‘What makes them above the law?’ Mother describes son’s fatal shooting by deputies
A Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputy fired his weapon 19 times while walking across six lanes of Highway 50 in a fatal officer-involved shooting that is still under investigation more than a year after it occurred.
The new information about the death of Mikel Laney McIntyre, 32, released last week in an annual report from Sacramento County Inspector General Rick Braziel, is raising questions on whether the use of force was justified and why the District Attorney’s review is taking so long.
As inspector general, Braziel is responsible for monitoring the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. His report said three deputies — Gabriel Rodriguez, Ken Becker and Jeffrey Wright — fired 29 shots during an incident with McIntyre on May 8, 2017 that began in a shopping center parking lot off Zinfandel Drive in Rancho Cordova at 6:48 p.m. McIntyre hit deputies and a police dog with rocks during the incident, but was unarmed when the fatal shots were fired.
“It’s not right,” said his mother, Brigett McIntyre. “It’s over excessive.”
Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Shaun Hampton said he couldn’t discuss details of the case because of pending litigation. Last month, Brigett McIntyre filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the case.
Deputies first encountered Mikel McIntyre when responding to a call about an assault in progress outside a Ross Dress for Less store, the report said.
According to Brigett McIntyre, her son was experiencing a mental health crisis and she was the woman the caller had said McIntyre was assaulting.
Twice that day, she said, her family had called 911 because McIntyre appeared to be experiencing a mental health crisis. Both times, Brigett McIntyre said, deputies and medical personnel assessed her son and found he did not qualify for an involuntary psychiatric hold, despite the family’s concerns. But after the second call, deputies told McIntyre to leave his aunt’s house, where he and his mother were visiting, she said.
McIntyre later asked his mother to pick him up in the parking lot where the incident began. She said she and McIntyre were arguing over the car keys, which she did not want to give him. She said her son was not attacking her, but she did call for help from passersby.
When Wright arrived, McIntyre ignored verbal commands from the deputy and left the parking lot, according to reports at the time. He crossed the street to a nearby Red Roof Inn. Wright, a Sheriff’s deputy on contract with Rancho Cordova, followed and attempted to restrain him.
A “brief struggle started, and McIntyre used a football size rock to strike” Wright in the head, according to the inspector general’s report.
Wright was “dazed” and fearful of further assault, and fired two rounds at McIntyre as McIntyre fled toward Highway 50, the report said. It is unclear if McIntyre was hit.
McIntyre ran a few hundred yards, underneath the Zinfandel overpass. He went onto a walkway near the top of the structure, pursued by an unidentified deputy. Below him along the shoulder of the freeway, Becker and his canine also were in pursuit, as were other deputies and California Highway Patrol officers.
At the end of the elevated walkway, McIntyre threw a softball sized rock at Becker as he ran down the embankment and past the deputy, the report said. The rock hit the dog in the muzzle and Becker in the leg.
Becker fired eight shots at McIntyre, who continued to run westbound along the unpaved part of the freeway shoulder. It is unclear if Becker hit McIntyre.
Rodriguez had pulled his patrol car along the center divider of the eastbound lanes of Highway 50 before the Zinfandel Drive overpass, according to the report. Spotting McIntyre under the cement structure, Rodriguez “climbed over the center concrete barrier onto Westbound Highway 50,” the report said.
Rodriguez then began crossing the six lanes of traffic, “and while continuing to cross the lanes of traffic fired 19 rounds from his handgun as McIntyre fled away from deputies,” the report said.
Hampton, the department spokesman, said that even though the incident took place at the end of the rush-hour commute, “there was no traffic” at the time Rodriguez fired. Hampton said he was one of the deputies who responded to the incident and “traffic had slowed down at that point.”
One driver on a nearby on-ramp filmed a brief video of the incident showing some of the shots fired and gave it to a local news station.
John Burris, the lawyer for Brigett McIntyre and Mikel McIntyre’s infant son, questioned if so many shots — 27 in less than a minute — were necessary.
“Even if (deputies) had seen rocks thrown at another person, is that the basis to use deadly force? I don’t think so,” Burris said.
Burris also said that McIntyre was running away from deputies when they fired, and questioned if he posed an immediate threat to officers or others — one part of the legal standard for using deadly force. He called firing across the freeway “reckless.”
“The officer who fired 19 shots, his life was not in immediate danger nor was the life of anyone else,” Burris said.
All three officers involved in the shooting are back on active duty, Hampton said.
Police use of force expert Ed Obayashi said he believed Wright and Becker likely were justified in shooting because they may have felt they faced an immediate threat. Obayashi said while he lacked all the details, Rodriguez may have had justification to shoot as well.
“(McIntyre) has committed two serious felonies against a police officer,” Obayashi said of the thrown rocks. “(Rodriguez) is not sure how this guy is armed. All he knows is two of his colleagues have discharged their weapons under conditions a reasonable deputy could assume are life threatening.”
Obayashi said firing across the freeway — potentially putting drivers at risk — would be a “tactical” issue that would be handled internally by the department. He added that he was not aware of a handgun that could fire 19 bullets without a special clip or the officer reloading.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, whose office is charged with reviewing officer-involved shootings in the region, has not completed her investigation and the office is not close to doing so, said Michael Blazina, assistant chief deputy district attorney.
When asked if the McIntyre review will be finished in this calendar year, Blazina said: “I can’t give you an estimate there.”
Blazina said the DA’s office strives to complete officer involved shooting reviews within 90 days after they receive all the materials related to the investigations from the involved department.
Blazina couldn’t say how long the DA’s office has been reviewing the McIntyre case. “But it’s not uncommon for us to realize that there is some material that didn’t come over or witnesses that need to be interviewed,” he said. “There are a number of factors that contribute to (a review being delayed) such as the amount of materials involved in a specific case and the case loads of the individuals reviewing them. It’s an extensive process and can take additional time.”
Sacramento County deputies were involved in nine officer-involved shootings last year in the county, according to Braziel’s report. Five of those resulted in fatalities, including the death of Deputy Bob French at a shootout at a local hotel.
Additionally, Sacramento police officers were involved in five officer-involved fatalities last year, according to Sacramento Police Department spokesperson Vance Chandler.
All of those investigations remain ongoing with Schubert’s office, according to the District Attorney’s website, where concluded investigations are posted. The site contains no investigative reports from 2017 or 2018. The last officer-involved shooting for which a report is available is the November 2016 fatal shooting of Logan Augustine by a Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputy. That report is dated Sept. 13, 2017.
Blazina said his office is close to releasing three reviews of use-of-force shootings by county law enforcement officers, and three other reviews are in the final stages of completion.
Braziel also has a full report pending on the McIntyre shooting that has not been released. Typically, the inspector general does not release his findings until after the district attorney.
Brigett McIntyre said the delays are frustrating and has caused her to doubt if she will ever know all the facts around her son’s shooting.
“It’s been over a year,” she said. “Why aren’t they talking? Why aren’t they saying anything? ... How come they can’t just tell me the truth?”