought Flenaugh might have gone to buy cigarettes.

Witnesses contacted by The Bee in October said Flenaugh acted confused and disoriented, speaking into an imaginary phone and walking up and down the street into driveways. The first officer made contact with Flenaugh at 8:34 a.m., then detained but did not arrest him. Flenaugh was sitting on the front bumper of the patrol car when a second officer arrived on scene at 8:38, according to Heinlein.

Dash camera video next picks up the incident 30 seconds before police put Flenaugh in a patrol car. Flenaugh appears calm and compliant as he goes into the back seat without handcuffs. The officer tells him he is not under arrest.

In a second video that covers the same time frame but is focused on the back seat of the cruiser, the officer can be heard saying, “I’m just going to take you home, bud. Come on,” as Flenaugh gets into the car.

Inside the car, Flenaugh grows agitated. “Look at this, mother------” he says, apparently speaking to himself. He tries the door and grows more frustrated after he can’t open it. Around 8:40, he yells, “Sir,” seemingly trying to gain the officer’s attention and pounds on the door. He then stands on the seat, apparently looking for a way to get out. He seems to calms for a moment, then says, “I’m dead.”

“I’m just going to f------ jail,” he yells. “For the rest of my life, huh,” he adds a few seconds later as he resumes looking for an exit.

“What are you doing, you freak?” the officer can be heard asking on a separate tape.

“What are you doing?” the officer asks a second time, as he opens the car door at 8:41 a.m.

Flenaugh responds, “I’m looking for a …” before bolting past the officer out of the car.

The officers do not give vigorous pursuit. The second officer can be seeing walking calmly back to his vehicle, while the first officer drives down the street. Within seconds, audio picks up a bystander telling the officer that, “He jumped over the fence right here.”

The officer drives around the corner, parking and climbing onto the hood to look into backyards. Later, a bystander asks what is happening.

“There’s some nut, tweak, just freaking out. He’s back there somewhere. If you see him, just hit him with a baseball bat a couple times,” replies one of the officers. “That’ll mellow him out.”

Flenaugh ran through a series of backyards and attempted to enter at least two homes, according to police and witnesses. More police were called to the chase. Heinlein said that between 8:46 and 8:59, police pursued Flenaugh through the area as residents gave his location to officers and two more 911 calls came in.

Penny Reader, a resident who encountered Flenaugh, said surveillance footage from her security camera showed Flenaugh attempting to break into her house. The video shows Flenaugh running up to her front door with a large pickax and hitting the door three times in an attempt to get in. When the door holds, he jogs off, pickax in hand.

Flenaugh jumped a fence and ran one street over to Lerner Way into the front yard of Albert Gray’s home. Gray said Flenaugh kicked in two wooden fence boards to get into his backyard. Gray saw Flenaugh jump the fence into another neighbor’s yard.

The yard Flenaugh jumped into belonged to Gracia Camargo. Carmargo said she was getting ready for work when her dog began barking. She locked her back door as Flenaugh approached.

“He said, ‘Open it,’ and waved the ax,” Camargo said. “I just said, “No, please don’t hurt me,’ and I just started running.”

Camargo said Flenaugh seemed “a little bit in his own world.”

Quang Nguyen, who lives across from Gray, said he followed police as they drove three houses down to Center Parkway, where they turned in the direction Flenaugh had gone. Officers confronted Flenaugh in a front yard a few houses down, Nguyen said.

An officer says on the dispatch tape, “I think he’s running, he’s running.”

Moments later, at 9:01 a.m., police opened fire on Flenaugh after finding him “concealed” in a front yard, said Heinlein.

After a dispatcher says, “Suspect down,” the K-9 officer arrives and multiple officers with weapons drawn are seen. Police yell for bystanders to go inside their homes.

Officers later handcuff Flenaugh – common police procedure even after a suspect has been shot, according to Heinlein.

Flenaugh’s family was not immediately available for comment Tuesday night. But their lawyer, Harris, said he was “struck by the humanity of the interim chief ... he was very sensitive, very thoughtful in how he handled this.” However, Harris said the family was frustrated that it still had not received requested information, including the police and autopsy reports. The family also has concerns about the way initial officers handled the situation.

“For a person who was struggling with mental illness, he was reacting to a feeling of feeling suffocation, of being caged,” Harris said.

In October, Robbins said Flenaugh had been homeless for a number of years and had never found steady work after serving jail time in the Bay Area when he was 19. She said he had been diagnosed as bipolar, based on his jail release papers.

Flenaugh was sentenced to prison in 1997 for grand theft in Alameda County involving a farm animal, according to records. His sentence was suspended, and he was placed on probation. Flenaugh also had a series of local misdemeanor offenses in Sacramento County, including one in 2005 for carrying a concealed weapon.

The release of the video was facilitated by the passage of a package of police reform measures by City Council in late November. Under the new ordinance, the Sacramento Police Department is required to release video in officer-involved fatalities within 30 days if it “does not hamper, impede or taint” an investigation.

Based on the passage of that law, The Sacramento Bee requested the Flenaugh footage but was initially turned down, as it had been for previous requests in the case. However, the city later reversed its position. Interim City Manager Howard Chan said that the ordinance did not apply retroactively to fatal shootings prior to its November implementation, but he believed the intent of the law was to increase transparency.

“Quite honestly, it was the right thing to do,” said Chan. “This is not the movies. This is real life and I think it’s important that people understand what happened.”

Steinberg said he backed that position.

“Ultimately releasing this information not only is respectful to the community, to the family, but its also good for our Police Department,” he said.

It marked the second time in four months that the Sacramento Police Department released footage from an officer-involved shooting after long rejecting media requests for video. In September, the Police Department released a host of video from the July police shooting of Joseph Mann on Del Paso Boulevard after The Bee obtained surveillance footage of his death from a private source.

The videos prompted national scrutiny of the department after it showed officers attempting to hit Mann with their police cruiser before shooting him dead. The police department said in July that Mann lunged at the officers with a knife. The case is still under review by the district attorney, and the city has hired an outside investigator to examine both the Flenaugh and Mann cases.

Steinberg said that he plans to discuss police reform and training at next week’s council meeting, and would introduce a proposal that all Sacramento police officers undergo crisis intervention training.

“I’ve made it very clear to the (city) manager and the police chief that when we do make mistakes we acknowledge them. When we act appropriately even in a tragic circumstance we assert that,” Steinberg said. “Our job is to make sure that our officers ... all of them have the best qualitative training around crisis intervention in the state and the country.”

Heinlein said the police concluded their investigation June 17 and sent finding to the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office for review. That review is ongoing. The three officers involved in the shooting, Dustin Southward, Jeffrey Carr and Eric Toomey, are on regular duty, according to Heinlein.

Interim Police Chief Brian Louie said in a statement that, the “death of Mr. Flenaugh is tragic and affects everyone involved; the family, the community and the entire Sacramento Police Department. This incident weighs heavily on the hearts of our officers and is a constant reminder of the challenges of this profession.”

The Sacramento Police Officers Association did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

Bee reporter Cynthia Hubert contributed to this report.

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