Video captures Rohnert Park police officer pulling gun
A video of a Rohnert Park police officer who pulled a gun on a man recording their encounter on a cellphone went viral this week, prompting an inquiry by city officials to determine if the officer followed city policies.
The video shows an uneasy conversation between the officer and video taker, Don McComas. The officer orders McComas to take his hand from his pocket but the man initially refused to do so, saying, “No, I’ve done nothing.” The officer then draws his weapon, pointing the barrel at the ground.
The video spurred a flurry of outrage on social media after McComas posted it online on July 29 - his Facebook post has been shared more than 20,000 times, while the video has been viewed more than 200,000 times on YouTube. The video landed on the radar of city officials this week, who responded to a deluge of calls and emails, including some from police watchdog groups across the country, with a statement posted to Facebook on Tuesday promising that they were “taking it seriously.”
The recording raises questions about when an officer may lawfully pull a weapon and in what circumstances must a person follow orders.
The incident also underscores how some residents view video as a way to protect themselves against abuse by police.
It is the latest in a growing body of footage showing police interacting with members of the public, pulling the curtain back on the complexity of those interactions.
Rohnert Park Police Chief Brian Masterson said he could not yet comment on what brought the officer to the neighborhood or if McComas was under investigation. He was not arrested.
McComas, reached by phone, declined to comment.
Assistant City Manager Don Schwartz said the city has launched two reviews, an internal review within the police department as well as a separate “civilian review” he is leading within the city manager’s office. City staff will evaluate whether the officer followed city policy and they will also review the policy to ensure it reflects “best practices.”
Schwartz said the city has not been in contact with McComas. A city source identified the officer as Dave Rodriguez. Schwartz, who declined to name the officer, said he was not working this week due to a previously planned vacation.
Mayor Amy Ahanotu said that it was too soon for him to discuss his impressions of the video and pledged the city would discuss the incident once a full review has been done.
“We are concerned about the events and we are taking it seriously,” Ahanotu said.
In the video, McComas starts recording as the officer slowly drives down his street and idles in front of his house. McComas wrote on the post that he was outside hitching a boat to his vehicle when the officer drove by.
The officer pulls the patrol SUV up toward McComas, who appears to be standing on or near his driveway, and idles for nearly a minute and a half before powering down the window, and holding up what appears to be a phone or camera. About 26 seconds later, the officer opens the door and gets out, walking toward McComas and speaking into the radio unit on his shoulder. With his hand on the holstered gun, the officer says, “Hi, go ahead and take your hand out of your pocket.”
“No, sir, I’ve done nothing. I’ve done absolutely nothing,” McComas says.
The officer says, “Hey, seriously,” as he draws his weapon, pointing the barrel of the handgun toward the ground.
“Put your gun down, really?” McComas says.
He continues talking, stating, “This one’s really got a gun on me,” and the officer briefly raises the gun as McComas tosses his keys and a second phone on top of his car. McComas’ hand is then visible as he points at the officer and says, “No, you don’t touch me, you don’t touch me.”
The officer holds the gun, pointed at the ground, for just over two minutes while the men talk, and at points argue. During the conversation, the officer states, “I don’t even know who you are.”
The officer asks McComas, “What’s wrong with you man? What’s wrong with you?”
McComas briefly complains “you guys have done enough to my family” and calls the police “corrupt.”
“Are you some kind of a constitutionalist crazy guy or something like that?” the officer asks.
“No sir,” McComas replies. “Are you throwing claims around?”
McComas asks if he is under arrest, and the officer says “If I did I would arrest you, OK? So go ahead and have a nice day, put it on YouTube, I don’t really care,” and begins walking back to his patrol vehicle.
Santa Rosa criminal defense attorney Paul Lozada said the officer’s reason for visiting the neighborhood and talking with McComas is essential to understanding whether he acted within the law.
Lozada said that any officer can have a “consensual” contact with an individual whether the person is suspected of a crime or not and, for example, ask that person to remove a hand from a pocket.
But the nature of the encounter changes once the officer begins demanding a person follow orders and pulls a gun. California law defines brandishing as drawing or exhibiting a deadly weapon or firearm in the presence of another person.
“It becomes a problem when he draws his gun,” Lozada said.
The officer “needs to have a reasonable suspicion that the person he’s talking to is engaged in some sort of criminal activity,” Lozada said. “If that man is not, this officer may have committed a misdemeanor brandishing offense.”
Lozada said that he believed there were enough questions about the officer’s behavior and called for the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office to review the incident.
“The officer has to have a reasonable suspicion when he tries to detain or order someone to do something,” Lozada said.
Schwartz said that he could not provide any information about why the officer was patrolling the street or stopped at the house until a review has been done.
“We want to be able to answer that ... but we don’t want to jump to any conclusions,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said that there have been parking issues on the street.
“That’s at least one reason we would be in that neighborhood and possibly why he was driving slowly,” Schwartz said.
A police records supervisor said that there has been no documented police activity, including calls requesting police response or an officer-initiated event, so far this year at McComas’ address. McComas has no recent criminal history since a 1997 conviction for felony evasion of police.
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jjpressdem.