The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office has determined that a Fontana Police Department officer was legally justified in fatally shooting a 46-year-old mentally ill man during an incident at a gasoline station in Fontana in 2015.
Officer Shane McCoy shot Fontana resident James Daniel Hall after a 15-minute standoff inside the Chevron station at 10510 Sierra Avenue in a controversial case which received widespread news coverage because family members and lawyers representing Hall claimed that the shooting was an unnecessary use of force. Lawyer Mark Geragos said Hall was also legally blind.
Additional questions were raised when a surveillance video of the incident was released earlier this year (see accompanying video posted by GeragosTube).
But Deputy District Attorney Kent Williams said that because Hall was armed with a knife and a rock and was acting erratically, he was perceived as a threat to McCoy and the several other officers who had responded to the scene.
Hall’s blood toxicology report revealed the presence of amphetamine/methamphetamine in his blood, as well as cannabinoids and other prescription pharmaceutical drugs, Williams said.
"Based on the facts of this case and the applicable law, Officer McCoy’s use of lethal force was a proper exercise of his right of self-defense and defense of others. Therefore, his actions were legally justified," the D.A.'s Office said in a news release.
The incident took place on Nov. 22, 2015 at about 4:16 a.m., when police received a call from the gas station clerk who was reporting a possible robbery.
Hall, whose DMV record indicated that he was 6-feet-3 and weighed 240 pounds, was still inside the store as the first officers arrived, Williams said in his report of the incident.
"He refused to comply with numerous requests of the responding officers," Williams said. "Hall was brandishing a knife in one hand, and a rock in the other, and he was uttering incessant profanity. Hall was angry for unknown reasons. The officers brought in a canine, Kaiser, in an effort to subdue the subject, but they withdrew the dog after Mr. Hall attempted to stab him. At various times during the episode Hall was observed to hold the rock up above his shoulder (in the form of throwing a football), a position from which he could throw the rock with considerable force."
Williams said the officers deployed five “less lethal” rounds at Hall in an attempt to apprehend him without injury, but they had no effect.
"Mr. Hall appeared to the officers to possibly be under the influence of narcotics, in part because he did not respond to the hits from the 40mm," Williams said.
About a dozen officers converged on scene as Hall moved along a back aisle and near the coffee counter.
"As time went on, Hall appeared to become increasingly erratic. He was in close proximity of the officers inside the store," Williams said.
"He eventually made a move toward the officers which they perceived as potentially life threatening. Officer Shane McCoy fired three rounds into Hall with his 5.56mm AR-15 rifle. Two rounds entered Hall’s chest from the front, and one round entered the edge of his shoulder. Hall died at the scene within minutes."
A folding black tanto-bladed Gerber knife was located at the scene near where Hall was shot, as well as a large oblong rock somewhat larger than the size of a softball, Williams said.
The three 5.56mm shell casings were located slightly over 20 feet away from Hall’s body.
"The distance between Hall and McCoy at the time the shots were fired was determined to be 15.55 feet, based on a review of the video and utilizing the Faro Focus 3D scan," Williams said.
Even looking at the case in hindsight, "one cannot in this case formulate any perspective which renders the decision to use lethal force as unreasonable," Williams said.
"The fact that James Hall was a mentally ill man did not reduce the threat perceived by the officers. The threat was still real, even though the basis or underlying motivation was not evil or sinister," Williams said.
"The fact that Hall was mentally ill possibly created a perspective which made the scenario even more stressful for the officers. To confront a violent criminal creates one perspective; to confront a violent mentally ill person creates another. Both scenarios are equally threatening, but no one takes satisfaction in shooting a deranged ill person. Perhaps that distinction explains the laudable patient and earnest tone of the officers as they pleaded with Mr. Hall to drop his weapons. It is overwhelmingly apparent that they wanted to help the man, not shoot him. But Mr. Hall gave them little choice. Hall’s rapid physical approach of those final few feet toward them tipped the balance. The officers’ hopes that the threat could be diffused through encouraging language could no longer be indulged. Hall’s life mattered, but the lives of the officers matter as well. The officers were entitled to stand their ground and employ lethal force in self-defense."