Watch CBS News

San Leandro police officer sues city after release of report on fatal shooting involving fellow officer

A San Leandro police officer who was present but did not fire his service weapon when another officer fatally shot a man in a Walmart four years ago has filed a lawsuit alleging that the city damaged his career and violated his rights as a peace officer under state law by publicly releasing investigative records related to the shooting.

"He's basically stuck," said attorney Paul Goyette on behalf of the plaintiff, Stefan Overton. "He can't promote, he can't transfer, he can't get specialty assignments of any kind."

Overton was dispatched to the Walmart at 15555 Hesperian Blvd. on a report of a shoplifter at 3:12 p.m. on April 18, 2020, and arrived shortly after Officer Jason Fletcher.

Body-camera footage shows Fletcher had been inside the store for less than 15 seconds when he drew his firearm on Steven Taylor, who was holding a baseball bat. Fletcher unsuccessfully attempted to forcibly remove the bat from Taylor's grasp, then held Taylor at gunpoint from about 15 feet away until Taylor took several steps forward and Fletcher shot him in the chest.

Overton was still running toward the scene of the confrontation when Fletcher fired a single round. Taylor was bleeding profusely from the torso when he dropped the bat and began to walk away, at which time Overton used a Taser stun gun on Taylor -- bringing the fatally wounded man to the ground, where he was handcuffed.

Both officers were placed on administrative leave. The following month in Minneapolis, former police officer Derek Chauvin killed 46-year-old George Floyd, sparking months of civil unrest across the U.S. -- and increased scrutiny of the circumstances surrounding Taylor's death.

Fletcher was ultimately charged with voluntary manslaughter for his role in the killing and his case is still pending trial. Robert Chenault, chief of inspectors for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, wrote in a probable cause statement that it had been unreasonable for Fletcher to conclude Taylor posed an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury.

"I believe Officer Fletcher's actions, coupled with a failure to attempt other de-escalation options, rendered his use of deadly force unreasonable and a violation of Penal Code Section 192(a), voluntary manslaughter," Chenault wrote.

Overton had been an officer for less than two years at the time of the shooting, having joined the department as a trainee in 2018 and finished his field training in July 2019. After Taylor was killed, Overton continued working patrol shifts until February 2021, when he was reassigned to a desk job.

The city hired the Long Beach consultant firm OIR Group to conduct an independent investigation and published their report in April 2021 in the interest of police transparency. OIR Group says it has consulted on more than 400 police shooting investigations. Cities and counties often contract with such firms for internal investigations to avoid the apparent impropriety of investigating themselves.

According to OIR Group's report, as well as the civil lawsuit filed by his lawyers, Overton mistook the sound of Fletcher's pistol for a Taser, and did not initially realize that a gun had been fired. Investigators wrote that when asked about how he perceived the gunshot, Overton "speculated" that a firearm would have been "louder, particularly indoors."

Bodycam footage shows Taylor bleeding profusely from the chest at this time, but Overton told OIR investigators that he didn't notice blood stains on the ground until after using his Taser on the fatally wounded man.

The use of Overton's Taser became the focus of further investigation. OIR Group found that Taylor dropped the bat and began to walk away roughly three seconds before Overton deployed his Taser, so the threat he posed to Overton and Fletcher was greatly diminished and no longer met the threshold for San Leandro's use of force policy.

Overton also failed to verbally warn Taylor before deploying his Taser in another apparent violation of department policy, though he claimed to have seen Taser barbs sticking out of Taylor's body already and assumed that Fletcher had warned him.

The same report found that Fletcher, too, failed to warn Taylor before resorting to the use of force. He also failed to de-escalate, wait for backup or use crisis intervention techniques. "Accordingly, Fletcher's decision-making left him to deal with Taylor without the presence or assistance of a backup officer, thereby narrowing his tactical options and contributing to his own perception of elevated threat," the report said.

"Fletcher's hasty solo entry not only left himself at a disadvantage but also put Officer Overton in a position of spontaneously reacting to a dynamic situation, with a deficit of knowledge as to what had transpired," the report added. "This posed obvious challenges to Officer Overton's 'read' of the situation."

OIR Group also speculated that Fletcher may have fired his pistol by mistake. At the time of the shooting, Fletcher had the firearm in his right hand and Taser in his left, in violation of an SLPD policy discouraging this controversial tactic due to the risk of confusion under stress.

The report seems to exonerate Overton, finding faults in the rookie officer's actions, but placing blame for the use of lethal force squarely on Fletcher -- who fatally shot Taylor in the midst of a series of alleged policy violations.

"It should be noted that in responding to the incident, [Overton] was sufficiently disadvantaged by the decision-making of his partner, former Officer Fletcher," the report said.

Goyette, Overton's attorney, called the OIR Group report a "confidential peace officer record" and described its release as "grossly irresponsible."

"They were just so concerned about their image and the PR component certain members of the city council were trying to promote, they didn't care what happened to this guy or his reputation," said Goyette. "And once it's out there, it's out there permanently."

More than four years after Taylor's death, Goyette alleged Overton's career in law enforcement has been adversely impacted by this case and how the city handled it. Goyette argues that Overton has been unfairly branded as a killer -- unable to get promoted in rank or assigned to special units, and unable to get hired by other police agencies.

Overton has also allegedly been denied overtime opportunities, which is a significant source of income for many officers. That allegedly violates Overton's rights under the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act, which states that an officer cannot be subjected to punitive action such as denial of promotions unless the agency employing that officer completes an administrative investigation within one year. According to Goyette, OIR Group's report doesn't meet that requirement.

Goyette argues that outsourcing this investigation violated the department's policy on fatal shootings, which requires the department to conduct its own administrative investigation. The complaint states that investigation still has yet to take place more than four years later.

When contacted for comment on the lawsuit, San Leandro spokesman Paul Sanftner said the city planned to "vigorously defend itself" but could not provide additional information due to the pending litigation and the sensitive nature of the case. The San Leandro Police Officers' Association union did not respond to a request for comment.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.