OAKLAND -- Hours after shooting to death an unarmed suspect in a case that led to street protests, Oakland Police officer Omar Daza-Quiroz explained to an investigator that he didn't try to subdue the man with his Taser stun gun by saying, "I wanted to get lethal."
A jury on Thursday heard a recording of the officer's words on the third day of a rare civil rights trial in federal court brought against Oakland police and the pair of officers for the November 2010 death of barber Derrick Jones.
Daza-Quiroz spent more than four hours on the witness stand in a tense exchange with attorney Ayanna Jenkins-Toney who is suing the department on behalf of Jones' widow. The city settled a similar suit brought by Jones' parents for $225,000. Both officers have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing by the Alameda County District Attorney.
Jones had fled from Daza-Quiroz and fellow officer Eriberto Perez-Angeles when they tried to arrest him after Jones' girlfriend accused him of trying to strangle her.
As Jones ran from the officers the night of Nov. 8, 2010, Daza-Quiroz testified, he was "absolutely certain" he saw a gun in Jones' hand.
"It looked like a pistol," he told the jury Thursday. "It had a handle and a barrel. It was metallic."
But, answering a question from Jenkins-Toney, he said he momentarily "lost sight" of Jones and didn't know where the gun went or why police, who swarmed the area minutes after the shooting, never found one. A small, shiny, digital scale was later found in Jones' pocket.
After Jones tried to climb a barbed-wire-topped fence, he fell and landed "in a reclined position, slouching lazy-boy style" on a pile of trash, Daza-Quiroz said.
Jones' right hand was empty; his left hand was in his pants pocket, Daza-Quiroz said. While still sprawled on the trash pile, Jones "squared up" and faced him.
"I don't recall him ever standing up. He didn't have a weapon in his hand," Daza-Quiroz testified. But the hand in Jones' pocket, he said, scared him because he said he saw a lump there and thought it was the gun he claimed to have seen minutes earlier.
"I don't recall if he ever took (his hand) out of his pocket. I wasn't going to wait from him. I did not want to die," he said. "I made a decision to save my life and my partner's life,'' Daza-Quiroz told the jury of five women and three men.
Jenkins-Toney asked the officer why he didn't try to subdue Jones with his Taser rather than shoot him with a .40 caliber pistol.
Jones had withstood Taser darts fired at him by the other officer during the chase, Daza-Quiroz said, adding that he believed another attempt to stun him might not work. He told the jury officers learn in training that clothing can sometimes stop a Taser from stunning a person. A photo shown to jurors showed a Taser dart sticking out of the back of a jacket Jones was wearing as he ran from police.
Daza-Quiroz said he was pointing a handgun at Jones, 37, and didn't want to lower it to get his Taser, which he wore on a strap near his knee. His partner, Perez-Angeles was also pointing a gun at Jones at the time.
Jenkins-Toney then played a recording of an interview Daza-Quiroz gave to police hours after he shot Jones. "Is there a reason you didn't deploy your Taser?" an unidentified investigator asked.
"I wanted to get lethal," Daza-Quiroz answered in voice that sounded excited and edgy.
In court Thursday he told jurors that was his way of saying he believed he had no other options but to shoot Jones.
Jones's widow, Lanell Jones, is seeking unspecified damages from the city and Daza-Quiroz and Perez-Angeles, charging that her late husband's civil rights were violated.
The trial comes as the Oakland Police department faces stepped-up pressure to address years of complaints about its officers' use of force. The department has been under the watch of a federal monitor stemming from a civil rights settlement after the infamous Riders police brutality scandal more than a decade ago.
But U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers has ruled that none of the Riders case, or critical reports about the department's problems, can be used as evidence in the trial. Neither can 74 use-of-force complaints filed against Daza-Quiroz since he joined the department in 2006.
Daza-Quiroz is expected to be briefly questioned by a lawyer representing the city on Friday. Jenkins-Toney told the judge Thursday that she wants four people who witnessed the shooting to testify, but fears they are afraid to come to court and that warrants might have to be issued to force them to appear in court.