by Dave Waddell
An estimated 200 people turned out Sunday evening to protest the fatal shooting by Chico police of a mentally ill black man who officers say threatened them with a knife.
The demonstration began with a remembrance for Desmond Phillips, 25, at the Bethel AME Church on Ninth Street. It then moved to the front of the Chico Police Department, where an emotional candlelight vigil was held. Speakers expressed outrage at the killing “of this dear brother of ours,” as one put it, and called for a federal investigation into the shooting.
“We’re not laying this down. … Things are being done,” the Rev. Stephen Shy of Chico’s Ministry of Hope said in the aftermath of the March 17 shooting of Phillips at his father’s apartment in the 700 block of West Fourth Avenue. The two officers involved in the shooting, who are on paid administrative leave, have not yet been named by the department.
At Sunday’s church service, after some stirring singing from a choir, Shy said he had contacted a number of public officials about the killing and had so far heard back from only one: Butte County Supervisor Maureen Kirk of Chico.
“I was out of town and just saw this. It is tragic,” Kirk wrote in an e-mail reply that Shy read to the congregation. “As I understand it, the father wanted some help handling his mentally ill son. I wish they had called Behavioral Health to get a counselor to accompany them. I also read that bullets entered … the nearby apartments. There are more questions than answers.”
Shy said he would continue to contact government officials this week, including making a call to the White House. “Whether you like Trump or not, Trump needs to know about this,” Shy said.
Organizers of the vigil asked people to pack the Chico City Council meeting on Tuesday (March 21) to protest the shooting.
At a news conference March 18, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said officers broke down the front door to the residence of Dave Phillips – Desmond Phillips’ father – after the father called 9-1-1 and expressed fear of being stabbed by his son. Dave Phillips had locked himself in one bedroom of the home, while two of his grandchildren, ages 12 and 18, were locked in another bedroom.
According to Chico Police Chief Mike O’Brien, Desmond Phillips, after being shot with a stun gun by police, almost immediately “jumped to his feet and started to slash at the officers,” who were “in close proximity” to him in the home’s small living room. The officers then shot Phillips with their service revolvers multiple times. He died later at Enloe Medical Center.
“I want to be clear about something,” O’Brien said. “This is a tragic event. It’s tragic for the family, the officers involved, for everyone. And that is regardless of the outcome of this investigation.”
Asked by a reporter at the news conference about the race of the officers, O’Brien dismissed the question as “not relevant.” The police chief also said that no video evidence exists of the incident because Chico PD “has not deployed cameras” for its officers. (See a previous ChicoSol story that discusses the status of body camera use by Chico police here.)
DA Ramsey said the investigation of the shooting will be conducted by the Butte County Officer Involved Shooting/Critical Incident Protocol Team, with assistance from the state Department of Justice crime lab. The protocol team is made up of “seasoned investigators” from various Butte County law enforcement agencies, Ramsey said. The number of times Phillips was shot will be determined by an autopsy, he added.
“I want to emphasize … that this is not a Chico Police Department investigation,” Ramsey said at the news conference. Asked by a reporter for clarity on who was responsible for the investigation, Ramsey paused and then replied: “Me.”
Based on past investigations by Ramsey of law enforcement conduct, the Rev. Shy said he has no confidence in any inquiry conducted by the district attorney. Shy called for a probe of the shooting by an agency from outside Butte County.
Outside Sunday’s service at Bethel AME Church, Diane Suzuki, who said she teaches violence prevention, questioned whether Chico Police Department personnel are properly trained in dealing with potentially explosive situations. Suzuki criticized Chico PD for never taking advantage of free “de-escalation training” offered over the past decade by Capt. Andy Duch of the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.
The candlelight vigil Sunday turned highly emotional at times, with Dave Phillips at one point crying out: “They didn’t have to murder him; they didn’t have to kill him.”
As the vigil was beginning to end, a middle-aged, pickup-driving white man with an agitated facial expression, apparently annoyed by a “Black Lives Matter” sign, shouted to the demonstrators: “All lives matter! All lives matter!”
Dave Waddell is ChicoSol news director.