‘What makes them above the law?’ Mother describes son’s fatal shooting by deputies
More than a year after her son was shot to death by Sacramento law enforcement officers, Brigett McIntyre said she can no longer wait for answers that authorities seem reluctant to give.
Tuesday, she filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the county of Sacramento and the city of Rancho Cordova, an attempt to force disclosure of details of how and why her only child, Mikel Laney McIntyre, was fatally shot on May 8, 2017, while having what she describes as a mental health crisis.
Brigett McIntyre said police have not contacted her since the day of her son's death.
"Not one officer has ever reached out to me," she said in an interview with The Bee on Monday. "I never even got his wallet back. I've never had a police officer call me and say anything."
Melissa Nold, an associate of Oakland-based civil rights attorney John Burris who filed the suit on behalf of McIntyre, said repeated requests for details about the incident — including autopsy findings and an explanation of why the unarmed man was shot after allegedly throwing rocks at officers — have been ignored by the county and the Sheriff's Department, leaving the family with painful questions and growing anger.
Nearly 14 months after the incident, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has yet to complete a review of the McIntyre case and rule whether the officers who shot him acted lawfully. Sacramento County Inspector General Rick Braziel, who is charged with conducting independent investigations of officer-involved shootings, also has not completed his review of county deputies and whether they followed department policy and procedure.
Sacramento County Coroner Kim Gin said her office had completed the autopsy on McIntyre but was not able to release findings until the Sheriff's Department and the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office finish their investigations.
Sacramento County Sheriff's Department spokesman Shaun Hampton said via email he could not give "much detail" due to pending litigation, but that the three officers who fired at McIntyre all were back on active duty. He declined to say how many times McIntyre was shot or where on his body he was hit.
Nold — a lawyer and investigator who has worked on high-profile police shootings including the one involving Joseph Mann — said she viewed the body after the autopsy, and though it was frozen and the internal organs removed and bagged, she saw a bullet wound in McIntyre’s lower back and another in the rear of his arm.
Brigett and Mikel McIntyre, 32, lived in Antioch and were visiting family in Rosemont the day he was shot. A few weeks prior, Mikel's great-aunt had died, and he had taken it hard, Brigett said. He also was involved in a custody dispute over his then-7-month-old son Noah, she said. The combination seemed to trigger something that led to mental problems.
"I think it was stress," she said. "I don’t think he was the type of guy who handles stress. He had a hard time dealing with death."
On the morning of May 8, 2017, it was clear to her something was wrong with Mikel, his mother said. He was agitated and unruly, playing too rough with a young cousin and speaking incoherently.
Mikel had never had mental problems before and had no known drug use, she said. But the family was disturbed enough by his behavior that they called 911.
Sheriff's deputies and medical responders from the fire department came out, but they didn't think Mikel qualified for a mental health hold, she said. They left, but he continued to behave in ways that concerned the family, so they called 911 again.
Once again, police and fire responded but didn't place him on an involuntary hold, she said.
"Each time that they came out, they said, ‘Oh, there is nothing wrong with him. He’s fine,’” she said. “And we said, ‘No, you are not getting it. There is something wrong.’”
Instead, Brigett said, they told Mikel to leave the house, which he did. Brigett said she called Mikel shortly afterward to make sure he was OK, and he asked her to pick him up in a nearby parking lot. She said she would.
In the parking lot of the Ross Dress for Less on Zinfandel Drive in Rancho Cordova, Mikel became agitated again, she said. He demanded the keys to his mother's car, but she was afraid to give them to him. She put them on the passenger's seat. Standing by the open driver-side door, he tried to push past her to get to them.
She called for help. Passersby tried to intervene. One woman hit Mikel with her purse, but he seemed unfazed, Brigett said.
The Sheriff’s Department said in a press release at the time that it received a 911 call regarding an assault, in which the caller "stated the suspect was hitting and choking a female inside her vehicle, and attempting to pull her out of the vehicle.”
Brigett said she was the woman in the vehicle, but that Mikel did not physically assault her. She feels guilty for not giving him the keys. "Part of me wishes I would have just given him the keys," she said. "But I didn’t want him to hurt anybody."
A Rancho Cordova police officer — who was a Sheriff's deputy on contract with that city — responded. By then, Mikel had walked away from his mother’s car. She said she saw him standing nearby with his hands on his head. She looked away, and when she looked back, he was gone. It was the last time she saw him alive.
In a press release issued the day of the shooting, the Sheriff's Department said Mikel McIntyre ignored the responding officer's verbal commands and walked away. The officer attempted to detain him and McIntyre began to "physically fight with the officer," the release said.
The two men allegedly continued to scuffle as McIntyre made his way a few hundred yards across Olson Drive to a Red Roof Inn. There, the Sheriff's release alleges the two fell in a bed of landscaping river rocks. The department said McIntyre picked up one of those rocks — which range in size from about an inch across to a foot — and hit the officer on the head.
It is unclear what size rock McIntyre used. His mother disputes he hit the officer at all. She said she believes the officer hit his head when both men fell to the ground.
That officer drew his weapon and fired at McIntyre, according to the Sheriff Department's press release. It is unclear if he hit him. McIntyre fled down Olson to Zinfandel, a busy six-lane road. He made his way to the Highway 50 underpass, pursued by another officer and a police dog, according to the department.
McIntyre allegedly threw rocks at the officer. The dog was released and struck by a rock, according to a Sheriff's Department Facebook post from May 9. Brigett McIntyre said she doesn’t believe a dog was at the scene, and Department spokesman Hampton said he couldn't confirm if a K9 was involved.
At least two deputies fired on McIntyre as he came out from beneath the underpass heading west a few yards parallel to the freeway, striking him multiple times, according to the Sheriff Department's press release.
A grainy video taken by a passerby and given to a local television station appears to show McIntyre running with his back to police as multiple shots are fired. Afterward, he falls to the ground.
He later was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
"It's a horrific use of force against an unarmed person," said Burris, attorney for the McIntyre family. "We essentially have an unarmed man running away and shot in the back. This case cries out for criminal prosecution.”
The officer allegedly struck by a rock was treated for head trauma, and the department reported later that the police dog had a successful surgery to fix a muzzle injury.
Brigett McIntrye said she didn’t want her son to become a nationally known name like Stephon Clark, an African American man shot by Sacramento city police in March while holding a cellphone that officers apparently mistook for a gun. Like Clark, Mikel McIntyre did not have a weapon at the time he was shot, according to the lawsuit.
But the slow progress of official investigations prompted McIntyre to act, she said.
"Black Lives Matter contacted me, and I just never really thought about going public because I want actions," she said. "I don’t want this to be a black and white thing. ... I want this to be about what is right and what is wrong.
"I believe in this country that police believe they are above the law," she said. "If one of them gets in trouble, they stand up for each other. They look out for one another ... but then the rest of the world doesn’t get that same treatment."
McIntyre said she wants to remember Mikel as a father, athlete and son.
Brigett McIntyre said Mikel was an avid baseball player who picked up the sport after watching her play softball when he was a toddler. He became a high school champion, and went on to play in college. In 2003, he was drafted in the 39th round by the New York Yankees. A year later, the Pittsburgh Pirates picked him in the 42nd round.
"He was a a good friend," she said. "He didn’t even get a chance to be a father. His baby, he didn’t even get to see a first birthday or a Father's Day. That bothers me."
Whenever she saw Mikel, “he always had a big old hug for me and a wet sloppy kiss," she said. "I miss that. I miss hearing his voice. I just miss him.”