A California police officer was sentenced to six years in prison on Friday for fatally shooting an unarmed mental patient during a low-speed car chase in an affluent San Francisco suburb.
An attorney for the man’s family called it a “watershed moment” and an example of progress being made in California and elsewhere to hold law enforcement to account.
Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Terri Mockler said evidence showed Laudemer Arboleda, 33, was driving at 6 mph as he tried to elude Danville Police Officer Andrew Hall , who fired a barrage of bullets at him that violated his own training and put his fellow officers in danger.
Hall made “extremely bad choices,” the judge said, and Arboleda didn’t deserve to die for escaping an officer.
“Although he may have broken the law, it was not a law that sentenced him to death,” the judge said.
The victim’s mother, Jeannie Atienza, said in a statement that the sentence brings some closure to the family now that Hall has been held accountable.
They want Hall retried on the voluntary manslaughter charge on which a jury deadlocked in October. Jurors found Hall guilty of assault with a firearm for the shooting.
“Our family has been through hell,” she said.
Atienza said it pains the family that it took almost three years to bring charges against Hall, during which time he fatally shot another man, Tyrell Wilson, who was homeless and mentally ill .
“The preferential treatment given to Hall as an officer throughout this trial has only added to our trauma,” she said.
The case marked the first time a police officer has been 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 the police misconduct following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. national calls for social justice.
Civil rights attorney John Burris, who is representing Arboleda’s family in a separate civil suit, said the sentencing shows how times have changed. Burris’ list of high-profile police brutality cases includes Rodney King and Oscar Grant.
“It’s been a 30-year march to that kind of decision,” Burris said. On March 3, 1991, King’s beating and subsequent acquittal of the officers sparked riots that rocked Los Angeles. “It’s kind of a new day.”
Seated in the courtroom were families of other victims of police brutality who came to show their support, including relatives of Oscar Grant and Tyrell Wilson.
The Arboleda shooting took place after a resident called 911 on November 3, 2018 to report that a suspicious person later identified as Arboleda was knocking on doors and lingering outside homes in a cul-de-sac from Danville. When officers arrived, they saw 5-foot-5 Arboleda get into his car and drive off.
Arboleda led officers on a nine-minute slow-speed chase through Danville. Hall was not involved in the initial chase but stopped his vehicle at an intersection to block Arboleda’s car.
Police video shows Hall walking into the path of Arboleda’s vehicle and firing a volley of shots into the windshield and passenger-side window. Nine bullets hit Arboleda, including a fatal bullet in the chest.
During a three-week trial in October, prosecutors argued Hall used excessive, unreasonable and unnecessary force.
Hall’s attorneys said the officer feared for his safety and used body camera video to show that the right front tire of Arboleda’s car was pointed towards Hall when the shooting began, indicating that she was headed in his direction. Hall’s attorneys say they plan to appeal Friday’s sentence.
Before passing sentence, Mockler noted that Hall had been trained not to fire at moving cars and in doing so had turned Arboleda’s vehicle into “an unguided missile” that slammed into the intersection and is collided with the car of an innocent bystander. His shots, fired in the direction of other officers, also endangered his fellow officers. Most importantly, the judge pointed out that Arboleda had done nothing wrong except flee from the police.
“It is true that we all have a duty when we are chased by a policeman with lights and sirens that will stop,” she said, describing Arboleda as a “particularly vulnerable” victim. “He didn’t deserve to die for escaping a policeman. That’s really the crux of it all.
Contra Costa Dist. Atti. Diana Becton has been criticized for spending more than two years investigating the case before filing charges on April 21, 2021. Her announcement of the charges came a day after a jury convicted the former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, for killing Floyd.
It also came six weeks after Hall, who is white, shot dead Wilson, a black homeless man whose family said suffered from depression and paranoia. Wilson’s shooting is still under investigation.
The fatal shootings over a 2.5-year period by the same officer have brought to light 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 in Danville, had cleared Hall of misconduct after its own nine-month investigation into the Arboleda shooting.
Los Angeles Times