Transcript

Taya Graham:
Hello, my name is Taya Graham and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I always make clear from the start, this show has a single purpose: holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. And to do so, we don’t just focus on the bad behavior of individual cops. Instead, we examine the underlying system that makes bad policing possible, and today we’re going to deliver on this promise by examining the death of a young man at the hands of police, that all started with the decision by a private security guard to use deadly force, a decision to draw a gun by a person without a badge, which raises troubling questions about how deadly force is used in this country and how systemic it has become without proper scrutiny.

Taya Graham:
Before I get started, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at par@therealnews.com, and we might be able to investigate for you. Of course, you can always message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook or Twitter, and please like share and comment on our videos. It really does help us and you know I read your comments and appreciate them.

Taya Graham:
Now, as you know, this show has continued to cover phenomenon that the mainstream media often ignores: over-policing in rural communities. It’s a topic that we discuss often because of the work of many activists and citizen journalists who expose the excesses of police in small communities across the country, and it is often overlooked. That’s why when a viewer reached out to us about the shooting and killing of his son by police in Butte, California, we gave him the chance to share his story. What he told us was not just disturbing, but also raises troubling questions about the number of police killings in this rural California county and what needs to be done to hold police accountable.

Taya Graham:
The story starts, as we said, in a small town called Chico, California. The town is located in the largely rural county of Butte, a vast area of Northern California home to roughly 200,000 residents. On July 23, 2017, 31-year-old Tyler Rushing, was trespassing on the headquarters of a real estate title company. For reasons that remain a mystery, police claimed they thought Rushing was possibly burglarizing the property, but to this day, even cops aren’t sure why he was there, but that didn’t stop a security guard who was patrolling the grounds from pulling his weapon when he spotted Tyler behind a bush. Then, the private contractor opened fire, even though Tyler was unarmed. Now, authorities assert Tyler attacked first, but his family has raised questions about that sequence of events. However, we do have the security guard’s body camera video. Let’s watch, and before we run this video, I want to warn people, what you are about to see is graphic and disturbing.

Body Cam Video :
Hey, hey, hey! [Inaudible]. You fucking asshole. You fucking asshole. Oh, you fucking asshole. [inaudible].

Taya Graham:
The bullet hit Tyler in the chest, severely wounding him, but his ordeal did not end there. Wounded, Tyler then locked himself in a bathroom. Chico police descended on the scene. Officers alleged they tried to reason with Tyler, but after roughly an hour, they stormed into the bathroom, guns drawn. First, they unleashed an attack dog who bit Tyler. Then officers forced their way into the bathroom and shot him, all of it captured on body camera footage. Again, what you’re about to see is disturbing. Please fast forward, if you don’t want to watch this part.

Body Cam Video :
Stand back. Right behind the door. All right. Fuck. Here, here. [inaudible]. Watch your head. [inaudible] Watch out! [inaudible].

Taya Graham:
One officer shot Tyler in the throat. Another officer shot him in the back of the head. The wounds proved fatal and prompted not just an investigation, but a year’s long quest by his father, Scott Rushing, to get justice for his son. Before I talk to him, I want to delve into some of the details of the case, and for that, I’m joined by reporting partner, Stephen Janis. Stephen, thank you for joining me.

Stephen Janis:
Thanks for having me, Taya. I appreciate it.

Taya Graham:
Now first, what I need to know is what are the rules and regulations surrounding a security guard in California? When are they supposed to pull their gun, if at all?

Stephen Janis:
It’s really interesting because I looked through as many state laws as I could and I didn’t see anything that dealt with use of force by security guards, so that’s really an open question. It doesn’t seem like security guards are authorized to use deadly force. Basically, what they’re supposed to do is observe and report, but I can’t say for sure, but still, it really seems like an unusual position for a security guard to take and unusual action for them to take.

Taya Graham:
Stephen, you reviewed all the investigative reports and court filings regarding the case. What have you learned?

Stephen Janis:
Well, what was really disturbing to me was the report by a federal judge about when he ruled against Scott Rushing and his family in a lawsuit trying to hold the officers accountable. His accounting was just so contradictory to what I saw in the body cam footage. He lauded these officers as fine public servants and when I watched the body cam footage, I can’t reconcile the two, and I think this is demonstrative of the problems that families have when they’re trying to hold police accountable, and that the federal courts really seem to side with the officers, no matter what they do.

Taya Graham:
So, Stephen, Butte is a sparsely populated rural county with only 200,000 residents, but there have been a lot of police shootings. Can you talk about that?

Stephen Janis:
We’re going to learn later how many shootings there have been, but it was interesting, just when I was working on this story, the family of Desmond Phillips contacted me because a couple months prior to the shooting of Tyler Rushing, Desmond Phillips was shot by the same police officers and killed. He was having a mental health issue and they came and they shot and they killed him, and that was also a controversial shooting that just raised a lot of questions. It seems like there’s a lot of police violence in this county for the number of people who live there and another example of perhaps what we like to talk about on this show, which is rural over-policing.

Taya Graham:
Now, as in many cases involving questionable use of force, the person investigating the case and raising uncomfortable questions is not the mainstream media, but a family member determined not to be silenced. In the case of Tyler Rushing, that advocate is his father, Scott. Scott, a successful businessman, has been pursuing authorities to prosecute the officer who killed his son for years. He’s also filed a major federal civil rights lawsuit, which has encountered many of the same roadblocks that we find in wrongful death cases across the country, but even more interesting is how, since the death of his son, Scott has immersed himself in the police reform movement. He’s reached out to work with activists across the country, and to talk about that and his efforts to obtain justice for Tyler, I’m joined by Scott Rushing. Scott, thank you for joining us. I know this is difficult, but can you please walk us through the video?

Scott Rushing:
The video that you’ll be seeing is primarily in three parts. The first part is my introduction, to give a little background and context to my son, my family, to attempt to humanize him because it’s one thing that I’ve found, Taya, is that even though every killing is different, whether it’s George Floyd or Tyler Rushing or Daunte Wright, Justine Damond, whatever, the response from law enforcement is always very monolithic. It’s always the fault of the victim. You vilify the family, you vilify the victim, and if that doesn’t work, you just make up facts from whole cloth. That has been my experience when someone gets killed. There’s too many words like, oh, the victim, the suspect—they’re euphemisms; the detainee, the person of interest. These are people that are killed violently in many cases, and there, it’s like sausage-making. The killing is the sausage making, and then there’s this cover over it that makes it just seem like another day at work when someone’s killed.

Scott Rushing:
I prepared a three section video. It’s about 20 minutes. One gives the background of Tyler and he was a good man, and I just want also, the listeners to know that he was not mentally ill. There were no drugs in his system whatsoever, even though that was the initial response of the police, that he was a drug addicted burglar. We paid for a private autopsy that confirmed there were no drugs whatsoever in my son’s system. And guess what? It contradicted with the county coroner’s autopsy. From the beginning, we found discrepancies and nothing’s changed, and we keep getting this pattern of misinformation and distortion from law enforcement. That has not changed.

Scott Rushing:
Then I show the actual cobbled together killing of my son, which was given to me by the defense. These are videos from body-worn cameras and they show the actual event. It’s shocking, it’s sickening, and it’s reality. It’s nothing that I prepared. I just cobbled it together from what was given to me, and if you think about it, Taya, the DA is not going to release anything, the prosecutors, that show the officers in an unfavorable light. They’re only going to release to me, to the press, to the families what shows the officers in a favorable light. In spite of getting that tainted data, I put the seven minute video that you see, and then I followed it up with the last video. The officer that shot a bullet through my son’s throat and in the back of his head, that officer was caught strangling a 24-year-old suspect in the back of his police car. He was handcuffed behind him, he was seat-belted in the car, and the officer reached in and strangled the suspect. That was the officer that put two bullets through my son 17 days earlier.

Taya Graham:
How did this chain of events happen? I know a guard started the incident, and then later your son was attacked by a canine, and then shot twice. What happened?

Scott Rushing:
It’s an odd series of events. We really actually don’t know the whole story, Taya, because the only civilian witness to my son’s killing was my son. The only people now who can testify and share the story happened to be the guard and the officers, the defendants. So right there, we’re not getting the full story. It’s a very biased one-sided story, but to answer your question simply, my son is an alleged burglar, that he was burglarizing, a commercial building about 10:00 PM on a Sunday evening, July 23, 2017. My son had no criminal record by the way, except for a couple of traffic tickets, and I’ve had three since my son was killed. He had no criminal record and allegedly he was robbing a commercial building, broken in, and was stealing office supplies and food. We’re not sure exactly what he was doing, but he was confronted on the patio, a darken patio of the building, by an armed security guard, 23-year-old armed security guard, who had a nine millimeter full of hollow point bullets.

Scott Rushing:
This security guard came through the bushes, through a fence, with his gun out, and there was an interaction which you can see on the film between my son and the gunman. I say, my son was trying self-defense, was trying to knock the gun. The gunman said, “Oh, I was looking for a burglar, and this guy jumped me and I shot him.” So there is a contradiction right there, and the guard you’ll see shot my son right through the chest, almost point blank. My son then, the guard kept shooting too, by the way, which you’ll see on the film, just firing wildly into the bushes. The guard never announced himself. The guard was violating all state protocol for the leeways and jurisdiction that he has as a guard. In the state of California, a guard can only observe and report an incident. If there’s someone who breaks in, the guard goes around the building, the guard’s supposed to stay in his car safe or in a bush, behind a tree, whatever, and call the police. That’s the protocol: you observe and report.

Scott Rushing:
I put myself in my son’s position. If somebody is coming at you out of the dark with a gun, and you don’t know who it is, and you’re in a patio, it’s fenced, you can’t run. You get shot in the back. You can give up. I’m not going to give up to a gunman who comes at me at night, or you can try to defend yourself. That’s my argument and my son was unsuccessful in defending himself. The guard shot him through the throat. Through the chest, I’m sorry. First shot was about where you would pledge allegiance, right over the heart. It didn’t kill my son. So, he went inside the building that he was allegedly burgling, and he went to the bathroom and he locked himself in the bathroom, as far as we know, for about 45 minutes.

Scott Rushing:
During that time, the police department and all of the accompanying, the EMTs, the other people started showing up at the scene, and my son was bleeding to death in this bathroom, small bathroom. There’s pictures of it. You’ll see. They tried to talk him out of it. They were unsuccessful talking my son out and no one will know why because my son is dead, and he was unable to communicate with the officers. 45 minutes later, as soon as a K9 arrived, a Belgian Malinois, which you’ll see the jaw, pictures of the jaws, the officers then, once the dog got there, they decided to break into this bathroom and give my son medical assistance to help save my son from the shot that he received from the guard because at that time, my son was just a suspect. Nobody had any idea if he was a burglar, a passerby, a good Samaritan, what he was doing there, helping some homeless people get food. No one really knew. Nevertheless, he’d received a bullet. He’s in this bathroom.

Scott Rushing:
So, the sergeant in charge decides we’re going to save this young man. That’s his story. As soon as the canine arrives, they break the door open. The first one in is the dog. So if you can imagine, you’ll hear the dog whining and barking. If my son were able to hear through the door, he would have heard a dog. So you got the Sergeant saying, “Hey, come on out, buddy. Everything’s fine. We’ll treat you. I want to get your help.” And you have this dog going crazy. Whining and barking would have scared the heck out of any person. So they break the door open. The dog goes in first. From there, it’s chaos. You can see in the film. My son resists.

Scott Rushing:
He does resist arrest and you’ll see it. My argument is, most young men who are attacked by a canine are going to resist arrest, especially with a canine with huge jaws between your legs. And this dog had his jaws between my son’s chest and my son’s testicles, and it was all over my son. Now, I don’t know of one human being that could be calm and could comply when you got officers yelling at you, a dog whining and biting you off leash. The canine handler let it go off leash. And the canine handler grabbed my son and the other officer put the gun to my son’s throat, hit him right below the Adam’s apple, fired. That went through my son’s back. So my son now had two shots, through the chest, through the throat, and then you go and see it on the film because it conveniently was not recorded that the sergeant in charge fired a third shot in the back of my son’s head, which I think you’ll see a picture of, a still photo that I sent your team.

Scott Rushing:
So we got a third shot at ear level in the back of his head, at close contact range. The sergeant who did the two shots is the strangling sergeant, by the way. My son was bitten by the dog. He was choked by the sergeant. He was shot in the throat. He was shot in the back of the head, in the space of just a few seconds, and when he was prone on the floor, and you’ll see that in the photos, one of the officers grabbed a taser and tased my son. So he got 50,000 volts while he was laying in his, bleeding to death, three bullet holes, choked, bitten, he got tased. Then they roughly jumped him, handcuffed him, dragged him out, and the EMTs were not able to save my son. He was dead at the scene.

Scott Rushing:
That’s the short story. From there, I was notified that my son had been killed in an interaction with the police department. We live about 500 miles from the city where he was killed, which is Chico, California, where there’s a state university. We live in Southern California. The city is in Northern California. The coroners came to my door. I get a knock on the door and “Your son’s dead,” out of nowhere. It’s been three and a half years of a nightmare, Taya, trying to get the facts, but that’s the short story. My son was supposedly a drug affected, out of control, young man, burglarizing a building, attacked a guard, attacked the police, therefore his killing was justified and all officers exonerated.

Taya Graham:
I hate to ask you this, but did they charge your son with a crime?

Scott Rushing:
No, they never did. He was still a suspect. One of the side facts, and there’s hundreds of them, was no one saw my son in the building. There’s no security camera, for example. I’m a property manager and real estate broker, and we have cameras all over. There was no images of my son in the building or outside the building. There was no witnesses, including the guard. He didn’t see my son in the building, so there’s no proof that he was actually the burglar.

Taya Graham:
How long was it before your son received medical attention?

Scott Rushing:
He was dead within an hour from the time he was shot, so he really never received any medical attention. You can see at the end of the film, your viewers, that as he is dragged out of the bathroom, in a very aggressive manner, it wasn’t gentle at all for someone who was so injured. He was roughly handled, pulled out into the hallway, he was pronounced dead at the scene. He never received any, and that’s a little argument that I know he was dead and I can see it in the film, but I would have preferred as a parent that my son died in a hospital where at least he might’ve had a chance to survive. Just to die on the floor of a commercial building and then be stripped naked and left there for hours while people are poking him, taking pictures of him, it’s so unconscionable. It’s so immoral, and yet it’s such a pattern that, obviously, I’m on a mission.

Taya Graham:
You said there were 37 killings in this small county of Butte. Why do you think there were so many police-involved killings?

Scott Rushing:
In these rural counties, Taya, what I have learned across the state and maybe across the country, talking to people like Michael Bell, whose in Kenosha, my friends in Detroit that I’ve talked to, and across the country that have lost loved ones, the rural counties have a much lower bar for hiring officers and therefore, the training and everything else is scaled down to that low bar. So in the rural counties, there’s a much higher propensity to shoot first and ask questions later, to be trigger happy. That’s my answer. In this particular county, Butte County, California, the home of Chico State University, the district attorney has been in office for 37, I don’t know, 35 years. He’s the longest serving DA in California. His name is Michael L. Ramsey, and one of my arguments with Mr. Ramsey, and he and I have spoken at length about my son’s killing, about how I feel his report, mistorted and misled the events leading up to my son’s killing, which is normal.

Scott Rushing:
I’m a parent and most parents get a little upset when someone hurts or kill their children. I think it’s a fairly natural reaction that any of your listeners can relate to. Obviously, I’m not over it yet and never will be, but the district attorney was very callous and very cold, in my opinion, and he has a basic history of justifying these killings. So during his tenure, there’s been 37 civilians killed and in a very small county, 200,020 people more or less. 37 civilians killed by officers is statistically very high. I’ve done some research to confirm that, but take my word for it, that’s a lot of civilians killed by officers in a small county in the tenure of one DA, all justified by the DA, and the short answer is, there’s a culture in this county of shooting first and ask questions later. The deferential treatment the district attorney gets to the judges, the officers, the investigators, and therefore, it almost emboldens these officers to use their guns as opposed to common sense deescalation, just common sense deescalation, which we discussed earlier. That’s the short answer.

Taya Graham:
Now, the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Tyler Rushing raises some daunting questions about law enforcement, namely a query that is often overlooked, but must be answered. That’s because as we’ve seen in case after case across the country, the ability of police to use deadly force is an idea driven by legal precedents and assumptions that are rarely scrutinized. Meaning, the legal standard, whether a reasonable person would have made the same decision is so malleable that can be bent to fit almost any circumstance, and because of this very flexible threshold, we have reached a point where the legal system that bolsters bad policing has made the standard for lethal force pretty much anything an officer decides. This means, in cases like Tyler’s, the critical questions are never entertained. Namely, was there a different, less deadly way to handle the situation? If you think about it, wiping someone off the face of the Earth should never really be a reasonable decision.

Taya Graham:
Creating such a subjectively easy standard to buttress an irrevocable act like taking a life should not be so ill-defined. Is it really enough to say that a man or woman’s subjective perception of a situation is enough to make such a consequential decision? What makes this question even more fraught is how often police seem more than capable of showing restraint for reasons that remain unclear. Consider the case of Hartford County, Maryland, resident, Benjamin Thomas Murdy. In January, the 43-year-old man shot a neighbor twice, shot and killed a dog, then barricaded himself inside his home. Nearly 30 deputies responded along with the tactical unit and a police helicopter. During the roughly one hour standoff, Murdy fired off 200 rounds at the assorted collection of law enforcement. However, police showed remarkable restraint. Throughout the standoff, as the Hartford county sheriff literally bragged, none of the officers fired a single shot. Not a single bullet aimed at the man who literally showered them with lead.

Taya Graham:
Now I understand that each use of force scenario is different. I get that a barricade has aspects that are innately dissimilar to a confrontation on a street or during a traffic stop. Admittedly, you can’t always compare apples to oranges, so to speak, when it comes to deciding if the situation is a lethal threat or an encounter that could be diffused with some creative thinking. But given, as I said before, the irreversible consequences of unleashing a fusillade of bullets, shouldn’t we examine and compare these scenarios more carefully? Shouldn’t we view the use of force more skeptically, parsing it with the same sense of diligence that police officers inspect a broken tail light or tinted windows or car air fresheners? Don’t we owe it to victims like Tyler to make lethal force the last resort, not the first?

Taya Graham:
The point is, America has become all too comfortable with the idea that the use of deadly force by police is inevitable. We’ve been conditioned by the mainstream media to think that in case after case, there was simply no alternative, and we have been taught by the courts and police propagandists, that the decision to take our lives is totally within the purview of the officer and not subject to civilian review or restraint. Think about the implications of that type of power. What society will bestow the ability to be judge, jury, and executioner to a single person? How can a community be safe if it can’t question and even define the conditions in which the state can administer the ultimate punishment? Was there an alternative to the use of force we witnessed on the body camera? That’s the question Scott Rushing is trying to ask, but has yet remained unanswered, and that is the same question we will continue to ask on this show, no matter how long it takes, for us to get that answer.

Taya Graham:
I want to thank Mr. Scott Rushing for sharing his son’s tragic story with us and for his tireless work for justice. And of course, I have to thank intrepid journalist, Stephen Janis, for his writing, his research, his reporting, and his editing on this piece. Thank you, Stephen.

Stephen Janis:
Thanks for having me, Taya. I appreciate it.

Taya Graham:
And I want to thank friend of the show, Noli Dee for her support. Thanks, Noli Dee. And I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us and we might be able to investigate for you. Please reach out to us. You can email us tips privately at par@therealnews.com and share your evidence of police misconduct. You can also message us @policeaccountabilityreport on Facebook or Instagram, or @eyesonpolice on Twitter. And of course, you can always message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook. And of course, I read your YouTube comments and appreciate them, and I try to answer your questions whenever I can. If you can, please hit the donate link below. My name is Taya Graham, and I’m your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.

The horrifying body camera footage of Chico, California, police killing 31-year-old Tyler Rushing is another troubling example of why police violence is not a problem limited to urban communities. As part of PAR’s continuing coverage, we examine Rushing’s death in the context of the broader phenomena of rural overpolicing and the persistent use of unwarranted violence by law enforcement across the country.

Taya Graham

Host & Producer
Taya Graham is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered U.S. politics, local government, and the criminal justice system. She is the host of TRNN's "Police Accountability Report," and producer and co-creator of the award-winning podcast "Truth and Reconciliation" on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR. She has written extensively for a variety of publications including the Afro American Newspaper, the oldest black-owned publication in the country, and was a frequent contributor to Morgan State Radio at a historic HBCU. She has also produced two documentaries, including the feature-length film "The Friendliest Town." Although her reporting focuses on the criminal justice system and government accountability, she has provided on the ground coverage of presidential primaries and elections as well as local and state campaigns.

 
taya@therealnews.com
 
@tayasbaltimore

Stephen Janis

Host & Producer

Stephen Janis is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work has been acclaimed both in print and on television. As the Senior Investigative Reporter for the now defunct Baltimore Examiner, he won two Maryland DC Delaware Press Association Awards for his work on the number of unsolved murders in Baltimore and the killings of prostitutes. His in-depth work on the city's zero-tolerance policing policies garnered an NAACP President's Award. As an Investigative Producer for WBFF/Fox 45, he has won three successive Capital Emmys: two for Best Investigative Series and one for Outstanding Historical/Cultural Piece.

He is the author of three books on the philosophy of policing: Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore; You Can't Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond; and The Book of Cop: A Testament to Policing That Works. He has also written two novels, This Dream Called Death and Orange: The Diary of an Urban Surrealist. He teaches journalism at Towson University.