The family of Jacob Bauer, a local man who died at a hospital in Pleasanton police custody after a confrontation with officers in the Oak Hills Shopping Center last summer, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city and police department on Thursday.
In the civil complaint lodged in Alameda County Superior Court, Bauer's parents John and Rose -- longtime Pleasanton residents -- accused responding police officers of a "violent attack and excessive force" when Bauer resisted amid a mental health crisis, and then initially delayed paramedics from rendering aid when the 38-year-old became physically unresponsive.
"Too often police fail to de-escalate these types of mental health crisis situations. Police have the responsibility to provide the time and distance necessary to defuse the situation and provide appropriate intervention as a community health issue," said attorney Jayme Walker, with the firm Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer, which represents John and Rose Bauer.
"Instead, repeatedly with the Pleasanton Police Department, situations are responded to with extreme aggression and in this case, the unnecessary death of a young man experiencing a mental health crisis of which police had already been alerted," Walker added in a written statement released Thursday -- the same day the lawsuit was announced during a press conference at the firm's Oakland office.
The lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages, names the city of Pleasanton, Pleasanton Police Department and Police Chief Dave Spiller as defendants, along with yet-unidentified police officers and supervisors.
City attorney Dan Sodergren declined an offer to comment on the case, saying his office had not yet been served with a copy of the Bauers' complaint.
Pleasanton police Capt. Larry Cox, a department spokesman, also declined to speak about specifics in the Bauer case -- citing the still-ongoing investigation by county prosecutors -- but did offer brief general comments about the situation.
"It was a tragic day. I still remember that day very well," Cox said in a phone interview. "We definitely sympathize with the Bauer family, what they've gone through."
"It's still an open, active and pending case -- still with the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, and our internal affairs case is still pending," the captain added.
Cox said the department has body-camera footage from the officers on-scene that day, as well as cellphone video provided by a witness, and that the department plans to be open and transparent in releasing the footage once the DA's Office investigation is complete. "There's just a time when that's appropriate to do so," he said of the video release.
The captain said the DA's Office has not provided a timeline for when their investigation into Bauer's in-custody death will be complete but they usually aim to have cases wrapped up within one year of a fatality.
The lawsuit cites nine causes of action against the city police: wrongful death (battery), wrongful death (negligence), excessive force, denial of medical care, due process violations, unconstitutional custom, practice or policy, violation of California's Bane Act (interfering with another's exercise of their rights), negligent hiring, training or supervision, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Bauer's parents and their attorneys provided new information about their son's "rapidly deteriorating mental health" during summer 2018 in the weeks leading up to the fatal encounter.
The attorneys said John and Rose Bauer contacted Pleasanton police four times in the weeks leading up to the Aug. 1, 2018 incident to tell them about their son's condition and to try to have him remanded for mental health evaluation, but police responded that there was nothing they could do because he was not a danger to himself or others.
Rose Bauer accused police of being insensitive and condescending and alleged that one officer told them "Jacob needs to hit rock bottom before he can get help" and suggested in one of those four encounters that they evict their son, according to Bay City News Service.
"The fact that Pleasanton PD went directly into 'assault and attack mode' when they encountered Jacob on August 1, 2018 is egregious itself. The fact that they had prior knowledge of Jacob's condition and failed to take normal de-escalation efforts makes their conduct actionable," Gary Gwilliam, another attorney with the firm, said in a statement.
The Bauers' lawsuit and the police department's public account paint different pictures of the confrontation between Bauer and officers in the shopping center on Sunol Boulevard just under 11 months ago.
Police reported at the time that the situation unfolded around 2:45 p.m. Aug. 1, 2018 after officers received a call from a manager at Raley's reporting a white man in his 30s acting irrationally, picking up a shopping cart and slamming it to the ground before opening and breaking alcohol bottles inside the store.
The initial officers arrived within four minutes of being dispatched and located the man -- later identified as Bauer -- in the area, police said.
Police alleged Bauer didn't listen to officers' commands to place his hands behind his back and accept handcuffs, resisting while scratching and biting officers.
Officers struggled to place Bauer in handcuffs for more than five minutes in the grass strip behind Jim's Country Style Restaurant along Mission Drive, and two officers ultimately opted to deploy their Tasers to try to subdue Bauer, according to police.
Officers also used a leg restraint known as "The Wrap" to keep Bauer under control and transport him to Stanford Health Care-ValleyCare for medical evaluation, and police said at the time that Bauer did not show signs of respiratory distress until after being loaded into the ambulance.
He was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after arriving that afternoon.
But the Bauer family and their attorneys characterize the confrontation much differently, saying officers "attacked and killed" Bauer even though he was unarmed and posed no immediate threat of harm.
They allege officers violently restrained Bauer, including with a spit mask over his mouth, Tasered him and knelt on his body to pin him to the ground while he cried out in pain. They further contend Bauer was actually unconscious at the point an officer hit him in the legs with a baton and then stomped on his chest three times.
The family alleges Bauer became unresponsive on the scene, and officers initially denied paramedics access to render aid.
John and Rose Bauer also call into question the county coroner's determination of cause of death -- the county's doctor concluded the cause was acute methamphetamine toxicity.
But in a second autopsy and medical review commissioned by the Bauers, their examiner, Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, found Jacob Bauer died as a result of asphyxia during physical restraint by police, while citing as contributing factors meth intoxication, use of Taser and his obesity.
Prior to his death, Bauer worked as a contracted employee for the file hosting company Dropbox. A few weeks before the incident, his coworkers alerted the police and officers reached out to the family about their concern about his mental state, his parents said at the press conference, according to Bay City News Service.
Bauer was never diagnosed with mental illness because the family was not able to convince him to seek help, Rose Bauer said. They wanted to keep him close to avoid any incidents with police since the family already feared an altercation could be fatal.
"We want to make sure Jacob Bauer did not die in vain," Walker said at the press conference, adding that she hopes the lawsuit will spark conversation and initiate change in the way officers handle people with mental illness.
"This is certainly not the first-time members of the Pleasanton PD's failure to use de-escalation protocols resulted in the wrongful death of an innocent citizen. I am reminded of the July 5, 2015 killing of 19-year-old John Deming Jr.," Gwilliam added in a statement. "It is completely unacceptable that the same types of aggressive escalation are continuing. In short, we have another case of outrageous excessive force."
The attorney was referring to Deming being fatally shot by then-officer Daniel Kunkel during an altercation after the young man reportedly tried to run away from police who were responding to an early-morning intruder alarm and found him acting aggressively and erratically inside the Specialty Sales Classics car dealership on First Street.
The DA's Office cleared Kunkel of criminal charges, deeming the officer acted in lawful self-defense while being beaten by Deming.
Deming's family, arguing fatal force was unnecessary and the teen was experiencing a mental-health crisis, sued the police department for wrongful death. The city settled the federal civil case in April 2018 for $285,000 and no admission of wrongdoing.
Editor's note: Information from the Bay City News Service was used in this report from the Bauers' press conference; the Weekly was not invited to the media event Thursday.