Police shooting leaves student searching for answers

$10 million lawsuit filed against City of Stockton

Graschelle Hipolito and Jack Stensland, Sports Editors

Rose

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When junior Rose Talivaa called 911 and told dispatchers her drunken father, Matautu Nuu, had smashed the television with a hammer, her intent was the same as the other two times she had called 911 about her dad: have the police calm him down and prevent him from injuring himself or someone else.

However, on January 27, the outcome of her call led to something that would change Talivaa’s life forever. The police fatally shot her dad multiple times.

Now, Talivaa and her family, which mainly consists of her aunt since her mother is incapacitated and has not seen Talivaa since 2011, are filing a lawsuit against the city of Stockton for $10 million.

According to reports in “The Record,” the suit alleges, “police failed to follow training procedures, caused the confrontation to escalate and shot Nuu without justification.”

Talivaa admits that her father was mentally unstable and has had run-ins with police in the past. She recalls that her father’s history of alcoholism escalated since her grandfather’s death in 2011 and he had been hospitalized for mental issues “two or three times” in the past. Nuu’s two previous arrests in 2014 involved public intoxication and he had also been charged with battery on an officer and resisting arrest in 2008.

“The cops came the first two times, told him to stop, and he listened,” Talivaa said. “The first time he had bricks in his hand and the second time he had a machete, but he put the objects down and did what the cops said to do. […] I don’t know what the difference was [the third] time.”

So the question remains: What happened on the night of January 27 that led to Nuu’s death?

Reports of the incident published widely in the press show conflicting accounts of the events that night. Oakland-based attorney John Burris, who has been retained by the family to represent the wrongful death claim, stated the following in an interview with “The Record”: “It is our position that his life was taken under circumstances that were woefully unjustified.”

Talivaa said her father became confused by the chaos of the crowd yelling different things at him during the police confrontation. Nuu had crossed the street and was standing on the street corner near El Dorado and Martinique Court.

Stockton Police Department spokesperson Officer Joe Silva confirmed that there was a gathering at the scene.

“Any time there is a crowd in that type of situation, it does cause concern,” Silva said in a phone interview.

The Stockton Police Department issued a news release on January 28 stating that officers released a police K9 to take Nuu into custody after he refused to comply with orders to drop the hammer.

After repeatedly refusing commands to drop the hammer, Talivaa admits that Nuu struck the police dog in the snout. She also says her father told the officers, “Just kill me. Kill me.”

“At one point, the suspect was yelling at the officers to shoot him,” the Stockton Police Department confirmed in its news release.

Reports in the press indicate that the officers shot Nuu multiple times after he repeatedly refused commands to drop the hammer, struck the police dog in the snout, and then tried to turn the hammer on officers.

“The suspect then tried to attack the Officers with the claw hammer causing two Stockton Police Officers [John Griffin and Jason Schaffer] to fire their weapons striking the suspect,” the Stockton Police Department said.
The claim that Nuu attempted to attack officers before being shot has been disputed by eyewitness accounts.

“I’m not afraid to say that police officers lie,” Burris said to “The Record.” “They frequently lie. So, if they said this man tried to attack them at the time they shot him, they’re lying, because it did not happen that way according to what witnesses said.”

Talivaa says she believes the police overreacted with excessive force during the incident. She recalls that the officers formed a “semicircle” around her father as different officers tased him repeatedly. Although she could not see him, she then heard shots fired.

“They blocked us from seeing him,” Talivaa said. “And basically we couldn’t see him until the day of the funeral.”

Nuu’s death is the 16th police fatality from 2009 to 2014, not including the killing of Misty Holt-Singh, a 41-year-old female who was taken hostage by bankrobbers and used as a human shield before she was shot by police 10 times less than a mile from Bear Creek High School.

After each officer-involved shooting, the police department conducts an internal investigation with the officers involved to understand what actions led to the decision to use lethal force. Both officers are back on duty after being placed on a three-day administrative leave. The injured K9, Nitro, was treated for lacerations and returned to his handler.

Talivaa maintains that her father was mentally ill, saying, “he’s very slow [… and] he doesn’t really think right.”

Although there is no national database listing police shootings, retired FBI agent Jim Fisher has studied officer-involved shootings in depth and told KQED last April that his research showed “a lot of of mentally ill people were shot, and a lot of people didn’t have guns.”

Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones has recently held “listening tours” to hear the public’s concern over recent police shootings.

“Officer Involved Shootings are the most serious incidents we deal with because of the impact they have on the lives involved and our staff,” Silva said.

Silva said he also believes “there needs to be discussions around the expectations of the public during a police contact. The expectation is to be cooperative and compliant. In that case, force will never be necessary, but unfortunately, compliance is not always present.”

As Nuu’s case remains under investigation, Talivaa and her family have received an outpouring of support from the community and consolation from their pastor through this difficult time.

Talivaa’s family held vigils in honor of Nuu, along with meetings at City Hall to raise awareness of the issue of police brutality. The family also organized a bake sale, a one plate food sale, and created a GoFundMe online donation account to fundraise for Nuu’s funeral.

“The bake sale, the plate sale, and all the donations have been used to pay for his expenses and funeral,” Talivaa said.

The father that Talivaa remembers was a mostly happy man who loved to play with the neighborhood children and take them to the park to play games. Her family continues to honor Nuu in their own personal ways.

Talivaa admits it has been difficult to move forward with a positive outlook on life, but says her primary goal is to graduate.

“It’s my first priority because he was always pushing me and telling me to keep my head in my books.” Talivaa says she considers her father “a role model to keep on pushing us forward, to keep on doing what’s good, and to live our lives to the fullest.”