Crime - Sacto 911

Suicide by cop? D.A. says video clears CHP officer who shot mentally ill man.

Daniel Shaham, 31, was killed June 4, 2016, in a confrontation with a CHP officer. An investigation suggests Shaham may have charged the officer with a knife because he was suicidal.
Daniel Shaham, 31, was killed June 4, 2016, in a confrontation with a CHP officer. An investigation suggests Shaham may have charged the officer with a knife because he was suicidal. Bee file

The California Highway Patrol officer who shot a mentally ill Sacramento man last year on an Interstate 5 overpass near Weed has been cleared of wrongdoing, with the Siskiyou County district attorney saying that video evidence of the shooting and witness testimony indicate the suspect’s behavior “was likely a purposeful act of suicide.”

The five-page letter from District Attorney Kirk Andrus follows a year-long investigation of the shooting of Daniel Shaham, 31. He was killed June 4, 2016, after CHP Officer Paul Shadwell stopped to question him because of reports from passersby that a man was on the overpass acting strangely.

The D.A.’s report describes a dramatic scene on the Louie Road overpass that day around 10 a.m., when passing motorists reported that they saw a man looking over the edge of the guard rail and that they feared he might leap onto the interstate below.

Shadwell responded to the scene just after 10 a.m. and found Shaham standing near the guard rail, then asked him if he was all right, the D.A.’s report says.

“Shaham responded that he was and was simply watching traffic,” the report says. “Officer Shadwell asked him if he was suicidal. Shaham responded that he was ‘good.’ This contact ended at 10:06 a.m.”

The CHP officer then got into his car and backed away, then parked and began to read computer reports of the 911 calls that had been received about Shaham. One said Shaham had been seen on top of the guard rail and Shadwell “decided to re-contact Shaham and ask him about his actions,” the report says.

As Shadwell approached the car on the passenger side, he looked through the closed window and saw Shaham with a folding knife in his right hand that had a 4- to 6-inch blade that was fully open, according to the report.

Shaham had his thumb on the blade and was opening and closing it partially, and Shadwell “told him several times to put away the knife,” the report says.

Instead, Shaham got out of the car with his knife, prompting Shadwell to draw his pistol and begin shouting commands to “stop” and “drop the knife,” the report says.

“Shaham did not obey the officer’s commands,” the report says. “Instead he deliberately closed the distance between himself and Officer Shadwell while still opening and closing the knife in his right hand.”

Shaham continued to ignore the officer’s commands and, when he came to within 12 feet, Shadwell fired four times, with the first two shots hitting Shaham in the chest and the next two striking his right thigh and left lower back, the report says.

Shadwell’s car was equipped with a mobile recording system that operates continuously on a loop, and he activated it after firing his weapon, a move that allowed the system to record the previous 60 seconds.

The video reviewed by Andrus’ office captured the 24 seconds before Shadwell fired and shows Shaham was holding something out toward the officer in his right hand, Andrus said in an interview Friday.

“We can see the 24 seconds before he fired very clearly,” Andrus said. “You can see an object in his hand and the position of his body is such that he’s holding something out in front of him.

“The image is not clear enough to say exactly what it is.”

The report concludes that “the officer had no choice but to use deadly force in self-defense.”

Andrus declined to release the video to The Bee, saying it is the CHP’s responsibility to decide whether to do so. The CHP acknowledged receipt Friday of a Bee request for the video under the California Public Records Act, but did not immediately release it.

Shaham’s mother, Denise Smart of Sacramento, has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit that questions whether Shaham was armed. Smart’s attorney, Michael Haddad, said he still has not seen evidence in the case and that his lawsuit is the only way to determine why Shaham was shot.

“I can’t comment on what I haven’t seen,” Haddad wrote in an email to The Bee. “Daniel Shaham had no reason and no plans to commit suicide.

“He had just gotten an oil change for his car and was in contact with his family. But, if this shooting was so cut and dry, why did it take over a year to ‘investigate?’ And if the video shows Daniel Shaham with a knife, why don’t they release it for the public to evaluate? Our civil rights case is the only way to really find out what happened here.”

The D.A.’s report suggests that Shaham may have been trying to commit suicide by confronting the officer, something Andrus said he had never before included in an officer-involved shooting review.

“I’ve never given that opinion before, but there were enough facts that I thought it should be noted,” Andrus said.

The report said investigators determined that Shaham had attempted suicide twice before and that June 4 – the day of the shooting – “was the anniversary of his father’s death.”

The report also noted that Shaham had been diagnosed with “mental illness of a potentially significant nature.”

The lawsuit filed by Shaham’s mother says he had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which can induce hallucinations, depression and delusions. The suit also said Shaham was “moderate- to high-functioning.”

Shaham, a former chemistry major at Sacramento State, was returning from a driving vacation the day he was killed, and his mother’s attorney has said Shaham “was not a violent person and he was not armed.”

Andrus, the district attorney, said the evidence he saw indicated that the CHP officer acted properly.

“In a normal human interaction you look at, there weren’t any options, it seemed like to me,” Andrus said.

Sam Stanton: 916-321-1091, @StantonSam

Related stories from Sacramento Bee