Local News

Monday, Jul 18 2011 02:44 PM

Sheriff's review board: Fatal shooting of David Turner within policy

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood talks about the Turner shooting.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Ernestine Martin, sister-in-law of David "Deacon" Turner, comments on the news that the sheriff ruled that the shooting of Turner was within department guidelines.

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    By Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

    The executive board of the local NAACP chapter meets on Monday evening to discuss their next step after the sheriff's department investigation determined the shooting of David Lee Turner to be within department policy.

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BY JAMES BURGER AND JASON KOTOWSKI, Californian staff writers jburger@bakersfield.com; jkotowski@bakersfield.com

A Kern County Sheriff's Department ruling Monday that the shooting of former NFL player David Lee "Deacon" Turner was justified prompted expressions of concern and exasperation from his relatives and from members of the city's African American community and prompted a new threat of a lawsuit.

The sheriff's review board decision that the shooting was within departmental policy came only eight days after the July 10 killing of Turner at a Fastrip convenience store.

One of Turner's relatives said the news didn't surprise her.

But, said Ernestine Martin, Turner's sister-in-law, justice still needs to be done.

"It's not going to go away like the other killings," Martin said. "All we want is justice and justice will prevail. Someone is going to answer for this killing."

Turner family attorney Brian Dunn said there are plans to file a federal wrongful death lawsuit against Kern County by the end of the month.

NAACP officials held a meeting Monday night to discuss the case. The NAACP had held a press conference Sunday to demand that deputies involved in the incident be held accountable.

The shooting has renewed concerns among African Americans about the treatment of minorities by law enforcement and, as most officer-involved shootings do, raised questions about agencies' internal review policies. The incident also has focused attention, again, on the dangers officers face when threatened.

A news release issued by the sheriff's department about 2:30 p.m. said the use of force in the Turner case by Deputy Wesley Kraft was within department policy.

Shortly afterward, Sheriff Donny Youngblood said in an interview that the board examined all the circumstances of the shooting in making its decision.

"We're not happy any time there's an officer-involved shooting," Youngblood said.

But in this case a deputy saw his beat partner being struck in the head and he fired his gun to protect him, Youngblood said. Kraft, who has been on administrative leave since the shooting, will be cleared to return to duty.

Turner, 56, was shot early July 10 at the Fastrip on Niles Street and Mount Vernon Avenue. Deputies had responded to the Fastrip for reports of juveniles asking adults to buy alcohol for them, the sheriff's department has reported.

Youngblood said Monday that deputies had detained Turner at the scene and searched him. Turner at first complied, but became increasingly agitated.

Turner stopped complying and walked away from the deputies, Youngblood said. A deputy, trying to stop Turner, struck him in the leg with a baton.

Turner then raised a bag he was carrying that contained two 24-ounce cans of beer and swung it "tomahawk-style" down on Deputy Aaron Nadal's head, Youngblood said. Nadal went into a defensive position and Turner again began raising the bag -- which weighed more than three pounds -- to strike Nadal.

Kraft pulled his gun and fired twice, hitting Turner. Turner was taken to Kern Medical Center and died about two hours later.

The whole ordeal, from the baton strike to the shooting, lasted about five seconds, Youngblood said.

A surveillance video released by the Sheriff's Department shows Turner walking through the parking lot of the convenience store with two other individuals, stopping as deputies drove up and walking over to them to be searched.

After the search Turner picks up the bags he set down and turns to walk away. One deputy follows him and can be seen striking Turner while the other deputy moves to keep the other individuals -- who included Turner's 19-year-old son, according to reports -- back from the confrontation.

But the video cuts out just before the fatal shotting, omitting a crucial six-second segment.

Youngblood said the video was on a motion sensor and the camera shut off for a brief time until additional motion triggered it to start recording again.

Attorney Dunn said he did not see any justification for the shooting and the family has decided to move forward with a legal challenge.

"We are disappointed but not surprised that the sheriff would support their own under this kind of circumstance," Dunn said. "We believe we are going to have to seek justice in the courts."

He said the family will file a wrongful death lawsuit, charging violations of Turner's civil rights, in federal court in Fresno by the end of the month.

Community activist Bernita Jenkins said the news of the sheriff review board's ruling wasn't going down well in the community.

"People are angry," Jenkins said.

They don't understand how the two beer cans Turner is accused of hitting Deputy Nadal with were enough of a threat to prompt Kraft to shoot Turner, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the incident leaves fear in the minds of community members that they cannot trust law enforcement officers who are charged with protecting them.

She said she loves law enforcement and believes in its mission. But the fear that officers are a danger to the community is in the back of her mind.

"I have a 30-year-old son and I have a 24-year-old son. Who's to say that someday they get stopped and they make a wrong move and get shot," she said.

Sean Battle, president of the Bakersfield NAACP, said the African American community will meet, plan the next step and then demand transparency from the Kern County Sheriff's Department.

"We need to have more answers. How do you make a justifiable (shooting) conclusion based on inconclusive evidence," he said.

Battle said the impact of the decision from the review board was stunning.

"My first emotion was amazement. I thought 'Wow, how could that be, with the information I've been given,'" Battle said. "I'm hurt because I'm a firm believer in law enforcement. I think public safety is critical. But I don't think their homicide is justified."

Jenkins called on Youngblood to engage the community.

"It's time for you to get out of your office and come to talk to us. We need to figure this out together," she said.

Youngblood said later he had talked with Jenkins and agreed to meet with a select group of people, including Battle and other African American leaders.

Battle, Jenkins and other community leaders met at an executive committee meeting of the local chapter of the NAACP Monday evening, where they discussed meeting with Youngblood later this week and contacting the Department of Justice to potentially review the shooting.

"That bothers me," Art Powell, past president of the Bakersfield NAACP, said of the department's ruling in the Turner shooting.

He said most shootings are ruled within department policy, and he believes these incidents need to be examined more closely and not just by the sheriff's department.

A son and daughter of Turner were arrested at KMC after being told Turner had died. Ahmod Turner, 25, and Whittney Turner, 24, have pleaded not guilty to charges including making criminal threats and participating in a criminal street gang.

According to reports from security officers, family members of Turner became angry and someone in the group told hospital security there was a gun in the parking lot, hospital CEO Paul Hensler has said.

Coroner's officials called law enforcement, and the first deputy to arrive was "rushed" by family members, Hensler said. The deputy drew but did not fire his weapon, and more law enforcement soon arrived and took Ahmod and Whittney Turner into custody.

David Turner was a star running back at Shafter High School, Bakersfield College and San Diego State University. He played three seasons with the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals from 1978 to 1980.

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