Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton announced Friday morning that she would not be filing charges against ex-sheriff's deputy Andrew Hall for fatally shooting Tyrell Wilson in Danville in March 2021 -- the same former officer now incarcerated after an October 2021 conviction for a prior on-duty fatality.
Becton determined following a 19-month investigation by her office that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Hall when he shot Wilson one time as the unhoused 33-year-old Black man with a history of mental illness approached Hall with a 3-inch folding knife in an intersection near a freeway overpass in Danville. Wilson died from his injuries at John Muir Medical Center two days later.
"Due to the fact that a jury could draw two reasonable conclusions regarding whether Deputy Hall is guilty of a crime, there is insufficient evidence to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Deputy Hall is criminally liable for his actions in the death of Tyrell Wilson," Becton said at a press conference in Martinez on Friday morning. "As such, the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office will take no further action in this case at this time."
The decision means that Hall, a Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office deputy at the time assigned to the Danville Police Department, will face no penalties or time behind bars from county prosecutors for Wilson's death as now-former officer continues serving a six-year prison sentence after being convicted of assault for fatally shooting Laudemer Arboleda while on duty in Danville in November 2018.
Sheriff David Livingston cleared Hall to return to duty some time after the Arboleda shooting, while the DA's office investigation into that case was still pending. Becton charged Hall with voluntary manslaughter and assault for Arboleda's death on April 21, 2021 -- a little over a month after Wilson's death. A jury found Hall guilty of assault and deadlocked on the manslaughter count.
Attorney John Burris, who represented both families of the men fatally shot by Hall in separate lawsuits against the county that netted $9.4 million combined in settlements, told DanvilleSanRamon that he was "disappointed but not surprised" in the news of no charges that he and Wilson's parents received from Becton's office the day before she announced it to the public.
"We did have a young man who was mentally ill," Burris said. "The police (officer) was aggressive and the standard is was it reasonable and was it necessary, and my view is it wasn't necessary."
"He could have calmed the situation down as opposed to being confrontational," he added.
Despite not bringing charges against Hall for Wilson's death, Becton said that the decision hadn't been easy, and also called for de-escalation tactics by police as an alternative to deadly use of force during confrontations like the one between Hall and Wilson.
"In reaching this conclusion, the district attorney's office does not condone the actions of Deputy Hall in the fatal shooting of Tyrell Wilson," Becton said. "This was a difficult and challenging case. My legal team and I spent a considerable amount of time and resources evaluating the evidence before coming to this conclusion."
"As a community, we need to find ways to de-escalate law enforcement encounters where the use of force leads to tragic outcomes," she continued. "The loss of Tyrell Wilson's life weighs on our community and I express my deepest condolences to the Wilson family."
However, Becton noted that Hall had acted in accordance with both sheriff's department policies and training in effect at the time, according to the findings of a law enforcement-involved fatal incident report released by her office Friday.
The two fatal shootings by Hall are the only police-involved shootings of any kind on record in Danville since 2001.
What the DA's report found
The 43-page report provides details on the deadly encounter between Hall and Wilson on March 11, 2021, including transcripts from their brief conversation before the shooting, and between Hall and other officers.
Before noon that day, Hall was on-duty in full Danville Police Department uniform in a marked vehicle when he encountered Wilson, who matched the description of a subject in a call to dispatch who had been allegedly throwing rocks from the freeway overpass near Sycamore Valley Boulevard and Camino Ramon.
Hall made eye contact with Wilson, who was carrying a paper bag, wearing a backpack and walking northbound as the deputy was driving southbound on Camino Ramon, before turning his car around and getting out to interact with Wilson.
"Hey, buddy," Hall said in a recording of the encounter. "Come here for me real quick."
Wilson said no, and Hall told him to "come here" again. Wilson responded by asking Hall "who are you?" twice, then asked "what country is this?" after Hall said Wilson was jaywalking and asked him to come over again, with Wilson refusing again.
"We're not playing this game, dude," Hall said to WIlson.
"Why would I play this game either?" Wilson said.
After Wilson asked "who are you" a third time, Hall gave his name and said he was an officer with the Danville Police Department.
"Yeah from where?" Wilson asked. "Authority of what?"
Hall repeated his request for Wilson to come over to him twice more, with Wilson telling him not to touch him in response.
"Touch me and see what's up," Wilson told Hall twice, before drawing the 3-inch pocket knife that would go on to become evidence that Hall had felt he was facing an imminent threat during the encounter. Investigators previously described the knife blade as 4 inches long, but the DA's report determined it was 3 inches.
Hall responds by yelling at Wilson to "drop the knife" three times and pulls out his gun as Wilson stops in the street. Wilson keeps the knife in his hand, but doesn't point it toward the deputy, as he takes two swaying steps forward and appears to say "kill me," according to the video. In that second, Hall fires a lone shot at Wilson's face and then requests backup over his portable radio.
Interviews with the other officers as well as additional witnesses on the scene, including an off-duty San Francisco Police Department officer whose Tesla caught video of the incident, are also included, as well as with Wilson's father, Marvin.
Marvin Wilson -- himself a former law enforcement officer in Orange County -- told investigators that his son had mental health issues following a car accident in high school, and that he believed this was compounded by his son's marijuana use. He said that he'd spoken to his son on his birthday, three days before on March 8, 2021, and while he hadn't learned details about Wilson's whereabouts or circumstances, he had sounded like he was in good spirits.
On the first anniversary of the shooting this March, Marvin Wilson shared additional details about his son's mental health struggles and opinions on his death during a demonstration at the intersection in Danville where he'd been shot.
"I felt like my brother killed my son, at first," Marvin Wilson told DanvilleSanRamon in March 2022.
According to the autopsy summary in the DA's office report, Tyrell Wilson was killed by a single gunshot wound to the head, resulting in fatal injuries to his skull and brain. The bullet entered just below his right eye before striking his brain, where the bullet then splintered into three pieces. He died from his injuries at a hospital on March 13, 2021; the sheriff's office didn't publicly confirm the death until March 17, 2021.
The DA's report also includes a legal analysis elaborating on the logic behind Becton's announcement and a number of written opinions from three police use-of-force experts.
"Officer Hall raised his weapon, aimed and fired at the decedent's head as the decedent was in the process of lowering the knife to his side and continuing to close distance with Hall," use-of-force expert David Blake said in a report submitted to Becton's office.
"The imminence of the threat along with the lack of any feasible options created the necessity to use deadly force," Blake continued. "While I am critical of Officer Hall's decision to follow the decedent into the intersection without a cover officer -- the decedent was not known to possess a weapon at the time and the risk of deadly force was not reasonably foreseeable."
Blake added that while Hall's actions were "not aligned with optimal officer safety", he had nonetheless been in compliance with training provided by the California Peace Officers Association and with Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office policy.
A second use-of-force expert, Jeffrey Martin, also concluded that Hall's use of force was consistent with the training and practices of police officers throughout the state and county, and that Wilson had posed an imminent threat to Hall.
The third expert, Jody Stiger, told investigators that he believed the shooting was "not necessary based on the totality of circumstances."
During a coroner's inquest in July, a civilian jury classified Wilson's death as equivalent to the legal definition of homicide. However, as the legal analysis from Becton notes, a jury could reasonably argue that Hall is guilty, or that he is innocent, with the latter fact making the former impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt.
While some arguments pointing toward Hall being guilty in the DA's report suggest that he could have or should have known Wilson was suffering from mental health issues, a counterargument in favor of Hall's innocence listed in the report suggests that Wilson's utterance of "kill me" before walking towards Hall with a knife at the culmination of the deadly encounter, could be considered to have been seeking to die from "suicide by cop".
"A juror could reasonably conclude that an officer, believing a mentally ill suspect who was 5-7 feet away, who was armed with a knife, who refused to drop his knife after being ordered to do so at gunpoint, and who was potentially engaging in 'suicide by cop' would continue to advance on him and attempt to stab him with a knife in order to be shot and killed," legal analysts said in the investigation report.
"A jury could reasonably conclude that an officer's use of deadly force in this circumstance, although tragic, was reasonable," they continued.
Reactions to the decision
Outside of the legal realm, the decision was met with some controversy.
A handful of protesters, many of whom were from Danville, gathered outside Friday morning's press conference, seeking to express their disappointment with Becton's announcement and make a statement to town and county officials.
"I really don't think Danville thought it had a problem," Danville resident Karen Beck said. "I still think a lot of people don't think they have a problem. So it's going to be a process. It's going to be a long process. But things like this, calling attention, putting pressure on leaders, that's what we need to do."
Stephanie Taddeo, a fellow Danville resident, echoed the call to pressure local leaders for change, and to address issues related to race, mental health, and law enforcement that she and others said have abruptly come to light in Danville with the two high-profile fatal shootings by Hall.
"This can't be ignored," Taddeo said. "It can't be ignored by the town leadership. It just can't. And I think the county has a law enforcement issue with excessive use."
While Wilson's parents have not yet issued statements on the announcement or plans to seek additional recourse, Beck, Taddeo and other protesters called for the case to head to the state level.
"We want (Attorney General) Rob Bonta to look into it," Beck said. "And that's really our ask."
Burris said that with no charges coming from Becton's office, Wilson's family would need to take the case to Bonta for any additional recourse. Becton's office said in a press release that a copy of the report issued with the announcement had been sent to Bonta's office.
With Becton's announcement, Burris is now at the end of a three-year journey of representing the families of both Arboleda and Wilson in legal actions against Hall, resulting in large settlements for both in civil cases against the county, and Hall's six-year sentence in the criminal charges brought by Becton last year in Arboleda's death.
Hall shot and killed 33-year-old Arboleda at the end of a slow-speed police pursuit in downtown Danville on Nov, 3, 2018. Hall shot Arboleda nine times as the Newark man tried to weave through a makeshift police car blockade at 6 mph.
Hall, who received public support from Sheriff Livingston even after conviction, remained employed by the sheriff's office until being terminated upon his felony sentencing as required by state law.
The resulting civil settlements -- for $4.9 million with Arboleda's family and $4.5 million for Wilson's family -- led to Danville setting a 10-year record for liability costs associated with the sheriff's office.
Officials with the town of Danville, the Danville Police Department, and the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office had not responded to requests for comment Friday.
Beck said that she and other local activists, including the group Conscious Contra Costa, which was formed in the wake of Wilson's death and the announcement of charges against Hall in the 2018 shooting death of Arboleda, would continue to put pressure on local leaders.
"I have become aware in the last couple of years of a lot of activists in our midst that I wasn't aware of before, so that has been a blessing, and I don't just mean Conscious Contra Costa," Beck said. "There's other groups, like even on Nextdoor, that are active now. And there's been groups that have marched in Danville against racism. So you know, there's positive signs. But we have a long way to go."
Editor's note: Embarcadero Media East Bay editorial director Jeremy Walsh contributed to this story.
on Oct 30, 2022 at 11:09 am
on Oct 30, 2022 at 11:09 am
The Contra Costa District Attorney's Office made the right call. DA Becton brought in use-of-force experts and the decision was made. However, DA Becton's decision apparently did not sit well with the social justice warriors (SJW). The SJW now want AG Bonta to review the case. Only one problem: AG Bonta and DA Becton are cut from the same cloth. Read into that if you will, but Bonta will not go against DA Becton and use-of-force experts in this case. Bonta may make a show of it, but that's as far as this case will go.
One thing is certain, the officer had every right to defend himself. A knife is just as dangerous as a gun. Look no farther than what recently happened in Las Vegas. The suspect in that stabbing spree left two dead and six others injured. Also, just to prove how dangerous a knife can be, French law states that carrying a pocketknife, whether you are in a city or the countryside is prohibited. It's also illegal to carry most knives or any weapons in public in the UK. London set a new record of 30 teenage stabbing homicides in 2021. Stabbings accounted for almost two-thirds of all murders.
So, for anyone who thinks the officer was in the wrong, DA Becton, use of force experts, and facts related to this case, prove the officer defended himself within the scope of the law, and with both sheriff's department policies and training.