"Seconds is how quickly everything went down. Literally seconds," said Menlo Park Police Chief Bob Jonsen in describing the foot pursuit and fatal shooting of a burglary suspect by three police officers on Nov. 11.
Only two of the three officers were wearing body cameras. One camera may have been turned on after the shooting, and one may have been left off, according to District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. Two cameras were submitted to his office, which is conducting a standard review of the shooting.
Sgt. Jaime Romero did activate his camera immediately after the shooting, the police chief said, "probably as quickly as he physically could."
The third officer's camera had been turned in for repairs, so he was not wearing one. The cameras are mailed back to the manufacturer in Seattle for repairs, Chief Jonsen said. Late last year the department bought 40 VIEVU cameras, which cost more than $1,000 each, but did not order extras.
That has now changed. "This incident proved we should just go purchase more," Chief Jonsen said. The department has ordered 10 additional cameras as back-ups.
According to the policy posted on the police department's website on Nov. 21, all on-duty contact with citizens shall be recorded, with an exemption for urgent, dangerous situations: "At no time is a member expected to jeopardize his/her safety in order to activate a recorder or change the recording media. However, the recorder should be activated in all situations as soon as practical."
The Nov. 11 incident went out as a "suspicious person" call, which Chief Jonsen said normally turns into a case where the person is in fact somewhere they have a right to be. This can make it a challenge to know when to activate a camera, given that the battery carries only about a 3-hour charge, and the officer works a 12-hour shift.
The chief said that buying batteries with a longer lifespan is one option under consideration.
"We've been talking a lot about this internally," he said, adding that the camera, Taser and foot-pursuit policies will all be part of the discussion.
Chief Jonsen praised the department's officers for willingly adopting the body cameras while other jurisdictions have faced an uphill battle. And his staff "has been exceptional about activating them."
That said, it takes time for something to become second nature, as well as to make a habit of reaching for the camera when an officer's dominant hand may be moving to a weapon, he noted.
"We would love for the community to accept that we're trying our best to be transparent," the chief said.
Chief Jonsen said he talked to the DA on Nov. 19 for an update. Evidence analysis of fingerprints, DNA and guns is not finished. The investigation will not be complete for an estimated four to six weeks.
The shooting occurred on Willow Road in Menlo Park around 12:50 p.m.
In addition to Sgt. Romero, the police department identified the other officers involved as Scott Mackdanz and Nicholas Douglas. All three are on paid leave, as is department policy, the chief said. Sgt. Romero has been an officer for 18 years, Officer Mackdanz for 16, and Officer Douglas for 11.
The attorney representing Sgt. Romero said his camera was turned on at some point, but that she didn't know what was on it. "I haven't had the chance to review the footage," Alison Berry Wilkinson said.
An employee reported spotting a suspected burglar near 64 Willow Place. The police officers did not initially see the suspect, Jerry Lee Matheny, 52, of Riverside County, who fled as they arrived, the police chief said.
A foot chase ensued. According to the report, Mr. Matheny pulled a handgun and pointed it at the officers after they attempted to stop the pursuit with a Taser. Sgt. Romero told his attorney that he heard a shot and then returned fire.
All three officers fired their guns, Mr. Wagstaffe said. The crime lab has not yet determined whether Mr. Matheny had shot at them.
At the time of the shooting, Mr. Matheny was wanted by the state for parole violation related to drug charges, and also had two counts of felony commercial burglary and one count of identity theft pending in San Mateo County.
Although there may not be video footage of the shooting, Chief Jonsen said relatively consistent accounts from numerous other witnesses are available, given that it occurred in the middle of the day, in addition to the forensics.
"It's not just three officers in an alley with nobody around," he said.