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Regional Interests

Contra Costa DA Clears Walnut Creek Officers in 2019 Miles Hall Killing

Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton released a long-awaited report Friday finding that two Walnut Creek police officers were legally justified when they fatally shot Miles Hall in 2019.

Hall’s mother, Taun Hall, criticized the decision in a written statement.

“After nearly two long years of waiting anxiously for the conclusion of what we had hoped would be a thorough, unbiased, factually accurate investigation, we learned that there will be no justice and no accountability for the indefensible actions that resulted in our son’s death — at least not today,” she said.

Miles Hall, a 23-year-old Black man in the middle of a mental health crisis, was shot and killed by officers Melissa Murphy and Kuang Hsaio as he ran toward a group of police while carrying a long, steel digging tool. Hall, who’d been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, according to the district attorney’s report on the shooting, had several prior contacts with police in similar circumstances.

Officers on June 2, 2019, responded to multiple calls, including from Hall’s mother and grandmother, who’d told 911 operators that Hall was having a mental health breakdown, was off his medication, violent and threatening them with a long metal pole, according to the DA’s report.

The Halls had a longstanding relationship with Walnut Creek Police, who’d helped the family hospitalize Miles Hall previously, and the department’s Mental Health Evaluation Team had maintained a file on him. In one instance recounted in the DA’s report released Friday, Walnut Creek police officers had subdued Hall with shotgun-fired beanbag rounds a year before he was killed.

Before officers arrived on the scene the day of Hall’s death, Sgt. Holley Connors had formed a tactical plan with officers Hsiao, Murphy and Matt Smith. A fifth Walnut Creek officer, Tammy Keagy, was assigned the role of negotiator because she had specialized training and had established a rapport with Hall in the past.

But she would never get a chance to talk with him the day of the shooting.

As she drove separately to the scene, Keagy called Hall’s mother, according to the DA’s report, and was told, “We’ve never seen him like this before.”

Connors told the other officers, “I’m not gonna give this guy a lot of chances,” according to the report. Connors noted that Hall had a weapon and was “going into neighbor’s homes, he’s lost his mind.”

Connors told officers to give commands, and Murphy was designated to use a Taser if appropriate.

“Just watch your backdrop,” Connors said, according to the DA, meaning officers should be prepared to fire their guns and pay attention to what was behind their target.

Hall was walking through his neighborhood carrying the 15-pound, nearly 5-foot-long digging tool when police confronted him in a cul-de-sac in the 100 block of Arlene Lane. Hall ran toward the officers and ignored multiple commands to drop the tool, police claimed, according to the DA’s report.

Smith started firing bean bag rounds as Hall continued to close the distance between them. When he got within about 15 feet of Murphy, she fired the first of two rounds of bullets.

Smith told investigators that Hall was “too close for comfort” and that if she hadn’t fired he would have killed her.

Officer Kuong Hsaio (referred to by the initials “KC Hsaio” in the DA’s report) told investigators that he, too, believed Hall was going to strike Murphy when Hsaio fired the first of four rounds. Hall attempted to get up, but officers held him down, handcuffed him and started to provide first aid. He was pronounced dead at the hospital about 21 minutes after being shot.

An autopsy found Hall was killed by four gunshot wounds to his torso and hip. He also had three bruises consistent with being struck with beanbag rounds.

All five officers involved in the incident were cleared to return to duty within weeks of the shooting.

Since Hall’s death, his family has advocated for non-police alternatives to mental health crises locally and statewide, suing the city, its police chief and all involved officers before reaching a $4 million settlement that included commitments from the city to invest in non-police alternatives when responding to a mental health crisis, as well as crisis intervention training for the police department.

Attorney John Burris, who represents Hall’s family, said he plans to ask the state and federal attorneys general to review the case.

“We are not finished fighting for justice and accountability in the killing of Miles Hall,” Burris said in a written statement.

Last summer, the Walnut Creek Police Department faced further scrutiny for its treatment of protesters after the death of George Floyd. About 5,000 people marched through the city’s downtown corridor before some protesters attempted to walk onto Interstate 680, where they were met with police in riot gear, police dogs, tear gas and rubber bullets.

In an interview with KQED’s “Forum” radio program following the conviction of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of Floyd, Hall’s mother said little has changed in Walnut Creek since her son’s death.

“It’s good police are accountable in [George Floyd’s] case, but what about our family? Where’s accountability for the police officers that shot Miles?” Taun Hall told KQED’s Mina Kim. “If something happened to another family member in Walnut Creek today, things are still the same.”

Copyright 2021 KQED