Berkeley police shooting of man armed with chain was within policy, BPD found

A review by the city’s Police Accountability Board can’t proceed until the man’s criminal case has concluded. A lawsuit against the city remains on hold for the same reason.

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

Last year’s Berkeley police shooting of a robbery suspect armed with a chain followed department policy, a BPD review board found, and resulted in no officer discipline.

Officer Madison Albrandt shot Vincent Bryant on Jan. 2, 2021, when he raised the chain in a “cocking motion” and advanced on officers who were moving in to arrest him, BPD has said. According to police records and body-camera footage reviewed by Berkeleyside, the 51-year-old ignored multiple orders to drop the chain, which police have described as 13 feet long with heavy metal links. The bullet fractured his jaw but he survived.

Within days of the shooting, a preliminary use-of-force review by a BPD captain deemed it “reasonable, appropriate and within policy.” The police chief ordered the investigation to proceed to administrative investigation and review. Albrandt, who had been placed on leave in the immediate aftermath of events, in line with department rules, was back on active duty three weeks later.

Subsequent internal reviews affirmed BPD’s initial findings. An external investigation, by the city’s Police Accountability Board (PAB), cannot proceed until Bryant’s criminal case has concluded. A lawsuit against the city remains on hold for the same reason.

The Jan. 2, 2021, incident was highly unusual in Berkeley: It was the first time a BPD officer had shot and wounded a suspect in almost a decade. In mid-2020, an officer had fired her gun at a driver fleeing a robbery scene; she did not hit him but was ultimately fired. BPD’s last fatal shooting was in 2010.

And, unlike other law enforcement agencies that have found themselves in the crosshairs in recent years, making national headlines after questionable shootings and unethical behavior, the department has no apparent record of serious police misconduct. The few sustained findings there have been by the city’s Police Review Commission, which was replaced last year by the PAB, have tended to be at the level of discourtesy.

A December 2020 analysis by the city attorney’s office found that the city had paid out just $304,000 in legal settlements related to alleged police misconduct claims over the prior decade.

Police chief, internal reviews found no violations

After Bryant’s shooting, Interim Berkeley Police Chief Jen Louis reviewed separate internal assessments by homicide investigators and the Internal Affairs Bureau. She determined there had been no apparent policy violation and that discipline was therefore not warranted.

Louis then convened a three-member review board, as per department policy, to take another look at Albrant’s use of potentially deadly force.

Learn more about the night of the shooting in past Berkeleyside coverage

The board, made up of two police captains and one lieutenant, focused on whether the facts and evidence of the incident were in line with General Order U-2, which — at the time of the shooting — governed BPD’s use of lethal force.

The board also identified five “potential training topics” from the incident.

The review board’s goal was to consider policy and training implications, police wrote. It was “not an investigation into the actual incident.”

The board also does not appear to have tackled some of the thornier questions raised by some community members after the shooting, such as whether more could have been done to de-escalate the situation and how Bryant’s mental health issues may have factored into his behavior.

In careful language, the board indicated that there could have been a faster response to the initial call for service, which was reported as an armed robbery at the downtown Walgreens; highlighted the issue of “potential crossfire” during Bryant’s arrest in the Tang Center courtyard; and said that multiple officers had communicated with Bryant as the incident first unfolded, which could have caused confusion.

The board also wrote that Tasers might have been a useful “less-lethal” alternative response, writing: “The Berkeley Police Department is currently the only law enforcement agency within the County of Alameda that is not permitted to utilize this industry standard law enforcement tool.”

Two UCPD officers with Tasers did respond to the scene, the board noted, but they were not part of the arrest team and did not fire the Tasers.

Police: Officers were in ‘imminent danger’ before shooting

Raw bodycam footage from the officer who fired her gun at Vincent Bryant. Police move into the courtyard at 11 minutes and 35 seconds into the video. Viewer discretion is advised. BPD also released a community briefing compilation video. Credit: BPD

According to body-camera footage released by BPD, the shooting followed approximately 10 minutes of de-escalation efforts by officers who tried to convince Bryant to drop the chain and talk with them. During the exchange, Bryant at times responded directly to questions, but also made various threats, at one point saying, “I’m going to make you watch me kill your family.”

When police did move in to arrest Bryant, after “negotiations failed,” they did so rapidly.

As officers walked briskly toward Bryant, several members of the arrest team — organized by BPD Sgt. Van Huynh — shot high-density foam projectiles from their less-lethal launchers when he ignored “specific and repeated commands to drop the chain while he moved directly towards Sgt. Huynh and other officers,” the board wrote.

The foam rounds had no effect, police said, and Bryant kept coming. Huynh estimated that Bryant was 10 feet in front of him with the heavy chain raised, putting him in “imminent danger,” when he heard a gunshot to his left.

Police say Bryant brandished a 13-foot chain with heavy metal links on the night of the shooting. Credit: BPD

Albrandt — who had been assigned the role of “cover” officer to protect other members of the team — had fired her gun once, striking Bryant in the face. Albrandt told investigators she had been aiming for his upper chest.

Just five seconds had elapsed since the team had entered the courtyard to make the arrest, according to one of BPD’s internal assessments.

The board wrote that Bryant had raised the chain up “in an apparent attempt to use it as a weapon.”

“The suspect continued moving while armed with a weapon that if used, had the potential to inflict great bodily harm or death to Sgt. Huynh or other officers,” the board concluded, noting that its determination that the shooting was in line with BPD policy had been unanimous.

De-escalation, mental health were not part of findings

In its four-page report, the review board did not address several issues raised in the wake of last year’s shooting, which included a cry for more intensive de-escalation tactics, or what sort of training implications they may have had.

Civil rights attorney Adanté D. Pointer has said police should have spent more time trying to de-escalate the situation and could have fired less-lethal rounds at Bryant from a greater distance to give him more time to cooperate.

“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 previously in a prepared statement. “Many such ‘stand off’ situations often take hours of verbal negotiation to end peaceably.”

This week, in response to an inquiry from Berkeleyside, BPD said officers did use some de-escalation tactics on the night of the shooting.

“We teach de-escalation regularly and some of those techniques were employed throughout this incident,” the department said. “Officers and supervisors on scene are constantly analyzing and evaluating many different factors as they work to resolve situations. As this case will be involved in litigation, we are unable to comment on the specific tactics/decision points at this time.”

The BPD review board report also did not reference how mental health issues may have factored into Bryant’s behavior or the need for additional training.

There were early indications on the night of the shooting that Bryant may have been having a mental health emergency. As it turned out, he had been detained under an emergency psychiatric hold just five days before the shooting when he brandished a pole at a stranger at Milvia and Addison streets, according to records BPD released last year.

One person who called police about Bryant’s behavior at the downtown Berkeley Walgreens — where the call for service began — said Bryant was “talking crazy” and “might be mental.”

Bryant “recited scripture and yelled incoherent statements that appeared to pertain to religion,” police wrote in the Internal Affairs report.

In the Tang Center courtyard, police themselves observed that Bryant “seemed ‘altered’ or possibly was having a ‘mental health emergency.’ Bryant screamed unintelligible statements and described hallucinations of things that were not there.”

Pointer announced plans to sue the city within two months of the police shooting. He said Bryant is permanently disfigured and required surgery and rehabilitation to regain the use of his mouth. He is seeking damages in excess of $25,000.

Last year, he told Berkeleyside the civil litigation will not proceed until Bryant’s criminal case is resolved. (Pointer did not respond to a Berkeleyside inquiry this week.)

Last fall, after a preliminary hearing in September, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ordered Bryant to stand trial on felony charges of resisting arrest and robbery with a deadly weapon identified as a metal chain. Bryant was also on parole at the time of his arrest, according to court records.

In November, Bryant was released from custody on electronic monitoring. That appears to be ending soon. This week, Bryant was ordered to turn in his GPS monitor for release on his own recognizance, according to court records.

Now, Bryant’s criminal defense attorney has filed a motion to dismiss the case. That hearing is set for July 5 at the René C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland.

Note: The full shooting investigation package released by BPD spans more than 500 pages; Berkeleyside removed several photographs for medical privacy reasons but has otherwise uploaded the document in full. We are also making available the preliminary use-of-force report, which was provided separately by BPD.

Emilie Raguso is Berkeleyside’s senior editor of news. Email: emilie@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: emraguso. Phone: 510-459-8325.