During the early morning hours of November 22, 2015, a shooting occurred at a Chevron filling station in Fontana, California. A legally-blind mentally ill man was shot and killed by police officers at the gas station mini-mart. While police had reported that he had brandished a knife in a brief standoff with officers, a surveillance video that was released this week appears to tell a different story.

The video, which has no audio track, shows police cornering James Hall (47) at the back of the store, where he appears to shift his weight between two counters near a soda fountain. It was then that a police officer opened fire. Hall collapsed on the floor and died at the scene.. The grainy surveillance video was released by the Hall family’s attorneys. It came more than one month after they filed a civil rights and wrongful-death lawsuit against the city of Fontana and its police department. The lawsuit additionally names a dozen Fontana police officers who were allegedly involved in the shooting.

According to the Los Angeles Times, celebrity attorney Mark Geragos, who is representing Hall’s family, said,. “This was was an execution.” An initial account by the Fontana police department reported that police arrived after receiving a call about a possible burglary in progress. The suspect was said to have been armed with a knife. At about 4:15 a.m., officers arrived. They said afterward that he was armed with a large rock in one hand and a knife in the other.

After police tried to convince Hall to surrender, according to the report, he advanced toward them. Police shot him. The video shows an officer approaching Hall with a pistol. Another officer had a dog. According to the lawsuit filed against the city and police, Hall was legally blind and suffering from a schizoaffective disorder. He was known to be peaceful and that the community was aware of his disabilities. According to the department’s initial account, police were called after the convenience store’s clerk reported a possible burglary in progress and indicated that the suspect was “armed with a knife.”

Officers arrived at the Chevron gas station near Sierra and Slover avenues about 4:15 a.m. Police claimed Hall had a knife in one hand and a large rock in the other. Authorities said police tried to coax Hall into surrendering but alleged he advanced toward officers, prompting the police to shoot him. The lawsuit filed by Geragos and his firm offers a different account: that Hall, who was legally blind and suffering from schizoaffective disorder, was outside the convenience store but came in at some point to browse. The complaint claims that Hall was known to be peaceful and that community members were “fully aware of his disabilities.”

Filed in the San Bernardino County Superior Court, the suit alleges that police thus escalated what had been a peaceful encounter into the unlawful use of deadly force. The lawsuit argues that Fontana police were “reckless and callous disregard for the constitutional rights” of Hall. In the grainy video, Hall can be seen holding a small item that is hard to distinguish. Also, at times he appears to have nothing in his hands.

 After one of the officers fired a short in his direction, the officers closed in on Hall. Then one of the officers unholstered his stun gun, according to the lawsuit. The startled Hall ran to the rear of the store, and “cowered there,” read the lawsuit filing. Hall and the officers had a brief standoff near a bank of refrigerators and a row of soda fountains. The video does not show that Hall advanced or lunged at the officers. An officer fired his service weapon at Hall, who then fell to the floor while 10 officers swept in.

In November 2015, in the aftermath of the shooting, Lt. Robert Morris of the Fontana Police Department told a news conference, "They entered the store, spoke to the armed subject trying to get him to surrender. At that point, he did approach the officers and moved towards them and an officer-involved shooting did occur."

 



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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