More about Jacob Faust
In last week’s issue, I did a follow-up on the April 4, 2005 shooting death of 25-year-old Jacob Faust by a San Diego police officer. If you need some background on the shooting, read this story and this story.
The article looks at how folks who witnessed the shooting told a different story to police investigators than the two police officers involved. For instance, no witnesses saw Jacob struggle with one of the cops before he was shot. Two witnesses who saw the whole thing go down said they didn’t see Jacob do anything to provoke the shooting; officers say he resisted when they tried to pull him from his van and he was shot because he was reaching for what one officer thought was a gun. The gun ended up being a toy. Jacob’s family initially thought it was a stage prop—he was working on a film and was the member of a performance group, but no one he was working with recalls him owning such a gun or ever seeing it in his van. His family wonders if what officers saw wasn’t the silver tape recorder Jacob frequently had with him.
What didn’t make it into the article is what happened right after the shooting. Jacob was shot through the neck, arm and chest—it was the latter shot that killed him. Witnesses say it was a few minutes before police officers pulled him out of his van. One witness said they “yanked” him out, another said they opened the van’s door and he kind of fell out. Witnesses also say that two officers stood there with their guns pointed at him until an ambulance arrived. According to police dispatch records, he went at least six minutes without any medical assistance. Would that have made a difference?
When an officer shoots someone who he believes has a weapon, protocol is to secure the weapon. Within a minute of the shooting, several other officers showed up and one reached into the car to retrieve the gun. But she didn’t say anything about it not being a real gun. Even three hours after the shooting, the involved officers didn’t know the gun was a fake. Brian Keaton, who originally pulled Jacob over for making an illegal left turn, said he didn’t want to move Jake because it was obvious he had a neck injury. They pulled him out, Keaton said, because a couple of other officers thought Jacob might have another gun on him and he’d pull it on the cops. Jacob was unconscious; even witnesses said he looked in pretty bad shape at that point.
This information has little bearing on whether Jacob’s was a wrongful death. It’s a window into protocol, though and a law-enforcement mindset in which the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad; there’s not much room for anything in between, like mistakes, fear and bad judgement calls.
We get to see these witness statements only because the Fausts have chosen to sue. If they hadn’t, you’d know none of this. The only public information about the shooting is the press release from the San Diego Police Department, any media stories and a shooting “summary” letter from the District Attorney in which the DA reviews the facts of the case to determine whether it was justified. But even the DA’s letter doesn’t take into account witness statements that conflict with the officers’ version of events.
I’ve been following this case for the past two years because, from the beginning, it just didn’t seem to add up—a “just doesn’t look right” story, as Tim Redmond, the long-time editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian calls them. We may never have all the facts in this case. Unlike in other cities, officers in San Diego aren’t required to wear recording devices or have cameras mounted in their cars. If either one of those things were in place and used as intended—an additional measure of oversight—I probably wouldn’t be writing this right now.