Jacob Robert Newmaker had one hand in cuffs when he was shot and killed on Friday by a Fortuna police officer after he allegedly wrestled the officer’s baton from his hands and attempted to strike another officer with it.

A multi-agency investigation into the incident — believed to be the first ever officer-involved shooting death in Fortuna — continued Tuesday, and is expected to wrap today or tomorrow. The Fortuna Police Department continues to withhold the identities of the two officers involved in the early-morning incident.

”After the investigation is complete, we will release the names,” Police Chief William Dobberstein said Tuesday. “That was the advice of our (insurance carrier’s) attorney.”

Dobberstein said this is new ground for his department, as he doesn’t believe the city has ever had officers involved in a deadly-force incident.

An autopsy was performed Tuesday on Newmaker’s remains as details continue to emerge in the wake of the shooting that left the 26-year-old felon dead. Two experts contacted by the Times-Standard this week offered differing opinions on the facts surrounding the incident — which began with a disturbance call and culminated in a violent exchange.

Dobberstein said officers were dispatched to the Angel Heights Drive neighborhood at 6:16 a.m. Friday, after a woman reported a “crazed person banging on the door and yelling and screaming in her front yard.” Responding officers


were told the suspect had left the area on a bicycle and were given a description of Newmaker, who Dobberstein said had numerous prior contacts with his department for drug and theft offenses.

Dobberstein said an officer coming down from Angel Heights Drive spotted Newmaker on his bicycle at the foot of Vista Drive — about three-quarters of a mile from the residence where the 911 call originated.

”He saw our officer, then fled on his bicycle,” Dobberstein said, adding that Newmaker traveled down 11th Street, turned right onto O Street and then made a left onto 10th Street. “The officer was right behind him with his lights and sirens going.”

Dobberstein said Newmaker crashed his bicycle on 10th Street just below O Street, and the officer confronted him on the sidewalk. An altercation ensued, the chief said, and the officer then “drive-stunned” Newmaker with his Taser, meaning he attempted to put it in direct contact with the suspect to shock him.

Richard Lichten, a former lieutenant with Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who serves as an expert witness in the field of police uses of force, said drive-stunning is one of two common methods of deploying a Taser. Fully deploying a Taser involves shooting a pair of darts into a suspect’s muscles that use an electrical charge to get what’s called neuromuscular incapacitation, which he said occurs when the electrical charge interrupts the signal from a suspect’s brain to his muscles, generally causing him to freeze up and fall over.

Drive-stunning, on the other hand, simply gives the suspect a good electrical jolt, Lichten said, speaking generally about Tasers and not specifically about the Fortuna incident.

”Drive-stunning is a pain compliance technique, and it hurts like hell,” Lichten said, adding that both Taser techniques can prove ineffective for a variety of reasons, including having a “highly motivated” suspect.

It’s unclear if the drive-stun technique was utilized correctly on Newmaker, but it didn’t result in compliance, according to Dobberstein, who said Newmaker continued to resist, and took off running back down O Street, toward 11th Street.

Dobberstein said the officer was able to catch up with Newmaker in the middle of O Street — between 10th and 11th streets — and again used his Taser, this time fully deploying it, shooting the darts at Newmaker. The chief said it’s unclear if the Taser was fully effective, but said Newmaker fell to the ground after being hit.

”It was when he was on the ground when the other officer arrived,” Dobberstein said, adding that the other officer came from the 11th Street side of O Street. At some point in the struggle, Dobberstein said, the baggy sweat pants and sandals Newmaker had been wearing fell off.

Dobberstein said the officers then tried to get Newmaker into handcuffs, using pepper spray and batons strikes to the legs to try to gain compliance. The second officer on scene — who Dobberstein said somehow “took a face-full of pepper spray at some point during the incident” — was able to get one of Newmaker’s hands into cuffs, but the suspect’s other hand remained free and he was able to get into a “fighting position on the ground.”

At this point, Dobberstein said, the initial officer on scene attempted to use his baton to gain control of Newmaker’s uncuffed hand, but the suspect was able to grab the weapon.

”Then, there was a tug-of-war for the baton, and he was able to wrestle it free,” Dobberstein said. “It was at that point he was able to get the baton and was able to get back up to his feet.”

Newmaker then raised the baton to strike the second officer on scene, Dobberstein said, at which point the other officer shot twice, hitting Newmaker both times.

An independent witness who lives in the area saw the shooting, Dobberstein said, and has been interviewed by police. The chief said both officers involved in the incident have also given statements to investigators as a part of the Critical Incident Response Team protocol enacted following deadly force incidents in the county.

Newmaker was unarmed until he picked up the officer’s baton, at which point he was considered armed and dangerous, Fortuna Police Lt. Matthew Eberhardt said.

”He was armed with a deadly weapon,” he said.

While some in the public might wonder how a baton — deemed less-than-lethal when wielded by a police officer — could be a deadly weapon in the hands of a suspect, Lichten agreed with Eberhardt’s characterization.

”Officers are trained to use their batons as a less than lethal weapon,” Lichten said. “But a suspect that forcibly takes an impact weapon away from an officer, that suspect is not looking to strike the knee to gain compliance or looking to strike the elbow to gain compliance. The suspect is looking to beat the officer over the head until they are unconscious and then, possibly, to take their firearm.”

On the other hand, Robert Feliciano — a former training sergeant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who now serves as a qualified expert witness on police use of force — said he would generally consider a baton a less-than-lethal weapon. Feliciano said officers are trained to use just enough force necessary to overcome resistance, and said he isn’t sure that was the case in Fortuna on Friday.

Feliciano said the bigger question is whether officers should have wound up in a violent confrontation with the suspect to begin with.

”I mean, this thing starts over nothing really,” Feliciano said. “We have a young guy dead as a result of what? A misdemeanor?”

Because the initial call was likely for disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct or maybe trespassing — all misdemeanors — Feliciano said he’s not sure the initial officer even had sufficient probable cause to attempt to detain Newmaker because no officer witnessed him commit the alleged offenses.

”I’m not sure you even have a right to stop him,” Feliciano said. “Before the baton situation, there’s nothing but misdemeanors there.”

Even after deciding to stop Newmaker, Feliciano said, the involved officer could have taken a step back when Newmaker fled and the situation escalated — especially considering the officer is believed to have known Newmaker.

”The right thing may have been to regroup,” Feliciano said. “They know who this guy is. They know his background. If they let him go, what’s the worst that could happen? Was it even necessary to try to detain this guy? I don’t know.”

Feliciano conceded he was playing “Monday-morning quarterback” without all the facts, but said that as a training officer, he always instructed rookies not to chase a suspect by themselves and to be very wary of engaging in foot pursuits.

”Things can escalate very quickly,” he said, adding that he feels for the officers involved in this situation because deadly force incidents can take a huge toll.

Dobberstein said the officer who fired the fatal shots remains on administrative leave and is scheduled to undergo a psychological evaluation, per department policy.

”Any time someone’s put in this kind of tragic situation where they have to use deadly force, our standard protocol says they have to go talk to a psychologist,” Dobberstein said, adding that when both officers return to duty the department will have a critical incident debriefing, allowing them to talk openly about their incident and share their feelings in a controlled environment.

Dobberstein said he has spoken with both officers involved, and they are doing OK. He said he intends to let the multi-agency investigation run its course, and will be as transparent as possible regarding its findings.

”We’ve got investigators from almost every agency in Humboldt County working on this,” he said. “My goal is to have a fair and open investigation, and we’re not going to hide any of the details or anything from the public once all this is investigated.”

Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or tgreenson@times-standard.com.