Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price announced Tuesday that her newly created Public Accountability Unit will be reopening the investigation of two Pleasanton police officers who were previously cleared of wrongdoing for fatally shooting a man armed with a knife last year.
A 10-month-long investigation conducted under the purview of then-DA Nancy O'Malley concluded in December that no criminal charges were going to be filed against the two officers for their actions while responding to the domestic violence call that turned into a standoff with Cody Chavez nearly one year ago.
"We have seen many thoughts and prayers being bandied about the police murder of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee. The people of Tennessee want accountability -- and so do the people of Alameda County," Price said. "I promised accountability. This unit and its work are the start of the reckoning Alameda County has asked for holding people accountable for their misconduct."
Officers Brian Jewell and Mario Guillermo were found to be legally justified in killing 33-year-old Chavez outside an apartment on Willow Road on Feb. 17, 2022. The former DA's officer-involved shooting investigation team stated that Chavez approached police with a large knife and failed to respond to commands that he drop the weapon before running toward the officers.
The report, signed by O'Malley, was released publicly by the Pleasanton Police Department in early January.
"The Pleasanton Police Officers Association is confident that any fair and objective review of this case will simply confirm the findings of the comprehensive investigation previously conducted," Nicholas Albert, president of the Pleasanton Police Officers Association, told the Weekly on Tuesday.
"An investigation in which the District Attorney’s Office concluded, 'There is insufficient evidence to support the criminal prosecution of' our involved officers and further stated that officers' use of deadly force was necessary because Mr. Chavez posed an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to officers,'" Albert added. "The Pleasanton Police Officers Association is steadfast in our support of our officers' necessary actions taken to protect the community and themselves."
Pleasanton PD administration had not yet responded to requests for comment about Price reopening the case.
In the wake of recent police brutality discussions following the Nichols case and to keep her campaign promise of police accountability after taking office four weeks ago, Price stated in a press release Tuesday that she wants her office to further review the Chavez case and seven other officer-involved or in-custody deaths.
"These reports were released at the 11th hour, just weeks before I took office. As the top prosecutor, I want to give each case a thorough review to ensure justice has not been forgotten," Price said. "I've made sure that my office has attempted to reach out to each of the families of the deceased. The healing process cannot begin until we do our due diligence."
The Public Accountability Unit, which Price recently formed, will be tasked with holding law enforcement and public officials accountable for misconduct. The unit will be housed under a Civil Rights Bureau, which will oversee the new unit.
The five other officer-involved shooting cases that will be reviewed include the deaths of Caleb Smith involving Hayward Police in 2021; Joshua Gloria involving Fremont Police in 2021, Agustin Gonsalez involving Hayward Police in 2019; Mack Jody Woodfox involving the Oakland Police in 2008; and Andrew Moppin-Buckskin involving the Oakland Police in 2007.
"Three of the six officer-involved shooting cases were recently reviewed by the office, under the direction of former District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, with findings in December 2022 that no criminal charges were justified," Price's press release stated.
The cases of Mario Gonzalez, who died in custody of the Alameda Police Department in 2021, and Vinetta Martin, who died at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin in 2021, will also be reopened.
"Madam DA has heard the voices of the community when she was elected to this office and has put her vision for police accountability into action," said senior assistant DA Kwixuan Maloof, head of the Public Accountability Unit and lead attorney of the Civil Rights Bureau. "A reopening of these cases does not guarantee charges will be filed, but will give this office and my team time for a thoughtful review and to leave no stone left unturned."
The investigation into Chavez's death was concluded days before Price was set to take over the DA's office. She had been critical of the shooting in the days after it occurred in the middle of the primary election campaign.
"Witness videos contradict the story told by lawyers for the police officers involved in the shooting. It is clear that an independent investigation needs to be implemented," Price said in a statement at the time. "(D)omestic violence should not be a death sentence -- not for the victim and not for the perpetrator."
According to the DA investigation report, PPD officers responded to a domestic violence call at the Galloway Apartments at 1 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2022 where they attempted to make contact with Chavez and enter the apartment following a report from a woman who was in a romantic relationship with Chavez and who lived at the apartment.
According to her initial 911 call, Chavez had beaten her and attempted to smother her with a pillow the previous night.
What followed was an hours-long standoff between Chavez and PPD officers and special units who attempted to de-escalate the situation after noticing Chavez had barricaded himself inside, according to the report.
After three hours, officers obtained a judge-signed warrant for Chavez's arrest on two counts of assault and imprisonment of the resident of the apartment, police said. Officers then attempted to use tactical robots and a drone to get into the apartment to assess the situation
But according to the investigation report and body camera footage, Chavez exited the apartment and charged at the officers with an 8-inch kitchen knife.
Although the report states that Chavez was killed by Jewell and Guillermo, investigators point to the threat that Chavez could be considered to pose to the officers he was running toward.