Sacramento officer says police 'offed' suspect who charged at them with knives
Sacramento police have released nearly two dozen videos from a fatal police shooting of a mentally-ill man in south Sacramento that provide additional context beyond edited footage the department issued in January.
The newly-released materials include in-car and body camera videos, though none show the moment Dazion Flenaugh was killed by officers last April. Police spokeswoman Linda Matthew said the department does not have footage of officers firing.
The new footage was released late Wednesday in response to a Public Records Act filed by The Sacramento Bee. It includes an eyewitness account from a K-9 officer who approached the scene in his vehicle as three other officers shot at Flenaugh. In blunt terms, he tells a colleague how the officers “just offed” Flenaugh.
Much of the new video is in-car camera footage of officers responding to the scene. Many of the clips do not show the crime scene at all.
The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office said in January that the shooting was justified because the three officers – Dustin Southward, Jeffrey Carr and Eric Toomey – believed they were defending themselves and others from death or severe injury. The DA’s Office report said that the officers saw Flenaugh charge at Southward holding what appeared to be a large meat cleaver and a kitchen knife.
“I was pulling up right on them when this whole thing occurred,” the K-9 officer says to someone who appears to be a supervisor in newly released video captured by his body camera.
Later, he tells a colleague that he saw Flenaugh with weapons.
“There’s a big old steak knife about, or a big old knife about that long,” says the K-9 officer, gesturing with his hands.
“And in the grass over there … is a butcher knife and he was charging,” he says.
“It was legit,” he adds.
“Good,” his colleague says. “That’s why you come to be out here.”
The first officer continues, “And I was pulling up the street right here, and they just offed him. Which they should have.”
The second officer replies, “Yeah, absolutely.”
Matthew declined to identify the K-9 officer. Faces are blurred in the video, and some audio is redacted.
Damon Flenaugh, Dazion Flenaugh’s brother, said he remains disturbed by the way police handled the incident.
“I just feel like when you sign up to be a cop, you sign up to be a hero. You sign up to save lives, not take them,” Damon Flenaugh said. “There was not a moment they cared about his well-being or not one time they tried to save his life … I understand the human element of it all (but) they are not dealing with people, they are dealing with situations.”
Department spokesman Matthew McPhail cautioned against judging the officer by one comment. He could not say if the officer faced discipline over the remark, but said such cases would be evaluated by the “totality of the event as well as the officer’s history” to determine if the comment was part of a pattern of behavior.
“You can’t really look at it in isolation,” said McPhail. McPhail said he could not comment on this situation, but “The reality is people in any profession talk to each other in a different way than they would speak to others.”
The incident with Flenaugh began just after 8:30 a.m. on April 8 in an area of modest ranch homes near Center Parkway and Lerner Way. A 911 caller reported a man peering over fences. Witnesses told The Bee that Flenaugh was confused and disoriented but not violent.
Police located Flenaugh based on the description and detained him, but did not appear to be charging him with a crime. At one point, two officers discuss giving him a ride home.
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.
Flenaugh grew extremely agitated in the back of the police car. Flenaugh had untreated bipolar disorder, according to his family. A coroner’s toxicology report found methamphetamine and amphetamine in his blood.
In previous video released by police, Flenaugh talks to himself and searches for a way out of the cruiser. When an officer opens the door to check on him, he flees.
That officer can be heard calling Flenaugh a “freak.”
Officers initially did not pursue Flenaugh, but dispatchers soon after relayed reports of a man running through backyards and breaking into at least one home. In one surveillance video, Flenaugh is seen running up to the front door of one house and swinging a large pickax, hitting the door three times in an apparent attempt to get in. When the door holds, he jogs off with the pickax.
In another video released in January, one officer looking for Flenaugh tells a bystander, “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 … That’ll mellow him out.”
More police were called to the chase and Flenaugh was located behind a car in a driveway on Center Parkway near Lerner Way, where he was ultimately shot dead.
Mark Harris, an attorney for the Flenaugh family, said that he was concerned by three comments taken together – calling Flenaugh a “freak,” suggesting that he ought to be hit with a bat and the casual way in which his death was described as being “offed.”
“It shows a pattern and practice of insensitivity,” Harris said. “Rather than constructive measures taken to de-escalate, there was the opposite - he got what he deserved.”
In January, police released six videos and five dispatch audio files from the incident in response to Public Records Act requests filed by The Sacramento Bee.
The Bee filed a subsequent request asking for all video from the incident after determining the police department withheld some footage. The city agreed, based in part on an ordinance passed in November that requiring the department to release video in critical police events within 30 days.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said that although the ordinance has hit “some bumps” during its implementation, he is “proud” of the city for putting it in place.
“It’s important to just take one step back and recognize that our city is the only city in the region that has a comprehensive video release policy,” Steinberg said. “This is culture change … I believe fundamentally that this policy is not just important and right for the community but it’s also good for the men and women who protect us because it will show over time that the vast majority of our law enforcement officers … do a great job.”