The scene of a Berkeley police shooting in January. Credit: BPD

A preliminary review of the Berkeley police shooting in January that left an armed robbery suspect with a gunshot wound to the jaw found that the officer’s “actions were lawful,” according to new records released by BPD on Thursday.

A final determination has not been made in the case: Berkeley PD’s Internal Affairs Bureau has not completed its investigation and the Berkeley police chief has yet to weigh in.

But a review by the department’s homicide unit found that Officer Madison Albrandt was legally justified when she fired her pistol once at Vincent Bryant, who was armed with a 13-foot metal chain, during a brief standoff with Berkeley police in January.

“I thought he was going to hit Sergeant with the chain,” Albrandt told a fellow officer, according to the reports released this week, just after the Jan. 2 shooting in the courtyard of UC Berkeley’s Tang Center, at 2222 Bancroft Way, just east of Ellsworth Street. On the night of the shooting, Albrandt was immediately placed on leave as per department protocol but has since returned to active duty.

Bryant, a parolee who was charged with multiple violent felonies within days of the shooting, was described by police as delusional, incoherent and aggressive when they tried to take him into custody following a robbery report from a downtown Berkeley drugstore at about 8:20 p.m.

The Tang Center courtyard where a Berkeley police shooting took place Jan. 2, 2021. Credit: BPD

In fact, according to the records released Thursday, Bryant had been detained under an emergency psychiatric “5150” hold just five days before the shooting after he brandished a pole at a stranger at Milvia and Addison streets in downtown Berkeley on Dec. 28, 2020.

On Jan. 2, an officer who rode with Bryant in the ambulance on the way to Highland Hospital in Oakland after he was shot noticed that he was still wearing a medical bracelet, printed with the words “Adult Mental Health,” on his wrist.

In February, Bryant’s attorney Adanté D. Pointer filed paperwork announcing plans to sue the city over the shooting. Pointer said police should have spent more time trying to de-escalate the situation and could have fired less-lethal weapons at Bryant from a greater distance to give him more time to comply with their orders.

“Officers should have simply continued to try to de-escalate and establish a rapport with Mr. Bryant in order to resolve the situation without any unnecessary violence in accordance with officers’ training and the law,” Pointer said in a prepared statement. “Many such ‘stand off’ situations often take hours of verbal negotiation to end peaceably.”

Pointer said Bryant is now permanently disfigured and required surgery and rehabilitation to regain the use of his mouth. He is seeking damages in excess of $25,000. The civil litigation will not proceed until Bryant’s criminal case has resolved, he said.

Prior to the shooting, police have said previously, Bryant had stolen items and threatened a clerk at the Walgreens drugstore at 2190 Shattuck Ave. Bryant’s attorney has disputed those allegations, and said what happened at Walgreens was a misunderstanding: that Bryant and store staff had argued over the terms of a return he was trying to make.

Police were dispatched to find Bryant after the robbery report, and they ultimately located and surrounded him in the Tang Center courtyard. Officers initially tried to speak with him, but they were unable to convince him to surrender or put down his chain, according to BPD and body camera footage released previously.

Bryant was “highly agitated,” police wrote in the new batch of records, repeatedly daring officers to shoot him and, at times, striking the chain on the ground “like a whip.”

“Bryant was not responsive and seemed ‘altered’ or possibly was having a ‘mental health emergency.’ Bryant screamed unintelligible statements and described hallucinations of things that were not there,” police wrote. He “repeatedly threatened to use the metal chain to assault officers over the course of approximately 13 minutes.”

A view of the walkway into the Tang Center courtyard Jan. 2, 2021, after a Berkeley police shooting wounded one man. Credit: BPD

As Bryant moved around the courtyard, ultimately standing on top of a raised concrete bench, five officers took up a position in a sheltered walkway and “established a plan,” Albrandt said during a Jan. 5 interview with investigators and her attorney. “The goal was to detain the subject ‘with no one getting hurt.'”

Sgt. Van Huynh had put together the “contact team,” according to police records, designating Albrandt and another officer as “lethal cover” to protect the rest of the team as the group moved into the courtyard to take Bryant into custody.

The operation happened fast: As the team moved toward Bryant, Huynh repeatedly ordered him to drop the chain. Instead, Bryant moved toward the officers, causing them to back up and bump into each other, as he wound up as if to swing the chain, according to police.

Multiple officers fired “less-lethal” high-density foam projectiles at Bryant, but they had no effect, police said. Huynh estimated that Bryant was in front of him within about 10 feet, putting the sergeant in “imminent danger,” when he heard a gunshot fired to his left.

Just five seconds had elapsed since the team had entered the courtyard, according to the homicide investigator’s report.

Officer Madison Albrandt fired her gun, wounding a robbery suspect Jan. 2, 2021. Credit: BPD

One officer on the team told police Bryant had “started to ‘wind up’ his right arm to swing the chain overhead” and “was almost within striking distance” when Albrandt fired her Glock 17 pistol.

“He had the chain in his hand, and he was going to swing it,” Albrandt told investigators. “I knew that if he finished swinging that chain, that Sergeant Van [Huynh] was going to be seriously hurt if not killed.”

Albrandt said she had aimed at Bryant’s upper chest. But the bullet ultimately hit him in the jaw, breaking it and knocking out at least two of his teeth, according to the materials released Thursday.

Bryant fell to the ground. Numerous officers said they did not initially realize he had been wounded by gunfire, or that a gun had been fired at all, since multiple less-lethal rounds had also been fired.

During the encounter, one of the officers on the contact team was hit by a foam round and was left with a substantial bruise on his leg.

A “less-lethal” foam projectile from the Jan. 2, 2021, Berkeley police shooting in the Tang Center courtyard. Credit: BPD

Albrandt told investigators she had been evaluating the entire scene, including Bryant’s behavior, how far away he was and the presence of a weapon, as well as the position of other officers, when she fired her gun: “My job [was] once there’s a threat of serious bodily injury or death, that’s the only time I would ever use lethal.”

In February, Bryant told KTVU he felt police had “prejudged” him and that, if they actually knew him, “they would say they made a mistake.”

The police records released Thursday spanned several hundred pages in two batches (Part 1 and Part 2), and nearly 900 photographs, and included reports from more than a dozen officers who responded to the Tang Center courtyard Jan. 2. There was only one civilian witness to the incident, police wrote, a man who had been sleeping outside on the north side of Bancroft Way across from the Tang Center when everything unfolded.

The witness, whose name was redacted, woke up when he heard “screaming and yelling” and saw a man swinging a chain around, according to the homicide report, threatening to kill the officers and their children.

“I thought it was pretty stupid of him to try to take out 20 cops with a chain… but I was just kind of annoyed that he wouldn’t shut up,” the man told police. The yelling went on for about 10 minutes before the witness said he stopped paying attention and instead rolled a joint. That’s when the shooting happened: “He said he heard about three shots and then there was no more yelling,” police wrote.

According to the records released this week, Bryant had just been released in July 2020 from a Southern California prison where he had been serving a six-year sentence for burglary. He was placed on parole through July 2022.

But that didn’t stop him from getting into trouble, according to the police records. On Dec. 20, 2020, Bryant was arrested in San Francisco after repeatedly pushing a woman who interrupted him stealing from her car, police wrote. He threatened the woman with violence, according to police, and officers recovered her stolen property when they arrested Bryant.

Authorities noted that prosecution in the Dec. 20 case was “deferred for revocation of parole” and, as of June, Bryant had three outstanding warrants, for both parole and probation violations, among other charges.

In the aftermath of the Jan. 2 shooting, police released body camera footage and the 911 call audio recording from the encounter.

The Jan. 2 incident was the first time a Berkeley police officer has shot and wounded a suspect since 2012. Last year, a Berkeley police officer fired her gun at a driver fleeing a robbery scene; she did not hit him but was ultimately fired.

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...