Call for Federal Investigation Echos Earlier Cries for Reform After Shootings of OBceans Danny the Walker and Tony Tumminia
Frank Gormlie / OB Rag
Every now and then, San Diegans get so outraged by police shootings of civilians who are usually unarmed, that they do something about it, whether through protest, or art – or by calls for the Department of Justice to come to town and investigate excess shootings by San Diego Police.
Just yesterday, February 17th, the ACLU and 26 San Diego groups and law firms called on the US Justice Department for an investigation into the SDPD’s use of force when encountering people living with mental illness. We certainly applaud this effort to bring a spotlight to an ugly underside of San Diego.
Sadly, this is not the first time that San Diegans have been upset by police shootings of other San Diegans – most which tragically end up in death.
1990s Shootings of Civilians
In the early and mid 1990s there was a series of fatal shootings by police of local citizens who were unarmed – or lightly “armed”.
In one year along, about 8 or 9 people were gunned down – way above average for the department.
One man had a garden trowel, another had a tomato stake, one had a screw driver, another man was totally unarmed. They included local OBcean Tony Tummania who was fatally shot in an OB parking lot. After he had been assaulted by 2 police officers next to his vehicle, Tummania had grabbed a cop’s nun-chucks when the shots were fired. All of the civilians were killed.
A group of local progressive artists expressed their outrage in a series of bus bench ads depicting the various things that the gunned-down civilians had in their hands.
The San Diego community screamed for reforms, and this ushered in the use of non-lethal weapons and additional training for police officers. These killings followed a general trend, as the San Diego Union-Tribune reported in 2003:
In the 12 years from 1990 through 2001, San Diego police shot 151 people. They killed 81 – more per capita than officers in 14 of the state’s 20 largest police agencies, more than those in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento, according to a San Diego Union-Tribune analysis.
Police Shootings of Homeless Men
This recent call by the ACLU and groups for a Federal investigation into police shootings of mentally challenged people echoes a similar outrage of over a decade ago. Back then, in the early years of this century, there was another series of fatal shootings by police of men with mental problems – all of whom were homeless.
Within a period of three years, 4 homeless men – most under severe mental distress or even illness – died at the hands of police. This included several in the Ocean Beach area.
- A man swinging a tree branch in the Midway District was shot and killed by police;
- Using a shopping cart, a mentally-challenged young man, rammed a couple of store windows in a small shopping mall on Rosecrans – police arrived and shot him dead within minutes;
- A man was fatally shot by an officer after several women reported a man masturbating under a bridge near Robb Field;
The most famous case of police shooting a homeless man with mental issues was the killing of a well-known homeless guy known as Daniel “Walking Man” Woodyard in February 2003. The fatal shots by two cops occurred in front of hundreds of OBceans as they watched in horror as the tragedy unfolded.
A large protest organized by the OB Grassroots Organization followed the shooting where up to 500 protesters marched down Abbott Street to the bottom of Newport for a rally.
Neither of these shooting seriess – the early nineties shootings or the homeless shootings this century – resulted in any police officer being fired or even reprimanded.
Here is what we reported years ago on the Danny shooting:
Danny “the Walker” Woodyard was filled with bullets on West Point Loma Avenue near the intersection with Voltaire Street, a few yards from the entrance to north beach parking lot.
Danny was a well-known homeless man, who was always seen walking around the community, hence his nickname. The morning of Feb 4, 2003, he had been dumpster diving with his only tool, an old knife. Thinking he was a drug dealer they were looking for, Danny was confronted by police officers, who ordered him to drop his knife. What happened next was viewed by dozens of OB residents called out to their porches, front doors and windows by the noise of the confrontation.
Although, that incident occurred in front of dozens of OB residents, who were outraged by the blatant killing of a known homeless man, slightly mentally off, who had been “dumpster diving” that morning with his digging tool, a knife.
Just several days later, OBGO (Ocean Beach Grassroots Organization) led 500 locals and family in a memorial to Danny at the site of what many in the community believed was a murder, and then a march down Abbott Street to a rally at the foot of Newport. Hundreds chanted, “Stop police brutality!” This was 2003! Not the Sixties or Seventies!
To calm the community, the DA’s Office organized a public forum at the OB Rec Center on March 4th – exactly a month after the killing. DA Dumanis was there, along with then-police chief Jerry Sanders, the Councilman and psychologists and counselors. Chief Sanders made a big point of how many resources the police have to assist the homeless, especially the mentally-ill homeless, from shelters, therapists, to non-lethal weapons, — none of which were available for some reason the morning Danny was shot. And apparently, none were available the day that Dominic Long was killed, either.
Danny’s shooting was particularly disturbing, not because it was done in front of so many residents, not because the residents’ version of what happened differed sharply with the police account and the later DA exoneration, but that it was the fourth killing by police of homeless men with mental problems within three years – back then.
On May 17, 2003, the DA’s Office released a report saying the Woodyard shooting was justified. [For the OBRag’s report on that, go here.]
There was a lot of talk back after Danny’s shooting about the use of lethal force by police, and all the non-lethal alternatives they have. But it was continually pointed out by the DA and police that officers – when placed in a position to shoot their weapon – always, always shoot to kill. This policy – apparently – has not changed.