What to Know About the Overnight Police Shooting Outside the Velvet Cannabis Dispensary
Details are still scarce, but some key facts and questions have emerged from the rare officer-involved shooting in Martinez
As many know from various media reports and social media posts today, Martinez police officers were involved in a shooting that led to the death of an individual early this morning while they responded to suspicious activity at the Velvet cannabis dispensary on Sunrise Drive.
Here are the key facts I’ve been able to piece together from the information currently available and reported, as well as some key questions that will need to be answered as the investigation unfolds. If anyone has any information to add or can provide any clarity on these questions, please feel free to do so in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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1. The person killed was apparently unarmed
While this has not been officially confirmed by the city or police department, it’s indicated by a statement from the state Department of Justice, which is leading the investigation. The statement references the fact that the DOJ was contacted in accordance with Assembly Bill 1506, which requires that the agency “investigate all incidents of an officer-involved shooting resulting in the death of an unarmed civilian in the state.”
2. Police say an officer was assaulted
According to a city news release, one of the officers who responded to the video alarm from Velvet around 3:27 a.m. was assaulted during the ensuing altercation. The news release also says that officers broadcast that “shots were fired” after one of two vehicles at the scene, described as a white SUV, fled. The police statement did not indicate where the shots originated. One of the officers was taken to the hospital and treated for what was believed to be a minor injury.
3. The fatality involved a car that crashed into a fire hydrant
Police say the second vehicle involved in the incident crashed into a fire hydrant while attempting to flee. The two occupants were taken to the hospital, and one died. KTVU reported that the “second car, a blue Infiniti, hit an officer and then drove toward two other officers, prompting both to open fire, killing the suspect, according to police and Michael Rains, an attorney representing the Martinez police union.”
4. Four officers are on administrative leave
It is believed that four Martinez officers fired shots during the incident, and all have been placed on administrative leave per department policy, according to an afternoon update on the Police Department’s Facebook page.
5. Body camera footage is being reviewed
The city said that investigators are reviewing body camera footage from the officers to piece together what happened during the incident. In February, the City Council approved a five-year agreement with Axon Enterprise Inc. to purchase state-of-the-art cameras, both body worn and, for the first time, in-camera, and accompanying software (I do not know if this equipment has since been acquired and deployed). Police Chief Andrew White told the council at the time the upgrade was requested that the department’s current body cameras were inadequate and that his officers felt “they’ve been given subpar equipment by the city.”
Here are some key questions that are currently unanswered.
1. Did the suspect die as a result of the shooting or the crash?
We know that shots were fired by Martinez police during the incident. What we do not know at this point is whether the person who died was struck by a bullet or died as a result of injuries sustained in the crash, or both. We also don’t know whether the crash resulted from gunfire from police, or whether police shot the suspect before and/or after the car crashed (the KTVU report indicates that police shot and killed the suspect before the car crashed, but the official statements from the city and DOJ do not address this question).
2. Who fired the initial shots?
The statement from the city says that police “broadcast that shots were fired” after the first vehicle fled the scene, but it appears that the person who died during the incident was unarmed. Were the shots fired from the first vehicle (the white SUV) that fled the scene? If so, what role did the occupants of the second vehicle, where the fatality occurred, play in the suspected break-in and altercation with police? (Again, the KTVU report indicates that the car hit an officer and drove toward two others, but these details were not provided in the official city statement that was sent to residents and posted on the Police Department’s Facebook page).
3. Were there security guards at the dispensary when the incident occurred?
Martinez’s retail cannabis ordinance requires that at least two security officers be on site of the dispensary 24 hours a day. The official statements thus far say police responded after receiving “a report of a video alarm” at Velvet. It’s not clear whether that alarm was activated by security officers on the scene or by other means, or what role, if any, security officers played in engaging the suspects at the dispensary or contacting police. Did the suspects actually enter the business, or were they suspected of plotting to do so? If they did enter the business, how were they able to get past the security guards (assuming they were present)?
4. Why were the suspects at the dispensary?
The implication seems to be that this was a burglary attempt, but all the city has said to this point is that while en route to the dispensary after receiving the alarm, “officers were advised of multiple subjects at the business along with two vehicles.” The DOJ statement says “officers responded to a call regarding a commercial burglary.” KTVU reported that police responded to a “reported break-in.” If this were a burglary attempt, were the suspects seeking cash, cannabis products, or both? Cannabis dispensaries have been a popular target of crimes because they are cash-based businesses out of necessity, as federal law currently restricts their ability to conduct electronic transactions, but how would the suspects have intended to access such cash in the middle of the night while the facility was closed and any cash was presumably stored in a safe or removed?
5. What will this mean for MPD’s staffing levels?
The Police Department has been struggling with major staffing shortages all year, and the City Council earlier this year approved significant salary increases and other perks to try to aid recruiting and retention. Chief White reported in May that the department was making some progress but still significantly understaffed. The loss of four officers to administrative leave is surely going to hamper the force in the short term in serving the city’s public safety needs. How much remains to be seen.