Four Redwood City police officers who were involved in the death of Ramzi Saad last August were found to be within department policy when one officer used a Taser stun gun on him multiple times and three others used their body weight to pin him face-first on the ground, according to a report released under California’s new police transparency law.
Saad, 55, was killed in the confrontation with police on Aug. 13 outside the home he shared with his mother at 523 Lanyard Drive. His was one of four deaths in the county last year involving the use of Tasers on people suffering from mental health issues.
The others included Chinedu Okobi, who was killed by San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies in October when they attempted to stop him for jaywalking, and Kyle Hart, a Palo Alto middle school English teacher who had cut his own throat and wrists. Hart was Tased and then shot by Redwood City police in December.
Civil rights attorney John Burris, who represents Okobi’s family and sued the sheriff’s office, has called for a moratorium on Tasers in the county.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe cleared officers of criminal charges in each case.
Wagstaffe wrote a letter to Redwood City police Chief Dan Mulholland in November saying that he would not pursue criminal charges against the officers who killed Saad. Wagstaffe had already told Redwood City police on Aug. 20 that he was unlikely to prosecute.
The internal review into Saad’s death, which was completed in May, determined whether the officers followed department policy. It was released under Senate Bill 1421, a new police transparency law that took effect in January. Previously, the results of such internal investigations would be secret.
While the investigations are separate, internal affairs investigators sat in on the district attorney’s inspector interviews with the involved officers and were permitted to ask questions, according to Redwood City police Deputy Chief Gary Kirby.
Similar to earlier Wagstaffe investigation
Much of the investigative summary in the internal report is a word-for-word reproduction of Wagstaffe’s letter from November.
“The statement was provided to a DA inspector, and we didn’t need to go and recreate that statement in a different way,” Kirby said. “There’s separate analysis of the information that’s presented,” with one investigation examining the law and the other department policy.
Redwood City police officers do not have body-worn cameras and the incident was not recorded on video.
Police were first called to the home shortly after 7 p.m. According to the district attorney’s letter, Saad had been in a bad mood throughout the day and refused to take his medication. He went to a neighbor’s home and told him, “My mother is dead and they’re killing us.”
The neighbor walked Saad back to his house, where Saad allegedly pushed his mother down. The neighbor then called 911.
‘They’re trying to kill me’
Officer Oscar Poveda was the first to arrive. According to Wagstaffe’s letter, Saad’s mother was still on the ground as Poveda arrived. He asked Saad what was going on and Saad replied, “They’re trying to kill me.”
Poveda attempted to calm Saad down, speaking to him calmly and asking him to sit on the curb, Wagstaffe wrote. Saad had started to calm down, but suddenly changed his demeanor and said to Poveda, “You wanna pull your gun and shoot me, don’t you?” according to Wagstaffe.
Poveda continued to try and reassure Saad, but pulled his Taser and concealed it behind his back. Saad took a swing at Poveda but missed, and Poveda deployed his Taser. Saad fell to the ground. He didn’t put his hands behind his back and Poveda Tased him again. Saad then threw a piece of fruit at Poveda, according to Wagstaffe.
The officer deployed a Taser a third time, but it’s not clear if the probes made contact that time.
Saad grabbed a brick, according to Wagstaffe, and Poveda moved in to try and physically subdue him. Poveda wrestled with Saad on the ground and handcuffed him before the other officers arrived.
As Officers Matthew Cydzik, Daniel Di Bona and Oscar Poveda arrived, Poveda walked away. The three officers all used their body weight to pin Saad face-first on the ground, with Di Bona on his legs, Cydzik’s knee between his shoulder blades, and Simmons on his midsection.
Eventually Saad stopped fighting. The officers confirmed that he was breathing, according to Wagstaffe, but when he became non-responsive they called paramedics, who were unable to revive him.
According to Wagstaffe’s letter, an autopsy determined that Saad died from cardiac arrest caused by physical exertion, restraint and the Taser.
While the officers were found not to be criminally liable and within the department’s policy, Redwood City police will be giving all officers new crisis intervention training and implementing body cameras by sometime next year.
Kristen Hart, the wife of Kyle Hart, the other person who died in a confrontation with Redwood City police last year, called on the Redwood City City Council to make the changes at its meeting in May.
She said her husband had been treated for anxiety and had a bad reaction to his medication, which led to the suicide attempt.
“Our officers deserve to have the best tools and resources available to them and our citizens in crisis deserve dignity and support,” Hart said.
The new training and body-worn cameras was passed by the City Council as part of its budget in June.
The legal standard evaluating officers use of force may soon change across California as well. On Monday, the state Senate passed AB392, a bill that would raise the standard for when officers use deadly force from when it is “reasonable” to when it is “necessary.”
Officers would also be evaluated on whether they attempted de-escalation techniques prior to using deadly force. Gov. Gavin Newsom still needs to sign the bill for it to become law, but he has previously said he intends to sign it.
— Bay City News