Killing of Nathanael Pickett II by sheriff deputy raises questions about department

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Gail Fry

Contributor

After a $33.5 million judgment against the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, many are questioning the manner in which the sheriff is chosen in San Bernardino County and whether it is fostering what is alleged to be a corrupt good ole boys network running amok, administering justice in the streets and killing African-American young men. 

   The circumstances leading to the death of Nathanael Pickett on November 19, 2015 in the streets of Barstow by a sheriff deputy, another shooting of a Hispanic male by the same deputy on January 14, 2018 and another African-American man dying at the hands of law enforcement on April 5, 2018 in a Walmart parking lot have residents questioning whether these shootings are a reflection of the leadership and culture within the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. 

   According to court documents obtained by the San Bernardino American News, in the case of Nathanael Pickett II, after hearing testimony and reviewing evidence, a federal jury awarded his family $33.5 million in damages, believed to be the highest damage award ever in response to a police shooting in the country.     

   On November 19, 2015 Nathanael Pickett II was walking across the street to his home at the El Rancho Motel in the City of Barstow when he was allegedly observed by San Bernardino County Sheriff Deputy Kyle Woods. 

   In an interview with a private investigator hired by the Pickett family and a former detective for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Clifton Harris, Harris recalled Woods testified at trial Pickett “looked suspicious because he looked at him 10 times within a 5 to 10 second interval that was enough for him to feel that that was reason and probable cause to stop him.”

   Harris explained Woods first claimed Pickett then ran away and jumped over a fence allegedly causing Woods to believe Pickett may be trespassing, however, at trial it was revealed Pickett did not run away or jump over a fence.   

   Harris shared he was hired by the family about three months after Pickett’s death and at that time there had been no contact with the family by any governmental agencies except the Riverside Coroner to arrange for claiming the body with the family receiving no answers “regarding the nature of how this occurred.”

   The only information regarding the circumstances leading to Pickett’s death were what was printed in the newspapers which Harris described as “felonious accounts” that “turned out to be all lies.” 

   “Once I started interviewing witnesses that were present the witnesses gave me a horrifying account of how they were basically treated by the Barstow Police Department and Sheriff’s Department,” Harris revealed explaining several witnesses present during the incident were “told to get the “f” away from here or we will arrest you” when their answers didn’t fit the police and/or sheriff’s department’s narrative of the incident. 

   Harris explained a reasonable person would think “they were trying to cover up something” and “they did not want the truth to come out.”  Harris explained it was established “someone moved the body” to a “few feet away from where he actually died” yet it was not clear who moved the body or why. 

   Attorney Robert Conaway, representing Pickett’s father, Nathanael Pickett I, expressed his belief Barstow authorities moved Pickett’s body to “fabricate” an alternative crime scene scenario, chased off witnesses and handled the body in a manner that would destroy evidence that would determine if Pickett could have survived if medical care was promptly and properly provided and whether Pickett was shot while on the ground.   

   “If you look at the video very disturbing what happened to the young man,” Harris opined sharing he interviewed seven to eight witnesses to the incident.  Harris explained the primary witness attempted to get the deputy to “leave him alone” explaining Pickett was mentally ill and a “good person” with the deputy ignoring the witness’ concerns while another witness heard the scuffle, opened her door, daw the deputy and Nate on the ground then she heard the shots wherein she slammed the door shut, petrified and afraid to come out.   

   Harris was critical of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s decision that the killing of Pickett was “justified” after Harris provided numerous video interviews of witnesses at the scene disputing the version of events provided by law enforcement.

   “The district attorney didn’t even give them credibility,” Harris objected explaining additionally there was no physical evidence Pickett hit deputy Woods as originally claimed as the justification for the shooting.          

   Harris explained prior to the shooting, “Woods can be heard screaming on his belt recorder I’m going to shoot you, I’m going to shoot you” voicing “And that’s when the volunteer starts backing up and moving away because he said he doesn’t want to get shot.”  A citizen on patrol with the sheriff’s department was present at the scene when the incident occurred.

   Harris described the handling of Pickett’s body after his death as “desecration of a body” when it was left outside in the elements for hours and then after being picked up by the Riverside Coroner’s Office not refrigerated for several days.  “There couldn’t be a funeral because of what happened,” Harris objected explaining Pickett’s body had to be cremated due to its deteriorated condition.    

   On January 14, 2018, Woods shot another person, that person survived; Harris revealed explaining there are few real details “because it has been kept quiet.”

   Harris described San Bernardino County Deputy Kyle Woods as “a danger to the public” objecting to the fact Woods still works for the department where after his second shooting he was transferred to the academy working at the sheriff’s range. 

   Harris predicted the family of the Hispanic man shot by Woods on January 14, 2018 may file a lawsuit and include a cause of action and damages for negligent retention based on the fact that Woods is still employed by the department in light of the circumstances surrounding the Pickett death. 

   Harris was a detective for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department from 1974 through 1990, explaining while there are men and women in the department that deserve great credit, he sees a “culture within the organization that needs to change and that can only change when the leadership changes.”

   “There is a good ole boys network that is in place and it is a political good ole boys network that has been in charge of this department for many decades,” Harris opined explaining, “The political arm in this county selects the sheriff for the voters.” 

   “There are certain people that will follow the lead of management and if management has no clear direction for its employees they are kind of left alone to their own devices to fend for themselves and carry out court on the streets,” Harris explained adding, “In other words they become judge, jury and executioner and then figure it out later that’s why you have a $33.5 million lawsuit.” 

   Harris observed what he viewed as “shootings of innocent if not innocent unnecessary shooting of African-American young men” stemming from “the historic racial relationship that exists between the community and the white privilege that so many feel in their hearts towards the minority race” objecting “it’s absolutely wrong.” 

   “People should be paying attention and not wait until something happens to their family member to take interest in who is leading the sheriff’s department or their local police department,” Harris explained and the African-American community needs to take part in demanding change at their local law enforcement. 

   “As long as the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, as long as the citizens condone this, it will keep happening,” Harris concluded.   

   In response to questions from the San Bernardino American News, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department provided their original press release dated November 20, 2015, where the incident leading to the death of Nathanael Pickett II was described as an “assault on a deputy” leading to a deputy involved-shooting in the City of Barstow.   

   The press release further claimed Pickett jumped “a fence into the parking lot of the El Rancho Motel” prompting Woods to question him and during that contact Pickett gave “a false name” and became “uncooperative,” and when Woods attempted to handcuff Pickett, Pickett “tried to run and almost immediately a fight ensued” with Woods and Pickett “on the ground” with Pickett striking Woods “numerous times in the face” while refusing to “comply with repeated verbal commands” causing Woods to fire his weapon “striking the subject,” at which time the “assault ceased” with Woods “transported to a local hospital” where he was “treated for multiple injuries, including broken bones.”   

   On November 3, 2016, San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office found the fatal officer-involved shooting of Nathanael Pickett II on November 19, 2015 in Barstow “justified” according to its press release while providing a link to a video allegedly depicting the altercation and subsequent killing of Nathanael Pickett II, the video can be viewed at:  https://vimeo.com/218822039.   

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