Exactly two years after James Greer’s death, police bodycam footage of his death after being excessively stunned with a Taser has been released. His family is filing a lawsuit against the city of Hayward and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police.
Greer, 46, was pulled over in California on May 23, 2014, while driving to get lottery tickets, family members have stated. Several officers had their body cams turned on, and throughout the video officers announce multiple times that their cameras are rolling.
Hayward and BART police officers began performing sobriety tests after saying Greer was driving erratically. Greer starts the tests then becomes hesitant and backs away from the officers.
Several officers then approach Greer, who previously disclosed to officers having medical problems with his knees and stomach, and tried to restrain him as he asks repeatedly, “What are you doing to me” Officers force Greer to the ground on his stomach. Greer and the officers remain down there for several minutes as Greer continues asking, “What are you doing”
An officer says he will use his Taser if Greer doesn’t cooperate, even though Greer is already on the ground and appears to be restrained by several officers. Moments later, Greer is stunned numerous times. He cries out in pain but eventually goes silent and limp. When he is already unresponsive, an officer says, “You alright” and checks his pulse.
“He’s unconscious,” an officer says. Officers begin yelling, “Wake up!” and tapping Greer. Greer is eventually taken to the hospital, where he is pronounced dead later that night.
A coroner ruled that Greer died from “PCP intoxication associated with physical exertion.”
But Joseph Greer’s attorney Fulvio Cajina, who is seeking unspecified damages, said, “It’s definitely wrongful death.”
“The officers were clearly negligent,” he said. “You have a person who is not aggressive, who never swung at officers, and they are using tasers repeatedly.”
After watching the video, Cajina also criticized the length of time between Greer becoming unresponsive and officers providing medical assistance.
“We are extremely concerned by the multiple use of tasers and all of the pressure put on Mr. Greer’s back while he was in a prone position,” Cajina said. “But the most appalling part of the video to me personally is the amount of time that goes by between when the officers know Mr. Greer isn’t breathing and when chest compressions begin.”
Tom Nolan, a criminologist who also served as a Boston police officer for almost three decades, believes “the heavy hand of the taser is what contributed to this guy’s demise.”
The Taser was used in drive-stun mode, which is meant to cause pain, versus the more common mode that deploys two darts and send an electric current through the person’s body. According to Nolan, drive-stun mode can exacerbate health-related issues and is not effective against intoxicated people and the mentally ill.
Nolan also took issue with the numerous officers on the scene and their “exaggerated” actions.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a hyper-exaggerated, borderline-hysterical response,” he said. “We don’t need 20-plus police officers, including superior officers, on the scene to take a guy into custody for a drunken driving offense.”
Deana Abello, Greer’s ex-wife, said she “will never accept” the way her ex-husband was treated in the video.
“They took an oath to protect and serve and if you watch the video, the literally sat there and watched him die,” she said. “They did absolutely nothing for seven minutes while he was turning blue, but tell jokes and talk bad about him.”
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office did not initially investigate Greer’s death because, per county policy, investigations only take place if a weapon was fired. However, the office has since decided to “broaden the language and protocol in Alameda County to include the referral and investigation of critical incidents that result in death.”
Greer’s family held a rally Monday night to honor the two-year anniversary of his death.
The death of James Greer is yet another case where video footage whether it be from cell phones, dashcams or body cams provides otherwise unknown details about a Black person’s death while in police custody. Last July, Sandra Bland was pulled over in Texas for not using a signal to change lanes. After a violent encounter with a state trooper she was subsequently taken to jail and found dead in her cell several days later. Former State Trooper Brian Encina was fired and charged with perjury for his false account of what happened.
Laquan McDonald’s police-related death in Chicago sparked a number of protests and calls for reform after video footage differed from the officers’ accounts of what happened. Walter Scott of South Carolina was also killed by a former police officer, Michael Slager, who tried to cover up what happened by placing his stun gun next to Scott’s body. Slager now faces murder charges.