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Santa Rosa police will wait to release video of shooting's aftermath involving man with umbrella

Santa Rosa police have not yet released video showing the aftermath of a December incident in which an officer shot at a man said to have been holding a black umbrella as if it were a rifle because the footage did not capture the shooting itself, the department said.

That detail, a result of Santa Rosa Officer Stephen Darden not activating his camera until after he fired three shots in the Dec. 7 incident, meant a state law that went into effect last summer that requires agencies to disclose available footage in certain serious incidents does not apply, Santa Rosa Police Chief Ray Navarro said.

The department plans to review why Darden did not turn on his camera when he first encountered the suspect, said Lt. Ryan Corcoran, who oversees the department’s personnel unit. Witnesses had called 911 to report a man pointing something that looked like a gun at passing cars.

The shots Darden fired missed the suspect.

The state law requires law enforcement to make public body-worn camera footage after a person is seriously hurt or dies as a result of their contact with police, or when an officer fires a weapon, within 45 days unless doing so would interfere with an investigation.

The wording of the law requires the video “depict” either of those two scenarios. But video taken from Darden’s camera did not start until after the rounds were fired, meaning the department did not need to meet the 45-day deadline, Navarro said. The agency passed the 45-day mark after the Dec. 7 shooting earlier this week.

“We don’t have a video of the actual discharge of a firearm,” Navarro said, adding that he consulted with the Santa Rosa City Attorney’s Office before coming to the conclusion that the agency was not required to release the video.

The man holding the umbrella, identified by police as Santa Rosa Joshua Oceguera, 24, was not struck by the gunfire, which rang out when Darden found him near Guerneville Road and Sunny View Way. It was only after Darden fired his department-issued AR-15 rifle, and after Oceguera extended one of his arms, that Darden could see the object Oceguera was holding was an umbrella, police said.

Darden activated his camera moments later, before he ran after Oceguera, who he was eventually able to tackle to the ground and take into custody, Corcoran said.

Oceguera’s lawyer, Izaak Schwaiger, said Darden did not rationally assess the situation and was too quick to act with deadly force when he fired at Oceguera. Schwaiger added that Oceguera, who had no prior criminal history and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was trying to amuse himself as he was walking to work prior to the shooting.

“He’s sought help for his condition, but he doesn’t perceive the world in the same way as the rest of us,” Schwaiger said. “This is not an uncommon affliction, which is why police officers need to take a bit more time before they decide to engage in deadly force.”

The 11-minute video Darden recorded during the incident will be made public in about two weeks as required by another law enacted a year ago, Corcoran said. That law unsealed police records in cases when an officer fires their weapon at a person, one of four circumstances named in the law that triggers the release.

The footage will be shared in the form of a debriefing video produced by the agency, Navarro said, mirroring a trend seen in law enforcement agencies statewide since the two police transparency laws went into effect.

While the law only requires release of raw body camera footage, departments are increasingly waiting to release video from critical events until it is paired with additional information, sometimes in the form of a highly edited presentation that includes maps, narration and graphics. Such has been the case at the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, which has made three such videos in the past six months.

“If we release it without any context, you’re going to have a lot of questions,” Navarro said of the need for a debriefing video. “Transparency is important, but we want to make sure we can give all we can as a package.”

The initial release will include video from other officers who responded to the area, photos and reports from the criminal investigation into the shooting, Corcoran said. The agency’s internal review, which will determine whether Darden followed the police department’s policies and procedures, as well as his training, will be released some time after the first disclosure in early February, he said.

That process will include an inquiry into why Darden did not activate his body-worn camera until after he fired his rifle, Corcoran said.

Officers are required to activate their cameras when they respond to a call for help, or initiate a stop on their own, a policy manual posted on the Santa Rosa Police Department’s website said. Officers should not risk their safety to activate their cameras and can choose to stop a recording “to respect the interests of witnesses, informants, and victims” if they believe doing so outweighs the need to film law enforcement activity, according to the policy. The agency may launch a separate internal affairs investigation after the review if they determine discipline may be warranted in the shooting, Corcoran added.

Schwaiger called for the firing of Darden, who has been part of the agency for about a year.

“Until we see everything, I think it’s important to make sure we’re not jumping to conclusions and that includes the lawyer,” Navarro said in response.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com.

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