A Contra Costa jury Thursday ruled the shooting death of a Vallejo man by multiple Antioch police officers last summer was a suicide despite little evidence indicating Korey Germaine wished to take his own life.
The jury voted 10-2 in the coroner's inquest, which is held for every officer-involved shooting or in-custody death in the county. An inquest, unlike a normal jury trial, simply determines the mode of death -- suicide, which can mean "suicide by cop," a phenomenon where individuals provoke officers to shoot them; natural causes; accident or at the hands of another person not by accident -- and juries only need a majority to reach a verdict. The decision assigns no criminal or civil liability to any party, and questions are solely asked by a hearing officer.
Testimony by four officers and two investigators described a wild scene Aug. 27 during the afternoon commute in one of the busiest traffic corridors in Antioch.
Around 4:30 p.m. that day, officers responded to a report of a man who pointed a handgun at another driver following a road rage incident, officers testified. Germaine, 24, was seen driving his tan Mercedes and led officers on a lengthy car chase up and down Hillcrest Avenue, often speeding on the wrong side of traffic while commuters swerved to avoid him. Officers testified they saw him intentionally swerve toward an oncoming police car.
Officer Matthew Harger testified that he made eye contact with Germaine at one point, and he had a "snide grin" on his face, and it appeared that the chase was a "game of cat and mouse to him."
The chase ended when Germaine broadsided a car at Deerhill Avenue and Wildflower Drive after running a red light, officers testified. After his car skidded into soft dirt, he spun his tires in an attempt to flee, but the car was stuck. One officer told investigators that Germaine made eye contact with her and said: "Y'all (expletive) have to kill me."
Germaine eventually ran toward officers holding a silver pistol. Harger testified he shot at Germaine two to three times as he heard another flurry of gunfire from elsewhere and saw blood begin to form on the lower back of Germaine.
Officers chased Germaine as he tried to run up an embankment to The Crossings Shopping Center parking lot. Antioch police Officer James Colley testified he shot Germaine in the back and torso until the "threat was eliminated." Harger testified he fired five to seven more bullets after Germaine turned toward officers, still holding his revolver. All the officers testified they believed Germaine was going to shoot them.
Police recovered a gun and found a paper bag full of live and spent bullets in his car. He never fired his gun, Antioch police Detective Eric McManus testified.
A toddler in his car seat in a minivan that stopped on Hillcrest during the shootout was hit by a bullet fragment, leaving a bruise, said Antioch police acting Capt. Diane Aguinaga. That family is suing Antioch police. Another woman's car was hit by a stray bullet, shattering the driver's side window.
A forensic pathologist testified Germaine had marijuana and Valium in his system and died from multiple gunshot wounds. Germaine's family sat quietly in the audience, some taking notes, and one woman sobbed in the hallway during a break.
Germaine was raised by his grandmother after both his parents died, McManus testified. He had stopped taking medication for an unspecified behavioral disorder and had been shot before and nearly killed, the detective testified. The Vallejo resident had been with his girlfriend shortly before the car chase and told her that he kept a gun underneath his seat because people were after him, McManus said.
Germaine did not like police, which may have stemmed from incidents with Vallejo police, McManus said his grandmother told investigators. He had numerous arrests for gun and drug charges, including carrying a concealed weapon in his vehicle, possession of methamphetamine and cocaine, and resisting arrest and evading police.
In inquests, officer-involved shooting deaths are often found to be at the hands of another person not by accident, which does not necessarily mean the act was not justified. Two jurors found that mode of death.
As the hearing officer polled each juror asking for his or her vote, one juror prefaced his vote for suicide by motioning toward spectators -- mostly police officers, some involved in the shooting -- and saying: "First I'd like to thank these guys for covering our backs."
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.