Authorities say a man caught on video being shot by Berkeley police with a round from a “less-lethal” weapon had been threatening a convenience store clerk with a knife just before officers got to the scene.
This week, local activist group Berkeley Copwatch raised questions about the video, writing to city officials and asking for details about the incident, which took place March 14 at about 5 p.m.
According to a statement from the Berkeley Police Department, officers responded that day to Sacramento Market, at 2974 Sacramento St., after a report came in about a man who “had caused a disturbance inside the store and then threatened the clerk with a knife when the clerk told the suspect he was calling police.”
When officers arrived, according to BPD, they found the man across the street. BPD said the man threatened to fight police and would not listen to officer orders. Police told the man to lie on the ground. He dropped to his knees, said BPD, but refused to lie down.
“At that point, the suspect was warned that officers would use less-lethal projectiles if he did not lay on the ground,” BPD said. Police use “less-lethal” or “non-lethal” weapons, which shoot baton rounds, rubber bullets and the like, as an alternative to firearms when someone considered armed or dangerous does not comply with orders.
BPD said the man still had his knife, even though he was not holding it, and that officers believed he posed a danger to them should they attempt to arrest him.
According to BPD, at one point, the man also said “he should stand up from his kneeling position so that officers would shoot him. Officers recognized this can be an indicator of a potential attempt to commit ‘suicide by cop’ and continued to safely engage with the suspect.”
Police said officers issued several more warnings, but the man still refused to comply. An officer then fired one less-lethal foam baton round, striking the man’s leg. After that, the man immediately complied and police arrested him.
Berkeley paramedic-firefighters were dispatched to the scene to see if the man needed any aid, but he declined medical attention, according to BPD. The man was left with a bruise from where the baton round struck him, but no other injuries were reported.
Police identified the man as William Brown, 36, of Berkeley. He was arrested on suspicion of brandishing a weapon, resisting arrest and public intoxication. Police said they recovered a knife in his pocket and collected video surveillance from the store as evidence.
On March 17, the Alameda County district attorney’s office charged Brown with exhibiting a deadly weapon and resisting arrest, which are both misdemeanors.
At some point, Brown was released on his own recognizance, according to Alameda County Superior Court records online. He is slated to enter a plea May 22 at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland.
In its statement, Copwatch described the man, who is black, as “unarmed,” and questioned why police had to fire upon him with the less-lethal weapon.
“How did officers justify this shooting in their report?” Copwatch asked. “Where are the records of this incident and when will they be released?”
Copwatch published video of the incident on YouTube.
Copwatch also demanded the immediate suspension of officers involved in the incident, requested the police report and said it would launch an independent “people’s investigation” into what had happened with the help of civil rights attorney Adante Pointer.
BPD issued Wednesday’s statement in response to the questions Copwatch raised.