Three officers involved in last year’s fatal shooting of a mentally ill man who was armed with a knife were honored Thursday at the Sacramento Police Department’s annual awards ceremony.
Officers Jeffrey Todd Carr, Dustin Southward and Eric Toomey were presented with the department’s Bronze Medal of Valor for the April 8, 2016, incident in which they shot and killed 40-year-old Dazion Flenaugh.
Relatives described Flenaugh as a homeless man with an undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
The officers were responding to the area of Center Parkway and Lerner Way in south Sacramento having been told that Flenaugh might be high on methamphetamine and armed with knives. Two of the officers honored Thursday shot Flenaugh as he allegedly charged at a third officer with a large knife in his hand.
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Sgt. Bryce Heinlein, a spokesman for the department, told the audience of family members and police employees that the officers were being honored “for their courage and heroic actions taken to protect the community in this dangerous situation.”
The ceremony recognized more than a dozen officers for their bravery, lifesaving work or community service.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg spoke at the event, held at a time when the department has been criticized by some for allegedly using excessive force when dealing with mentally ill individuals. In one incident in July, officers tried to run over then shot Joseph Mann, a mentally ill person who was holding a knife, in North Sacramento.
“I know that the overwhelming, overwhelming majority of police officers do an incredibly difficult and dangerous job fairly, compassionately and with true professionalism,” said Steinberg, a longtime advocate for mental health services as mayor and leader of the state Senate.
The Flenaugh shooting drew controversy from community and family members, who called for the release of additional information in the incident. The department released edited video and audio files in connection to the shooting in January and additional footage more than two months later.
Flenaugh had been stopped by officers earlier that morning after a resident on Prescott Way called dispatchers about a suspicious person looking over fences and into windows.
The 40-year-old was initially cooperative as he was placed in the back of a patrol car, but he became agitated and fled when an officer opened the door. He jumped over several fences through neighboring yards, eventually taking a pickaxe from a home, the district attorney’s review of the incident said.
Surveillance video from one house showed Flenaugh using the pickaxe on the front door of the home before running off. The district attorney’s review says he later threatened a female resident, who saw him holding multiple knives.
The District Attorney’s review said Carr, Southward and Toomey acted lawfully when they eventually made contact with Flenaugh on nearby Center Parkway. The officers fired their weapons, fearing for their safety, the review said.
“(Officers Carr and Toomey) observed Flenaugh jump out along the driveway while holding a large knife up with his left hand, and sprint towards Officer Southward,” the review says. “Officers Carr and Toomey believed that Flenaugh was going to kill Officer Southward, so they raised their guns and fired as Flenaugh came within 25 feet of Officer Southward.”
The highest award presented Thursday went to Michael Smith Jr., a veteran of the Police Department with more than 20 years of experience. He was given the Silver Medal of Valor for intervening when an armed gunman opened fire at the Capitol Casino parking lot near downtown Sacramento in November.
The gunman, who police said was fleeing after a fight broke out between his party and another group, diverted his gunfire toward Smith after the officer began firing in his direction. An innocent bystander, Capitol staffer Nicholas Broadway, 36, was killed in the initial shootout. Police said Smith’s actions potentially prevented further loss of life.
“The officer noticed the threat, responded to the threat and then … the suspect directed their attention and fired at the officer, with the officer putting his own life in harm’s way,” interim police Chief Brian Louie said.