Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies had options to avoid using deadly force in the May 2017 shooting of Mikel Laney McIntyre along Highway 50, and fired an “excessive, unnecessary” number of rounds that put citizens at risk, a new report from the county’s Office of Inspector General concludes.
The report from Inspector General Rick Braziel, a former Sacramento police chief, concludes that deputies fired a total of 28 rounds at McIntyre — including seven that struck him — and need more training on when to transition to less lethal measures against suspects.
“There are instances where the number of rounds fired at McIntyre were excessive, unnecessary, and put the community at risk,” Braziel’s report concludes. “While chaos in these situations is a reality, the ability to make sound and reasonable decisions is essential.”
Braziel’s report says the confrontation involving McIntyre and deputies he assaulted with large river rocks was “fast and chaotic” and that at times the suspect was “an imminent threat to deputies.”
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But the report concludes that the confrontation involved two separate events that ended with McIntyre being shot as he fled on foot along Highway 50 near Zinfandel Drive.
“As the distance between McIntyre and the deputies increased, the risk of serious injury or death decreased, and with it, the need for deadly force,” the report states. “If McIntyre had been able to stop and retrieve another rock from the ground, or while running reached into his pocket and grabbed a rock, the deputies had enough distance and time to assess the new set of facts and determine if deadly force was reasonable or if less lethal options were more appropriate.”
Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones issued a statement calling the report “a lay opinion, based on his own personal context and experience.”
“It is not, and cannot be, a legal opinion or conclusion like it appears to purport,” Jones said. “While his personal opinion can certainly be a part of the general discussion, the only relevant portions of this investigation — as any shooting investigation — are the criminal investigation, the administrative investigation and the District Attorney’s findings.
“Any opinion proffered without the benefit of all three (or in fact sufficient legal background or use-of-force expertise) runs the risk of a lacking significant foundation for a proper — rather than political — conclusion. In this case, the Inspector General released his report early, without the benefit of complete analysis and information, though he had no obligation to do so.”
The report stops short of finding that the officers acted improperly, but a lawyer for the McIntyre family said he believes the two deputies who fired at McIntyre along the highway should face criminal charges.
“This should be a charge of manslaughter for the officers who shot him as he was running away,” attorney John Burris said. “They did not see a weapon in his hands. ...
“It’s arguable whether you can use deadly force if someone threw a rock at you. There’s no debate about the issue of using deadly force when he’s clearly running away.”
Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s office still is reviewing the shooting case, but Burris, who has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the family, said he has “no confidence at all, none,” that charges will be filed.
Schubert’s office already is the target of sustained protests and criticism for not filing charges against Sacramento police officers who shot Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man, last March. The police department report in that shooting has not yet been sent to Schubert for review.
The incident involving McIntyre, a 32-year-old black man who was experiencing a mental health crisis, began with a call for help from his aunt’s Rosemont home on May 8, 2017.
Fire department officials responded at about 3 p.m. that day because family members called for help about McIntyre acting strangely and locking himself in a car, then asked sheriff’s deputies to come out, Braziel’s report found. No units were available, and the call to deputies was canceled after the fire department concluded McIntyre, an Uber driver and former Major League Baseball prospect originally from Antioch, was all right.
A half hour later, the family called deputies, saying McIntyre had become violent and they had used pepper spray against him.
“When deputies arrived, McIntyre was cooperative and declined medical aid for pepper spray exposure,” the report found, and said it was decided that “it was best for everyone if he left for the day.”
After deputies left, McIntyre and his mother, Brigett, went shopping at a center near Highway 50 and Zinfandel, where McIntyre again became combative and began pulling his mother’s hair while the two sat in her parked car.
Numerous 911 calls at 6:47 p.m. reported a man was beating and choking a woman in the parking lot of the Ross store on Olson Drive, and Deputy Jeff Wright responded, the report found.
Wright spotted McIntyre and ordered him to stop, but the suspect began walking faster and then jogged toward the nearby Red Roof Inn. They ended up in the parking lot of a Hooters restaurant, where Wright tried to grab McIntyre, then drew his 9 mm pistol and ordered him to the ground.
“McIntyre turned toward Deputy Wright and screamed something like ‘Aagghh,’ and started toward Deputy Wright,” the report found. “Deputy Wright stated he realized that he had no cause to use deadly force, so he holstered his handgun and attempted to grab McIntyre as they moved around a truck in the parking lot.
“While attempting to grab McIntyre, Deputy Wright tripped and fell to the ground ‘pretty hard’ on his left side.”
While the deputy was on the ground, McIntyre picked up a rock slightly smaller than a football and threw it from 5 feet away, hitting Wright in the head, the report found. McIntyre picked up a second rock, but witnesses began screaming at him and he turned and began walking away.
“Deputy Wright reported that immediately after being struck, he could not hear anything and that his vision ‘went really bright’ and he temporarily could not see,” the report says. “Dazed, Deputy Wright got to his feet and saw McIntyre seven to ten yards south of him.
“Deputy Wright yelled ‘stop’ several times and then fired two rounds at McIntyre, who fled toward the Hooters restaurant,” the report said, adding that as McIntyre fled, Wright stopped firing when he realized the restaurant was nearby and he worried about hitting bystanders.
Witnesses tried to help Wright while McIntyre walked over to the highway interchange at Zinfandel and law enforcement officers streamed to the scene.
One deputy followed him on foot, but after seeing he had no rocks in his hands the deputy holstered his pistol and took out his baton and continued following.
Deputy Ken Becker arrived with his canine partner and McIntyre picked up a softball-sized rock and threw it, hitting Becker in the leg and the dog in the muzzle, the report found.
“When McIntyre threw the rock, Deputy Becker tried to back pedal in the rough terrain and lift his left arm to protect his face,” the report says. “As McIntyre ran past, Deputy Becker fired his handgun several times at McIntyre.
“A round he fired struck the asphalt in the right lane of westbound US 50. A subsequent round he fired also stuck the asphalt in the right lane of westbound US 50 west of the first round. After firing several rounds Deputy Becker paused briefly to adjust his aim then continued shooting as McIntyre ran away from him along the shoulder of westbound US 50.”
The report found Becker fired eight rounds and stopped firing when the suspect was about 105 feet away.
Another deputy, Gabriel Rodriguez, who had responded to the family’s Rosemont home earlier, saw Becker fire as McIntyre fled, and he stepped into the middle lane of the highway and began firing at McIntyre from 58 feet away, the report says.
“About halfway through his volley of rounds, Deputy Rodriguez stopped firing as a light-colored vehicle on the on-ramp passed behind McIntyre,” the report says. “Once the car cleared the area behind McIntyre, Deputy Rodriguez continued to fire until he ran out of rounds.
“While continuing to advance, Deputy Rodriguez ejected his empty magazine and reloaded. Deputy Rodriguez fired a total of 18 rounds.”
Becker’s dog then went after McIntyre and as he was biting the suspect several officers struggled with him and handcuffed him, then sent him by ambulance to UC Davis Medical Center, where he died from multiple gunshot wounds.
Braziel’s report notes that as the distance between McIntyre and deputies increased, the threat to them decreased and the options for using non-lethal force increased. He also found there were nine officers at the scene, a canine officer, and California Highway Patrol plane and sheriff’s helicopter overhead.
“With the number of officers and police vehicles at the scene, the barriers provided by the freeway sound wall, and the distance McIntyre would have to run to get across the freeway or up the on-ramp, an escape was unlikely,” the report found.
Braziel suggested more training about when to use deadly force and how to de-escalate situations involving mentally ill suspects could help future incidents. He also found that none of the deputies were wearing microphones and that the only audio available came from car-mounted video cameras.
“Body worn cameras would have greatly enhanced the thoroughness of this review,” Braziel found.
The Sheriff’s Department does not routinely release body-camera footage of use-of-force cases, although other departments statewide — including Sacramento police — have begun releasing such video to the public. Nationwide, law enforcement finds itself increasingly under pressure to find alternatives to use of deadly force, and the recent Clark case has spurred a new policy in the city on foot pursuits of suspects.
County Supervisor Phil Serna, who has been a frequent Jones critic, said the report makes clear that nonlethal force could have been used and that he will be watching to see what actions the sheriff takes in response to the findings.
“Mr. Braziel drew his conclusions based on standard legal thresholds for use of lethal force,” Serna said. “He clearly states that the deputies who fired on Mr. McIntyre failed to consider other, less-lethal resources to contain him.
“Of course the Board of Supervisors doesn’t have the authority or ability to implement the Inspector General’s recommendations, nor do we possess the ability to initiate disciplinary action. That responsibility lies squarely with Sheriff Jones and I — and I suspect others as well – will be watching very carefully his disposition in the coming days.”
Serna’s statement elicited a sharp response from Jones after The Bee posted its initial story.
“It is highly unusual, suspect, and in fact unprecedented for a supervisor to both demand an immediate conclusion based upon incomplete facts as Supervisor Serna did, and to collude with the media and others for personal political reasons, while recklessly placing the County — and the pursuit of truth — at risk,” Jones said.