LOS ANGELES (AP) — A legally blind man suffering from schizophrenia who was fatally shot by police at a California gas station was the victim of a "cold-blooded execution," his attorney charged Thursday, after a surveillance video was released that raises questions about whether the man advanced on officers with a knife.
The video was posted Wednesday on YouTube by attorneys for the family of James Hall, who was killed on Nov. 22, 2015, in Fontana after police responded to a call of a possible robbery at the gas station. A police statement at the time said officers encountered Hall outside the gas station with a knife and a rock. It said Hall retreated into the store, refused to surrender and advanced on officers before being shot.
The eight-minute clip, captured on the store's security cameras, shows an officer entering the store with his gun drawn as fellow officers arrive and Hall moves further into the store. The video, which does not have sound, appears to show Hall at some points holding something, but the item isn't clear. At other times, Hall looks empty-handed. The video shows a throng of officers pointing guns at Hall as he moves sideways along a counter, leans on it and then collapses.
Ben Meiselas, an attorney representing Hall's family, said the video is "completely contrary" to the account provided by police and argued that officers should have been aware Hall was mentally ill and should have worked harder to deescalate the situation.
"The video shows a cold-blooded execution of an individual cowering in a corner in a convenience store," Meiselas said. "It seemed he was disoriented and didn't know what was going on. He was chased in the corner and then shot execution-style in the distance."
Meiselas said Hall, 47, has struggled with mental health issues, but he had been taking care of his ailing mother for years and was well known in his neighborhood and at the convenience store.
About a week before the shooting, Hall, seeking mental health counseling, walked into the Fontana Police Department and told an officer he was "hearing voices," but was "turned way," Meiselas said. A Fontana police spokesman didn't respond to questions about the encounter
Last month, Hall's family brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the police department saying officers used "constitutionally unreasonable and excessive force." The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
In a statement Thursday, Fontana police said the shooting was "a tragic and unfortunate event for everyone involved" and offered condolences to Hall's family. The police department declined to comment specifically on the case, citing an ongoing investigation by San Bernardino County prosecutors.
Follow Michael Balsamo on Twitter @MikeBalsamo1.