OC DA Todd Spitzer Clears More Cops in Police Shooting Press Conference

Meet the new DA, again!

Orange County district attorney Todd Spitzer held a press conference this morning to present findings on the first two police shooting cases under his term. On the job all of eight weeks, he inherited them alongside two in-custody death investigations from former DA Tony Rackauckas. Last week, Spitzer cleared Santa Ana police without much fanfare in one of the custodial death cases involving an arrest-turned-homicide.

This time, Spitzer gave an hour-long presentation on the two police shooting probes, including a Fullerton incident where officers shot and killed an erratic woman who stabbed a former therapist at her office last year.

“This is more of a press briefing, if you will, in the best interests of transparency,” Spitzer told the press. “My predecessor began this program, rightfully so, to unveil incidents where we had deaths either in-custody with the police or as a result of officer-involved shootings.”

(Spoiler alert: the OCDA cleared all officers involved in both shootings).

The first of the two cases involved the July 1, 2018 fatal shooting of Donadony Taylor by Santa Ana policeman Gavin Roelofs. That night, officers responded to a call regarding the 46-year-old man’s suspicious behavior inside a parking structure. A witness observed Taylor carrying a long metal object and pulling the door handle of a truck. When Roelofs arrived and exited his patrol car, Taylor held a metal bar over his shoulder and had another similar object in his other hand.

“Put the fucking pipe down, dude,” the cop commanded.

Instead, Taylor kept pacing slowly towards the rear of the patrol car while swinging the long metal object like a baseball player would in a batter’s box. Roelofs fired his Taser at him first, but it appeared to have no effect. According the the OCDA report, Taylor tried to pull one of the darts off of him when Roelofs fired his handgun twice, dropping him to the ground. In body camera footage released by Spitzer’s office, it doesn’t appear as if Taylor began rushing the officer.

Roelofs refused to provide a statement to OCDA investigators. Another officer who arrived on the scene in time told the agency that Taylor appeared to be approaching the cop before firing. An off-duty San Bernardino sheriff’s deputy rode along with Roelofs’ backup and had an unobstructed view of the shooting. The witness said Taylor took a step towards Roelofs before being gunned down.

“At that point, things are happening so quickly, it’s difficult to see exactly who’s stepping where,” Spitzer said, “but you can definitely tell that Mr. Taylor’s not responsive to any of the commands.” With that, the OCDA declined to press charges against the cop in the 32-second encounter.

Next, Spitzer turned to a less controversial May 31, 2018 police shooting in Fullerton that drew much press attention at the time. A few months before the incident, Katherine Brazeau, a 46-year-old woman, became distraught when her therapist decided to discontinue sessions. For years, she’d seen her for multiple mental health conditions such as borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. But the therapist, who remained unnamed by the report, felt that her patient continued to engage in self-destructive behaviors and disregarded her advice.

The fallout turned so toxic that the therapist got a permanent restraining order against her former patient. But Brazeau kept violating it, including crashing a session with another patient while accosting the therapist with profanities. A Fullerton police detective called Brazeau on May 30 when she admitted to everything before becoming agitated and hanging up the phone.

Things took a turn for the worse when Brazeau visited her former therapist’s office in Fullerton the following morning brandishing what Spitzer called a “large hunting knife.” She stabbed the woman in the back near the spine in the ensuing confrontation. Barricaded in her own office with her attacker, the therapist managed to call Fullerton police. Sergeant Perry Thayer and Corporal Steven Bailor responded to the scene.

With guns drawn, both officers entered the building and identified themselves as police. “Fuck you!” Brazeau said, soon after. They tried to break down the barricaded office door and succeeded enough to get a top level view of Brazeau raising her hand in a stabbing motion over her former therapist. She ignored commands to drop the knife. With the therapist’s life in danger, both officers opened fire, killing Brazeau.

The therapist put out a statement not included in the report. “To the officers involved, thank you for your training and skill at assessing the need for immediate action,” it read, in part. The OCDA cleared both officers of any criminal wrongdoing. No haggle there.

When T-Rack first started the OCDA’s disclosure policy in Sept. 2017, he largely left presentations on officer-involved death cases to senior assistant district attorney Ebrahim Baytieh. Towards the end, the OCDA began linking footage from its online investigation letters rather than hosting press conferences.

“Watching these videos is very difficult,” Spitzer said, spending much of the time at the podium at his first such press conference. “I really think, as a district attorney, that the public has a right to know how police operate. The goal of these presentations, as difficult as they are, is to instill the public’s confidence in both the district attorney’s office and the law enforcement agencies in our county.”

Just don’t look for a robust discussion on the OCDA’s YouTube channel where such footage is uploaded. T-Spitz, unlike his predecessor, has disabled comments on them.

As always, read the Taylor report and the Brazeau report in their entirety online.

Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!

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