Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer
In the early hours of Sept. 6, 2018, members of the Sacramento Police Department’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) claimed 19-year-old Darell Richards pointed a gun at them in his backyard in the neighborhood of Curtis Park.
Within seconds, Richards was fatally shot several times. The Black-Hmong man was in possession of a pellet gun that resembled a handgun and knife. Whether the officers could make a determination about firearms is not a debate.
Richards’ mother Christine Vang, her attorneys, and the local media are trying to find out whether use of force was warranted. A video released by SPD does not clearly show that Richards pointed a gun in the officers’ direction. But it shows everything else leading to the shooting.
“It’s a cover-up,” Vang told The OBSERVER by email Sept. 5, exactly three years after her son died in a hail of gunfire. “Nowhere in their (SPD) narrative video showed my son pointing anything.”
Behind a series of lawsuits filed by various media outlets, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Steven M. Gevercer ruled last week that the City of Sacramento broke state law by withholding public records related to the fatal shooting.
Gevercer indicated that by withholding additional videos, audio, documents, and photos from the incident, the Sacramento Police Department violated the California Public Records Act, and has ordered the remaining documents to be made available by Sept. 13.
Tanya Faison, the founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, said Sept. 2 she believes “800 pages” have not been released. Faison agreed with Vang, saying SPD is telling only its version of the events.
“They are just not telling the truth,” Faison said. “This is not the end of it. This is not a justifiable shooting.”
Senate Bill (SB) 1421, known as the California Public Records Act (CPRA), requires state and local agencies to make public records available for inspection, subject to certain exceptions. The act also requires that certain peace officer or custodial officer personnel records and records relating to specified incidents, complaints, and investigations involving peace officers and custodial officers be made available for public inspection.
SPD released a 13-minute video made available by the California Highway Patrol about 10 days after the shooting. A 9-1-1 call, surveillance video, aerial video, and 10 moving body camera images were released to the public upon request.
The 9-1-1 call stated that someone spotted Richards walking around “pointing” a gun at people hours before on Sept. 5, 2018. The caller also said Richards “pointed it at me and two of my other co-workers.” The caller said Richards said nothing and then walked away.
Police first encountered Richards near 16th Street and Broadway after the 9-1-1 call. He ran off and they did not see him again until locating him in the backyard behind the stairs of his residence.
SPD said the officers did not pursue Richards when they first spotted him. That followed a policy established after the fatal shooting of Stephon Clark in the backyard of his grandparents’ home March 18, 2018.
Vang said her son had lifelong mental health issues. Still, she insisted her son’s actions did not necessitate he be shot by police. The officers should be held accountable and reveal the facts, she said.
Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), author of the CPRA, has a new piece of legislation that would expand SB 1421’s powers. SB 16 would require the release of records during an investigation, including records of incidents involving sexual assault and dishonesty by officers, and the records of incidents involving prejudice or discrimination. SB 16 would also require records be released in cases of wrongful arrests and wrongful searches.
The state Senate on Sept. 2 passed SB 16 29-9. It awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.
“Communities deserve to know that those hired to protect them can be counted on to do so,” Sen. Skinner said in a written statement. “With SB 16, we will now have the tools to hold our police departments accountable and rebuild trust. SB 16 also sends a clear message that officers who persist in racist or abusive behavior will not be hidden from the public any longer.”