San Mateo Co. Sheriff revising department policy following Taser death

The San Mateo County Sheriff told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that he is revising the department’s use of force policy following outcry from the community over the death of Chinedu Okobi, who died after being Tasered by deputies in October 2018.

“What he did and it was very transparent is he said look, here are the policy changes. I think the purpose of the meeting was to seek guidance and input,” said San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa.

A confrontation between Okobi and deputies escalated to the point that one deputy used a Taser on the 36-year-old man while others took him to the ground, hit him with clubs, and used pepper spray.

A pathologist found the Taser contributed to cardiac arrest.

Currently, the policy states that deputies can use a Taser on someone in “active resistance,” but Sheriff Carlos Bolans said the language is now more detailed to outline the circumstances in which a Taser can be deployed.

Deputies believe that the “subject is causing immediate physical injury to a person or threatening to causing physical injury when there is a reasonable belief that the subject has the intent and capability of carrying out the threat.”

 “When it comes to Tasers,” Supervisor Canepa told KTVU, “Make sure that the Tasers are deployed in the appropriate way.”

Attorney John Burris, who represents the Okobi family, told KTVU by phone from Rome that the changes are a step in the right direction.

“I think it’s a strong, proactive movement. It also shows the willingness of the sheriff to listen and appreciate that when things are going the way they should, he looks to the public and finds out whether there’s another way to get things done,” he said.

Sheriff Balonas said implicit bias training will be implemented and provided by Fair & Impartial Policing LLC, a Richmond-based consulting firm operated by Sandra Brown, a former Palo Alto police lieutenant and Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy.

“Training can help officers appreciate that stereotypical notions about people aren’t necessarily true and should not be followed,” said Burris.

The sheriff says other changes will be made to department policy that do not directly deal with Taser use.

They include equipping patrol vehicles with Automated External Defibrillator and expanding the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team, which can interact with the members of the public dealing with mental health issues.