Retired San Leandro Police Officer Jason Fletcher entered a not guilty plea Thursday morning in Oakland to criminal charges in the death of a man at a Walmart store in April of last year.
Fletcher was charged in September with voluntary manslaughter for shooting Steven Taylor to death on the afternoon of April 18, 2020, after Taylor allegedly tried to take a bat and a tent from the store without paying for them.
Fewer than 40 seconds passed between the time Fletcher entered the store and the time he shot and killed Taylor, according to prosecutors. Taylor’s family says the 33-year-old was suffering from a mental health crisis when he was at the Walmart, and they were hoping Thursday the case would be closer to concluding.
“But I understand this will be a long process,” said Addie Taylor, Steven Taylor’s grandmother and organizer with the Justice 4 Steven Taylor Coalition. “We will be here every step of the way and feel confident that the DA’s office is doing everything they can to see this through and help us achieve justice,” she said in a statement.
The charges against Fletcher are the first against a police officer by District Attorney Nancy O’Malley in her time as Alameda County’s top prosecutor. O’Malley recently decided not to run for re-election.
Prosecutors said Taylor went into the Walmart at about 3 p.m. on April 18, 2020, and tried to leave the store without paying for the two items. Store security stopped him and asked him to return them. Then a security guard at the store called 911 to report a theft and possible robbery.
Two customers tried to help Taylor. One offered him money, which he declined, prosecutors said. Store security told Taylor they had called police.
Already nearby when he got the call, Fletcher was walking to the front entrance of the store as another officer arrived by car in the store parking lot.
Taylor had said he would wait for the police, and he stood by the shopping carts, prosecutors said. A woman stood nearby.
After Fletcher went in the store, he and security guard Danny Saephanh talked for about 10 seconds about what was going on. Then, Fletcher radioed police dispatchers and said it was not a robbery or a brandishing situation, according to the charging document in the case.
Fletcher approached Taylor without waiting for the second officer, prosecutors said. With his left hand, Fletcher allegedly tried to take the bat from Taylor’s right hand, pulling out his gun at the same time. But Taylor held onto the bat and stepped away from Fletcher. Fletcher then used his left hand to pull out his stun gun and pointed it at Taylor, telling him twice to drop the bat.
He fired the stun gun at Taylor as he again approached, according to prosecutors. After Fletcher shot Taylor a second time with the Taser, Taylor stumbled forward, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Taylor was trying to stay up and was pointing the bat at the ground when Fletcher fired a bullet into Taylor’s chest as the backup officer arrived. Taylor dropped the bat, turned, and fell.
He was pronounced dead at the scene.
O’Malley said her decision to file charges “was made after an intensive investigation and thorough analysis of the evidence and the current law.”
A recent state law requires police to use deadly force only when they “reasonably believe,” given all the circumstances, that it is necessary to defend human life.
Fletcher’s attorney Michael Rains with Rains, Lucia, Stern, St. Phalle, and Silver said they will be filing a motion to dismiss the case. Rains said a judge told prosecutors: “They will never, ever convict this officer,” and he believes O’Malley should dismiss the case. Rains believes the O’Malley’s decision to prosecute was a political one.
Fletcher’s next court date is Sept. 13.