SACRAMENTO, Calif. — County prosecutors led by Anne Marie Schubert, in a legal memorandum obtained by The Update, cleared an officer who fatally shot a man during an armed standoff at The Crossings Student Living near Sac State on July 21, 2020.
The document, which outlines the District Attorney’s Office’s decision not to file criminal charges of any kind against Officer Drake Walker in the fatal shooting of Jeremy Southern, was written last month. It was addressed to Chief Kathy Lester, with Inspector General Dwight White and a Sac PD detective carbon copied.
In it, Schubert’s office concludes that Officer Walker’s conduct was “lawful”, reaching the same conclusion it has in all but one police shooting.
In the non-fatal shooting of Kenard Thomas, prosecutors concluded that there was “no reasonable likelihood” that a local jury would’ve voted to convict a sheriff’s deputy of criminal misconduct for shooting Thomas as he exited a bedroom closet holding a lighter.
Southern, 22, was under investigation as a possible suspect in a shooting that occurred at the complex the previous week. Police received a report that a man, during an argument with a woman, fired a gun twice into the air. The shots struck no one and two spent casings were found by the complex pool.
Detectives probing the shooting saw Southern and a friend get out of a car as they were checking surveillance footage and went to contact him, resulting in a tense standoff.
As they approached, Southern pulled a gun out of his bag and pointed it at deputies, according to body camera video. The young man and the officers remained locked in a stalemate in the courtyard, with neither party dropping their guns nor letting off any shots until Officer Walker arrived on scene. Officers attempted to de-escalate, yelling “it’s not worth it” and “drop the gun, Jeremy.”
Prosecutors said that Walker, armed with an M-16 rifle, arrived at the scene and saw Southern aim the gun directly at him, believing “whoever got the first shot off would live” before firing one round at Southern’s chest, which knocked him to the ground.
Several minutes passed as officers began to plan on how to deal with the weapon, Southern, and his friend he was walking with. Walker shot Southern a second time after he began to stir, lifted his head up, and appeared to inch forwards in the direction of the weapon. Prosecutors said Walker believed Southern was crawling for the gun and intended to shoot at officers.
“Once Southern’s actions made it clear that he was fighting to reach the gun and had closed to within just a few feet of reaching it, Officer Walker was reasonable in concluding that Southern intended to immediately use the gun once he reacquired it,” the memo reads. “As such, Officer Walker was justified in his decision that firing the second shot was necessary to prevent the situation from turning into a gun battle in the apartment complex courtyard.”
The memo also makes note of case law in a legal analysis section, referencing cases such as Kortum v. Akire, Graham v. Connor, and Tennessee v. Garner, where the US Supreme Court held that a law enforcement officer must have “reasonable cause” to believe a suspect poses a risk of great danger or death before using deadly force.
“An officer who uses deadly force must actually believe that force is necessary,” the analysis reads. “The appearance of danger is all that is necessary; actual danger is not.”
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Southern’s brother accuses Walker of shooting him in the back “while facing no immediate threat” and “standing in a position of cover.”
That lawsuit, still pending in federal court, says Southern, a former foster child, was experiencing a mental health crisis and claims Walker sabotaged effective de-escalation techniques taken by the initial responding officers. Southern’s family shares that concern.
“The first shot, yes, was justified, but the second shot was not,” Southern’s sister, Ida Mae, said in a statement to The Update. “I feel like he murdered my brother and got away with it because my brother did have a gun on him. There are people who have actually shot at the cops and have no wounds. How does my brother, defenseless, deserve to die?”
The decision not to charge an officer who discharged his gun on duty is expected under Schubert, who has never filed charges of any kind against an officer in a police shooting. Her repeated decisions not to file charges have been criticized by activists and legal experts.
“DA Schubert would never charge an officer for an on duty shooting unless it were a clear case of homicide. She is a textbook DA who wants easy elections by never being in a conflict with law enforcement,” Sacramento-area defense attorney Mark Reichel, who is not involved in the shooting, opined. “Their unions, money, and political clout in Sacramento makes keeping them happy a requirement.”
Southern’s roommate, who lived with him for three weeks up until his death, told police that he suffered from depression. At the age of 17, Southern posted a viral video to Facebook, where he silently shared his story growing up in the foster system with the use of notecards.
“Hi… My name is Jeremy. I’m 17 yr old, I’m in foster care,” the notes read. “It sucks to know your mom doesn’t love U, but wat sucks more is to be adopted for 16 yrs, just to find out the person who adopted U did it for the money.”