The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office is revising its use-of-force policy, including use of Taser stun guns, following the outcry over the death of Chinedu Okobi by Tasers last October.
The Sheriff's Office will give a report on the revised policy and other reforms during a Board of Supervisors meeting today (July 23). It follows a study session in February on the use of Tasers.
Okobi, 36, was the third person in San Mateo County killed in an incident involving Tasers last year. He was stopped by sheriff's deputies while walking on El Camino Real in Millbrae on Oct. 3.
The encounter turned into a confrontation that quickly escalated, with one officer using a Taser on Okobi multiple times and others taking him to the ground and hitting him with clubs and pepper spray. A pathologist found that the Taser contributed to cardiac arrest.
The other incidents occurred in different law enforcement jurisdictions - Ramzi Saad was killed by Redwood City police in August and Warren Ragudo by Daly City police in January.
According to the Board of Supervisors agenda, Sheriff Carlos Bolanos is also adding automated external defibrillators to patrol vehicles, a reform advocated at February's study session by Dr. Zian Tseng, who researches sudden cardiac death at the University of California at San Francisco.
The draft policy incorporates some recommendations from the American Civil Liberties Union. But the ACLU, which was permitted to review
the draft policy, wrote in a letter to county officials that some aspects of the policy do not go far enough and should incorporate anticipated changes in state law.
AB 392 has passed both houses of the state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom has publicly supported it. It would make the standard for police officers to use deadly force more stringent, allowing it only when "necessary to defend against an imminent threat of great bodily injury."
The ACLU points out that the San Mateo County Sheriff's draft policy uses language that may soon be outdated, permitting deadly force when a deputy "reasonably believes" a suspect is an imminent threat.
The policy also permits shooting at moving vehicles, a potentially dangerous practice that many experts recommend against. It was banned in most circumstances in San Francisco in 2016.
Regarding Tasers, ACLU of Northern California Criminal Justice Project Director Lizzie Buchen wrote that "the draft policy continues to fall far short of what is necessary to prevent deaths from uses of Tasers."
Specifically, Buchen said that the policy is too vague in describing the behavior when deputies would be permitted to use Tasers, calling on deputies to make a subjective assessment of what a person was thinking. Such assessments, Buchen argued, can lead to racial stereotyping.
Buchen also faulted the policy's authorization for Taser use to "overcome active resistance," which could potentially mean grabbing a lamppost, going limp or grabbing onto a car steering wheel."
The ACLU suggested using language similar to San Francisco's recently adopted Taser policy, which allows for officers to use Tasers when a suspect is armed with a weapon other than a firearm, is causing immediate physical injury, or is violently resisting arrest.
The ACLU also called for more guidance to officers to use de-escalation techniques on people suffering mental illnesses, which included all four people killed in law enforcement encounters in San Mateo County last year.
Other best practices for dealing with people with mental illnesses include setting up a perimeter, calling in professionals trained in mental health issues, and giving a person time and space to resolve a crisis, according to the ACLU.
Tuesday's meeting starts at 9 a.m. at the Hall of Justice and Records, 400 North County Center in Redwood City.