Judge Refuses to Dismiss Charges Against Former San Leandro Officer in Walmart Killing
A former San Leandro police officer hoped the court would dismiss voluntary manslaughter charges against him for fatally shooting a man in April 2020, but a judge Tuesday was not inclined to let him off the hook so easily.
On April 18, 2020, Jason Fletcher was the first officer to arrive at a Walmart on Hesperian Boulevard on a shoplifting report. Fletcher, who had been near the Walmart when the call came in, chose not to wait for backup and entered the store alone. What happened next was captured by the officer’s body camera and witness cell phone footage.
Steven Taylor, who was 33 years old at the time, was stopped at the front of the store by security for attempting to walk out with an aluminum bat and tent he hadn’t paid for. After unsuccessfully asking him to put the items back, security guard Danny Saephanh called 911 to report the theft.
Taylor stayed near the shopping cart area without threatening security or bystanders — two customers approached and talked to him as he waited for police, one offering him some money that he politely declined. According to his family, he was homeless and suffered from mental health issues.
Fletcher first spoke to Saephanh and was immediately told that the incident was not a robbery and that the suspect was not brandishing a weapon, facts he then relayed back to police dispatch.
He made the choice not to wait for other officers who had already pulled into the parking lot. Fletcher approached Taylor near the shopping carts and quickly tried to grab the bat with his left hand, but simultaneously used his right hand to draw his service pistol. When Taylor did not give bat up, the officer used his left hand to then pull and deploy his Taser twice. In various footage, Taylor is seen as unsteady under the effects of the second shot as Fletcher orders him to drop the bat. With the bat pointed down to the ground and him leaning over his feet, he stumbles forward as if he’s about to fall.
Fletcher then used his service pistol and shot Taylor in the chest. He dropped the bat, turned away from the officer and fell to the ground where he was later pronounced dead. Fletcher is seen handcuffing him after the shooting.
A backup officer entered the store just as Taylor was killed. The entirety of the incident, from Fletcher’s arrival until he shot and killed Taylor, lasted less than 40 seconds. There are no reports that Taylor threatened anyone in that short time.
Fletcher was placed on administrative leave before deciding to retire. San Leandro Police Department claimed he acted lawfully as he was in fear for his life due to the bat in Taylor’s hand. Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley disagreed with that assessment and charged Fletcher in September 2020 with voluntary manslaughter and in her statement said:
“[I]t was not reasonable to conclude Mr. Taylor posed an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury to Officer Fletcher or to anyone else in the store. I believe Officer Fletcher’s actions, coupled with his failure to attempt other de-escalation options rendered his use of deadly force unreasonable and a violation of (Penal Code).”
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Reardon, who denied the motion to dismiss Tuesday, seemed to agree. Reardon questioned why Fletcher hurried to approach Taylor when backup was nearby.
Fletcher, who pleaded not guilty and is out of custody on $200,000 bail, did not attend the court proceeding Tuesday.
The tragic incident with Taylor was not the first time Fletcher has been accused of using excessive force. He was implicated in at least two prior lawsuits stemming from incidents in 2007 and 2009.
Taylor’s grandmother, Addie Kitchen, spoke with KCBS last August during a protest calling for justice in her grandson’s death. She said:
“He’s not the first homeless person they’ve run into and I know he’s not going to be the last, but I would hope and pray he’d be the last homeless person that was murdered by the San Leandro Police Department.”