To: Hayward City Council, Gregory J. Ahern, Sheriff/Coroner, Alameda County, and Nancy E. O'Malley, District Attorney, Alameda County
DEATH OF UNARMED MAN IN POLICE CUSTODY IN MAY, 2014 NOT MADE PUBLIC BY POLICE
James Greer died shortly after he was tased 3 times and placed in a straightjacket-type device by the Hayward Police Department in May, 2014. This tragic death was never revealed to the public until Greer’s family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit almost one and a half years later.
The Coroner (which is part of the Sheriff’s Dept.) ruled the death an accident, caused by “PCP intoxication associated with physical exertion.”
No outside agency investigated the death, with the District Attorney’s office stating that they only review officer-involved deaths when they are from gunshots, per an agreement they have with county police chiefs, and would only review a restraint-related death if requested by law enforcement.
To the City Council of Hayward: Even though you and the Police Department have embraced the extensive professional reviews by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which only about 2% of police agencies in the United States choose to do, and even though your PD may have already modified the policies in effect when James Greer was arrested over a year ago, we call on you to thoroughly review, and, if safety and justice demand it, revise and then publicize your Police Department’s policies on 1) training for handling critical incidents and encounters with people who have substance abuse and mental illness issues, 2) their use-of-force policy and 3) their policy about publicizing police encounters with the public which result in serious injury or death. The policies must strike an appropriate balance among the needs for public safety, police-officer safety, enforcement of laws and public knowledge. Pre-Ferguson policies are not sufficient in this post-Ferguson world.
To Alameda County Sheriff/Coroner Gregory J. Ahern: As you make official determinations of the cause and manner of death of people who die in police custody, we call on you to apply the readily-available knowledge that police tasing and use of full-body restraints, sometimes accompanied by the subject’s drug intoxication, frequently are contributing causes of death. When your determination fails to include those facts when they are relevant, it looks like a cover-up.
To Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley: We call on you to perform a thorough and independent investigation of ALL police-involved serious injuries and deaths in Alameda County.
Why is this important?
James Greer, an unarmed, brown, 46-year-old grandfather, was pulled over by Hayward, California police and administered a field sobriety test in May,
2014. Because of a medical condition, his 380-pound weight, and his
apparent drug intoxication, Greer could not comply with the officers’
orders to place his hands behind his back and to lie on the ground. A struggle ensued, Greer was tased three times, and he was put in a straightjacket-like full-body restraint. Then he died.
Even though Hayward PD sends out many news advisories for subjects ranging from missing persons to homicides, they never disclosed this death publicly, nor was it independently investigated by the District Attorney’s office.
The Sheriff/Coroner ruled Greer’s death an accident, with the cause listed as “PCP intoxication associated with physical exertion,” even though there is ample evidence that chest or neck compression during constraint, especially during an encounter with police, often leads to a condition known as Excited Delirium Syndrome, which leads to a few hundred deaths each year in North America. An expert in the field stated, “People literally exhaust themselves to death.”
A spokesperson for the Alameda County District Attorney’s office said they review officer-involved deaths only when they are from gunshots, per an agreement they have with county police chiefs, and would only review a restraint-related death if requested by law enforcement.
We call for a full, public airing of these policies by the agencies named, including policy revisions as necessary to provide safety and justice for all people, as well as satisfying the public’s right to know how their law enforcement agencies are handling dangerous interactions with the public, and to know the results of police-involved-death investigations. In the post-Ferguson world we now live in, pre-Ferguson policies are not sufficient, and best practices call for forums in which public input is sought with regard to the policies.