In an unusual decision Thursday, U.S. District Judge William Orrick appointed Edward Swanson, an independent attorney, to re-examine an officer-involved shooting of a homeless man in Oakland last year.
The judge's order indicates that there are differences of opinion between the Oakland Police Department and its court-appointed monitor regarding whether or not police officers involved in the shooting violated department policies or the law and whether any of them should face discipline.
The department has yet to disclose its final findings.
On March 11, 2018, Joshua Pawlik, 31, was lying on the ground between two houses in West Oakland when a police officer spotted him. Pawlik was reportedly unconscious and holding a pistol; several officers surrounded him and took cover behind an armored vehicle.
When Pawlik woke up, officers repeatedly shouted commands to drop the gun. According to body-camera video released by OPD eight months after the shooting, Pawlik attempted to lift himself off the ground when four officers opened fire, killing him.
The police response to Pawlik was similar to other recent fatal shootings of people who were unconscious or sleeping and were shot when they awoke. Willie McCoy, who was sleeping in a car at a Vallejo fast food drive-through on Feb. 9, was surrounded by police after they spotted a gun in his lap. Police say McCoy woke up and moved his hands toward his lap when they shot him.
Demouria Hogg was also asleep in his car on an Oakland street in 2015 when officers surrounded him and attempted to wake him up. Hogg, according to the police, came to and made a motion toward the gun. An officer responded by shooting and killing him.
Family members of the deceased and civil rights attorneys have questioned police tactics in each case.
“It's despicable that an unconscious man awakens by the police with loud shouts and bullhorns, and before he could gather himself, is shot and killed,” attorney John Burris said about Pawlik. Burris is representing Pawlik's mother in a civil lawsuit against Oakland.
Orrick wrote in an order Thursday that he was briefed recently about the Pawlik shooting by Robert Warshaw, whom the court appointed to enforce OPD’s compliance with the Negotiated Settlement Agreement — a 16-year-old court-enforced reform program.
It's unclear what Warshaw told Orrick about the shooting, but Orrick's appointment of an independent attorney to assist with a review of the case is highly unusual.