SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A California police officer was convicted Tuesday of assault with a firearm in the 2018 fatal shooting of an unarmed mentally ill man who was shot nine times while driving away from police in a wealthy San Francisco suburb.
An attorney for the man's family called it a "major step forward" in holding law enforcement accountable.
After deliberating barely two days, the jury delivered a split verdict in the case against officer Andrew Hall, who now faces up to 17 years in prison. They agreed Hall was guilty of the felony charge of wrongfully firing his gun in the death of 33-year-old Laudemer Arboleda.
But the jury deadlocked on another and more serious count of voluntary manslaughter. Hall's sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 14, according to the Contra Costa County district attorney's office, which said it is deciding whether to pursue a retrial on the manslaughter charge.
The case marked the first time a police officer was charged in an on-duty shooting in Contra Costa County, east of San Francisco, and is part of a push by more prosecutors to punish police misconduct after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis set off nationwide calls for social justice.
"Today's guilty verdict holds accountable defendant Andrew Hall for his excessive use of force in the fatal shooting of Laudemer Arboleda," District Attorney Diana Becton said in a statement. His "actions were not only a crime, but they tarnished the badge and they harmed the reputation of all the good, hard-working police officers that work for our community."
Becton faced criticism for spending more than two years reviewing the case before filing charges April 21, 2021. The announcement of charges came a day after a jury convicted Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin of killing Floyd.
It also came six weeks after Hall, who is white, shot and killed another man, Tyrell Wilson, a Black homeless man whose family said was suffering from depression and paranoia. The shooting of Wilson remains under investigation.
The fatal shootings — in a span of 2 years by the same officer — cast a spotlight on what criminal justice activists call a case of delayed justice and its deadly consequences. The Contra Costa Sheriff's Office, which has a contract to provide police services to Danville, had cleared Hall of misconduct after its own nine-month investigation into Arboleda's shooting.
Civil rights lawyer John Burris, who represents Arboleda's family in a separate civil lawsuit, said the assault conviction offered a measure of justice to the family but also left them disappointed.
"For them there was no acknowledgement that (Arboleda) was killed wrongfully by the police. They thought he should have been charged with murder, not manslaughter," said Burris, who nonetheless felt the verdict showed progress.
"It sends a message to other police officers that clearly you can be prosecuted and you can be convicted," said Burris, whose roster of high-profile police violence cases includes Rodney King and Oscar Grant.
"It's a major step forward in looking at holding police officers accountable," Burris said. "This was important. Is it a George Floyd ramification? Perhaps. But I also think it's a drumbeat of what has taken place over the past 30 years from Rodney King to now."
During Hall's three-week trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys presented competing narratives, alternately asking the jury to sympathize with the officer's need to make split-second decisions or the troubled victim whose only crime was not stopping for police.
The events unfolded on Nov. 3, 2018, after a resident called 911 to report that a man later identified as Arboleda was knocking on doors and lingering outside homes in a Danville cul-de-sac. When officers arrived, they saw Arboleda get into his car and drive away.
Arboleda led officers on a nine-minute, slow-speed chase through Danville. Hall was not involved in the initial pursuit but stopped his vehicle at an intersection to block Arboleda's car. Police video shows Hall stepping in the path of Arboleda's vehicle and firing a volley of shots into the windshield and passenger-side window.
Prosecutors argued Hall used "excessive, unreasonable and unnecessary" force. During opening remarks prosecutor Colleen Gleason presented dashboard and bodycam footage showing Hall jumping out of his car, running up to Arboleda's vehicle and firing repeatedly into the car's windows.
"The defendant fired 10 shots into the slow-moving vehicle of a mentally ill man," Gleason said. Nine of the bullets hit Arboleda, who had periodically shown signs of depression, but began displaying concerning behavior in the months before his death. Just months before his encounter with Hall, Arboleda was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital for three weeks and prescribed medication for psychosis and schizophrenia, his family has said.
Hall's lawyers said the officer feared for his safety, and used body cam footage from different angles to show the right front tire of Arboleda's car was pointed at Hall when the shooting started, indicating it was heading in his direction.
During the trial, defense attorney Harry Stern emphasized the quick life-or-death decisions Hall had to make.
"Really this comes down to about a two-second window," Stern told reporters earlier in the trial. "That's what this case is all about."
Stern could not immediately be reached for comment after Tuesday's verdict.