Content warning: Some images and details in this episode are graphic and disturbing.
This week on PAR, we continue our ongoing investigation into the problem of rural overpolicing and provide a critical update on the killing of Tyler Rushing, which we reported on earlier in the year. Rushing’s case is yet another stark example of cops ignoring the needs of a civilian experiencing mental distress; instead, police brutally deployed a K-9, which bit him repeatedly, before shooting Rushing in the back of the head. Now, a police expert is speaking out, casting doubt on every action officers took the night Rushing died and raising more questions about the use of force by law enforcement and the untold consequences of abusing it.
Taya Graham: Hello, my name is Taya Graham. And welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I always make clear, 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 system that makes bad policing possible. And today, we will achieve that goal with breaking news about a horrifying police killing in a small rural community, a tragic case that demonstrates just how above the law police actually are.
But I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please email it to us privately at email@example.com. And please like, share, and comment on our videos, you know I read your comments and that I appreciate them. And of course, you can always reach out to me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook or Twitter. And if you can, you can hit the Patreon donate link below in the comments. We have a Patreon, so if you feel inspired please feel free to click the link. Okay. Now we’ve gotten all that stuff out of the way.
Now, several months ago, we showed you this, one of the most horrifying body camera videos I have ever seen. It showed the torturous death of Tyler Rushing at the hands of Chico Police. It was the case we decided to highlight, not just because of its sheer brutality, but also due to the fact it was a prime example of the type of policing we have continued to report on: overpolicing in rural America.
Tyler’s ordeal started when he was visiting a rural county in Northern California called Butte. It’s a sparsely populated area with just 200,000 people, but it’s also home to a highly aggressive form of policing that has led to 42 deaths at the hands of police in the past 30 years, many of them controversial. And that’s where Tyler’s tragic story begins, because what happened to the avid photo journalist during his visit to a small city in Butte called Chico, is a story that begins with the culture of unchecked police violence there, and ends in a tragedy that could have been prevented.
Tyler’s tale starts with an encounter with a security guard. The guard was patrolling the grounds of the Title Company in Chico, when he and Tyler clashed. It was then the guard drew his weapon and fired twice. Despite the fact that California law requires non-law enforcement personnel to refrain from using force, the security guard opened fire. He later claimed Tyler was trespassing and attacked him with a potted plant. But Tyler’s family said he might’ve been scared or unaware that the man was a security guard. Let’s watch. And before I do, I have to warn you, what you’re about to see is very disturbing.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Speaker: [shouting] Hey, hey, hey [inaudible]. Hey, hey. Stop. Stop. Stop.
Speaker: [inaudible]. [shouting] you fucking asshole. You fucking asshole. [inaudible] You fucking asshole. [inaudible]. [sounds of metal clashing, mic popping]
Speaker: [radio] Standby, we have a 10-45. [sounds of metal clanging, falling].
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: That was not the end of Tyler’s ordeal. Not hardly. After he was shot, he retreated to a bathroom inside the building where the shooting occurred. Chico Police arrived claiming they were trying to lure Tyler out. However, after only an hour of communicating with him, the cops stormed in, guns blazing, with a K-9 attack dog in tow. The dog bit Tyler in the groin just prior to being shot again. Let’s watch the video again. And I have to warn you, what you are going to watch is very difficult to see.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Speaker: [inaudible] fuck.
Speaker: [inaudible shouting]. [sound of water running]
Speaker: Watch out.
Speaker: Watch your head.
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: Tyler was shot through the back of the head. And even as he laid on the ground dying, he was tasered by police while lying in a pool of his own blood. But that’s only the beginning of this story, because since his horrifying death, his father Scott Rushing has been on a mission to hold police accountable. Part of that quest has been an ongoing lawsuit against the officers who killed Tyler. But it’s also been an ongoing struggle for something that almost always proves elusive when police kill. And that’s the truth.
That’s because key evidence in the series of events that led up to the horrible death that we’ve seen on video has been withheld from Rushing and his lawyers. Interviews with the police obtained by a journalist in Chico, California, sheds light on the conflicting stories about why police felt compelled to use violence when other options were available. And so before we talk to Scott, I will discuss this new evidence with my reporting partner, Stephen Janis. Stephen, thank you for joining me.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: So, Stephen, tell us about this new evidence.
Stephen Janis: Well, I mean, Scott will talk about the evidence that was uncovered by a reporter out in Chico, but what I looked at was the deposition of a police use of force expert and a K-9 expert. And what he said was just stunning about this case of how poorly it was managed and how Tyler did not have to die. Let’s listen to one statement he made.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Police Expert: With my vast amount of experience and training and the number of searches that I’ve deployed on and the searches that I’ve done and things in training and seen other handlers in action—Not only from my department, but other departments—I have reason to believe that the officer jumped out of the way or stumbled out of the way because the dog was in there and he was afraid of getting bit.
Interviewer: So it’s your understanding the dog was already in there when he turned his back?
Police Expert: …I think so. Or coming in right there, yeah.
Police Expert: I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s just so bizarre. And in this case it was just a cluster.
Police Expert: There was no organization to this whatsoever.
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Stephen Janis: And then he goes on to say something further that’s shocking. That this whole mess was caused by the mishandling of the canine. And the fact that the canine dog was sent in to a man who was having a mental health break and that this canine attacked him and it never should have happened. Let’s listen to what he had to say there.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Police Expert: The totality of this incident was nothing more than a bunch of Keystone Cops trying to do something they didn’t have the experience and training or tactics, knowledge, or equipment to do, and no supervision. This was a joke. It wasn’t a joke. This was a catastrophe.
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Stephen Janis: Okay. So the point is, this is a man who has handled k-9s forever, and he’s basically saying, Chico police didn’t know what they were doing and that Tyler Rushing didn’t have to die. I mean, it’s really stunning. And it’s very sad because this is a cop. And he’s saying these people were quote-unquote “Keystone Cops”. So it’s really, really troubling.
Taya Graham: Why is this evidence so critical?
Stephen Janis: Well, I think a lot of times we are supposed to adopt the police narrative that everything that can be done should be done. In other words, if we decide to do it, it was the right thing to do. But in this case, as you can see, these people clearly didn’t know what they’re doing. The problem was, it wasn’t like someone cooking a hamburger or washing your car. It was people dealing with a life or death situation with a young man who was in distress, and the end result was a tragic and horrible death. So that’s why it’s important that we have to listen to this type of evidence to realize that, hey, sometimes police just don’t know what they’re doing. And it has deadly consequences.
Taya Graham: Can you give us a sense of how violent police are in Chico and Brutte? I mean, another young man was killed just weeks before Tyler, right?
Stephen Janis: Yeah. I mean, a couple of months before Tyler was killed, Desmond Phillips is killed by police in his own home during another mental health call. So you can see the police are ill-equipped. There have been dozens of killings over the past 30 years, not a single police officer has been indicted or tried for it. And so really you have a county where police have very little scrutiny and really in some sense are out of control, poorly managed, poorly trained. It’s really a disaster.
Taya Graham: Now I was fortunate enough to actually conduct a sit-down interview with Scott Rushing. Scott was in Washington, DC, to attend a rally for families of the victims of police violence. I caught up with him in DC in a hotel room two weeks ago, and we discussed not just the new details of Tyler’s case, but the profoundly unique sorrow that affects families who lose loved ones to the fatal indifference of American law enforcement. Let’s watch.
[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]
Taya Graham: My first question is, can you give us an update on the investigation, the status of the case, looking into your son’s death?
Scott Rushing: Yes. The new information that I have is through the efforts of a local journalist in Chico, have finally pried out of records of the Chico Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s office, interviews of the officers involved in killing Tyler and the guard just within hours after he was killed. Those interviews were done, would have been July 24, 2017. Tyler was killed about midnight on the 23rd.
So within a few hours, all the officers, I mean the killers, had been interviewed. But, my attorney was not given that information, was not given those videos. In my opinion, they’re very damning. The information finally connects the dots for my attorneys and me to what happened that evening, because those are recollections immediately from the killing.
Taya Graham: So it seems to me that getting these videos at such a late date is a form of suppressing evidence. Do you think this was a coverup? Why do you think you received these videos so late?
Scott Rushing: For one thing, the actual person in charge of the extraction or breaking of Tyler was not who we thought it was. It was implied by the district attorney it was a Chico police sergeant, but it turns out it was the K-9 handler, a deputy sheriff. Because of the dog being used to extract Tyler, the K-9 officer takes control and orders the staging, orders the lining up, they call it staging or stacking of the officers. Who’s lethal, who’s less lethal, who has a taser, who breaks in, and so on.
A young deputy, he was about two years of experience and about a year with the dog, ended up being in charge of the extraction of Tyler. There was a lieutenant on scene with decades of experience, the sergeant who shot Tyler had decades of experience. But the person in charge was a deputy sheriff, the K-9 handler. We were not told that. That was not revealed to us. We didn’t know until a few days ago that the actual person we should have deposed and been talking to was the deputy sheriff.
They knew that there was something odd about the way that dog was used, or misused, the way I alleged. And sure enough, with these videos, we now have that confirmed. Why that was not given to us, is my question for the DA. What are you hiding? What else are you hiding?
Taya Graham: I guess my last question for you is what keeps you going? Why do you keep pressing forward?
Scott Rushing: It’s merely to bring attention to, really, police reform. And the fact that every year, statistically, over a thousand civilians are killed. So even since Tyler was killed four years ago, you think about it, four thousand civilians have been killed since my son. And I’m one of the few people of that four thousand that’s able to even mount a legal action. I’m getting obstructed by the legal system. What about people that can’t afford to do that?
Tyler would not be one who would want vigilantism. That would not be Tyler. He was a very peaceful person, but he wouldn’t want anybody else to be attacked and violated like he was. I believe that’s what he would want. So we have the resources. That’s my motivation. I can’t let the bad guys win.
[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]
Taya Graham: Now, one aspect of this tragedy that haunts me as I watched the body camera footage of this terrible tragedy is how the actions of the officers constitute a chain of causality initiated by a single legal sin. It’s a topic that we’ve discussed before, but bears repeating because it’s ingrained in the culture of law enforcement and has much to do with what happened with Tyler. It’s a legal precedent called “qualified immunity.”
As most of you already know, it’s a standard that allows law enforcement officers to evade legal liability for their actions. Basically an idea that police officers deserve a special shield from any sort of legal litigation. A concept that has made it almost impossible for families of victims like Tyler to prevail in court. And there’s a recent case that reveals just how much this idea enables bad policing and is perhaps illustrative of how empowering it is for police who abuse their power.
It involves a St. Paul-Minneapolis police officer named Heather Weyker. In 2010, the veteran cop was the lead for investigation of allegedly massive case of human sex trafficking. The crimes allegedly encompassed more than 30 defendants in the city Somali community. It was a breathtaking scheme to exploit young girls that led to indictments, arrest, and incarceration.
The case was based on a set of statements from witnesses a judge later determined was unreliable. These allegations were stunning that a 12-year-old girl had been sold for sex by a cohort of at least a dozen men, but it turns out it wasn’t true. None of it. That didn’t matter to Weyker. She continued to lie in court, which led to charges against eight men. All of whom were acquitted. But, even with those facts, the prosecutor appealed a jury’s decision, an appeal which failed. Nevertheless, the defendants had to spend four years in jail for a fake crime.
It gets worse. It gets much worse. One of the fake witnesses got into an altercation with a young woman in 2011, when the sex traffic trial was still pending. The witness attacked the girl with a knife. After the altercation, the witness called officer Weyker ,and she sprang into action. Charges were filed against the teenage girl. She was in prison for roughly a year and charged with witness tampering. I’m not kidding. She was even held in solitary confinement.
That victim sued, and now a US appeals court is in the process of deciding if officer Weyker should be held accountable. Apparently, the St Paul police have forgotten how to do so because, now wait for it, in 2013, Weyker was promoted to sergeant. And just to add another layer to the lack-of-accountability cake, the so-called internal investigation of Weyker is still ongoing, six years later.
But the real question here is how many instances of bad policing have qualified immunity enabled? How much chaos and havoc have other cops sown in the lives of innocent people knowing full well they will be afforded special protection under the law? And how is such a lawless idea actually legal? I mean, isn’t law enforcement always espousing how even the tiniest infraction of the law justifies harsh consequences?
Haven’t we heard police unions denouncing judges for coddling criminals, or handing out light sentences. I mean, it’s the clarion call. They continue even as the US incarcerates a greater percentage of its population than any other country on the planet earth. Think of all the examples about police apply the law to us, that we have reported on, on the show. And now contrast them to how the law applies to them, the police officers. In other words, which sets of behaviors are more destructive?
Now, most of the encounters we report on involve traffic stops, camping, driving a vehicle purchased at a police auction, driving in your own neighborhood, pulling up in your own driveway, recording police from your front porch, holding a sign while giving out food donations. But in each of these cases, law enforcement was ruthless in their prosecution of the law. Many of the people we covered were subject to arrest, protracted prosecution and even prison.
So, returning to the question I already raised: which behavior is ostensibly more destructive? Which crimes inflict more pain on society: a cop who lies so that innocent people spend a year in jail, or a person who doesn’t stop before the white line preceding a stop sign? Which takes the greatest toll on the health of the community: a cop who falsely charges a young woman with witness tampering or a man who holds an offensive sign? Which set of processes extract more resources from all of us: a prosecutor who keeps innocent people in jail to appeal a case based on lies, or a man who drives to a park with his friends and is pulled over for changing lanes?
It seems like an absurd set of questions. Doesn’t it? I mean, it seems like I must be reporting on some sort of insane country, which has unleashed law enforcement so destructive that it inflicts more harm than good. It seems like I must simply be making all these stories up because it just doesn’t make a damn bit of sense. Unfortunately, all the aforementioned contradictions reflect the true state of law enforcement in this country.
Every twisted case is an example of just how out of balance the scales of justice truly are. Every sad and tragic example is a recognition of the reality that we have allowed cops and courts to operate with impunity and without accountability. And that’s the crucial part, because if officers like Weyker can destroy people’s lives without consequences and actually get promoted, then there is no system of accountability. Then the legal system we’ve created has simply turned the law into a cudgel for politics and self promotion.
The reality that cases like Tyler Rushing and the failed sex trafficking case reveal is a literal dystopia where a person can take a life or destroy one and no one has to answer for it at all. I want to thank my guest, Scott Rushing, for coming forward and sharing his incredibly tragic story with us. Scott, thank you so much for your time. And I want to thank intrepid reporter Stephen Janis for his hard work on this piece. His writing, his research, his editing. Thank you so much.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Taya Graham: And of course, I have to thank friend of the show, Noli Dee, for her support. Thanks, Noli Dee. And I have to thank our new Patreons for joining us. You get a double thank. Thanks, you guys. 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 privately at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 and Facebook. And please like, and comment. I do read your comments and appreciate them. And we do have a Patreon link pinned in the comments below. So if work like this is important to you and you can spare a few dollars, it would mean a great deal. We don’t run ads. We don’t take corporate dollars. So anything you can do is appreciated. My name is Taya Graham, and I am your host to The Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.