OAKLAND (BCN) — A woman shot and killed by Emeryville police officers in Oakland earlier this year was hit by three bullets in her back and side and was not facing the officers as police had reported, according to her family’s attorney.
Civil rights attorney and former Oakland mayoral candidate Dan Siegel filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in Oakland Thursday morning on behalf of the family of 38-year-old Yuvette Henderson, a shoplifting suspect whom police said tried to carjack three drivers and was shot when she pointed a revolver at police officers on Feb. 3.
But a coroner’s report obtained by the family eight months after the shooting indicates the officers’ bullets struck her in the side of her head below her ear, in the upper part of her right arm and in her back, suggesting she was not facing the officers, Siegel said. Siegel said he has not seen other basic evidence in the case, including the homicide report and surveillance video of the shooting, due to “a rather monumental level of foot-dragging” by Oakland and Emeryville
Through the complaint, he hopes to subpoena evidence he has been unable to obtain otherwise, he said.
The complaint names publicly for the first time the two officers who opened fire that day: Officer Michelle Shepherd and Officer Warren Williams, both of whom had about seven years experience with the department. Henderson had been detained by store security at the Home Depot store at 3838 Hollis St. in Emeryville on suspicion of shoplifting at about 12:35 p.m. that day. According to Emeryville police, she was trying to steal knives and other items.
While the security guards were on the phone with an emergency dispatcher, Henderson fell and hit her head and an ambulance and police officers were dispatched to the store. She then left, allegedly pulling a revolver on the guards.
Police officers caught up with her a few blocks away at the Extra Space Storage facility at 3406 Hollis St. According to police, she tried to carjack at least three different drivers as she walked there.
One witness said Henderson pointed a gun at his partner in the car behind him as they arrived in separate cars at the storage facility. The officers arrived and shot her there, blowing out the windows of the man’s car as she stood next to it.
The complaint contends that Henderson never raised her gun at the officers and was not even facing them at the time she was shot. Henderson was shot in the back and side when the officers fired multiple times, including with an AR-15 assault rifle, according to the complaint.
But Emeryville police have said she turned toward the officers and raised her gun before they opened fire. Williams was equipped with a body-worn camera as part of a pilot program but did not activate it before the shooting.
While there is no body camera footage from the confrontation with officers, activist Cat Brooks said Thursday that she and some of Henderson’s family were allowed by Oakland police to view some surveillance footage of the incident. She said that it included neither Henderson’s injury at Home Depot nor the shooting outside the storage facility.
Brooks said she could not tell whether Henderson was armed based on the video.
“All we were able to see was her running, looking scared and distressed down Hollis street,” Brooks said. “She did not appear threatening, angry or hostile. Just scared.”
Henderson was a mother of six children, four of whom are now adults but could not be located before Thursday’s complaint was filed. Her younger brother, Jamison Robinson, said Henderson also served as a surrogate mother to him after their mother died.
“I think about it every single day,” Robinson said, carrying a “Justice for Yuvette” sign along with a crowd of supporters at a news conference to announce the suit. “I would never think in a million years of her leaving this Earth the way she left.”
Henderson’s older sister, Antoinette Jenkins, said Thursday that no shoplifting case should result in a shooting, questioning the police tactics that led to the lethal confrontation.
“We’re not asking for anything — nothing — except for justice and peace,” Jenkins said. “We’re not asking for sympathy and love, we’re just asking for justice and peace.”
The complaint filed on behalf of Henderson’s children seeks unspecified damages for wrongful death, excessive force, loss of familial relationship and battery by a police officer.
Officials with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office have not announced whether the two officers will face criminal charges in the shooting and could not immediately be reached for comment. Siegel said he was skeptical the officers would be charged.
“Unless someone has actual photos of officers engaging in misconduct, it’s apparently the policy of (District Attorney) Nancy O’Malley to not engage in prosecution,” Siegel said.