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The Mother and the Officer

Years after a fatal police shooting, one of the cops responsible is helping the victim's mom seek answers.



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In his report, Peterson reiterated the story Bhatt told to OPD: "As [Brown] stabbed Jon with the screwdriver, I took my pistol out and instructed him to stop. At that time, I saw in the open front right side door pocket area that there was what appeared to be the butt of a pistol."

He shot Brown twice. His gun jammed. He said he cleared it rapidly. He said Brown continued to lunge at the steering column, so he shot him five more times.

Peterson concluded, "Bhatt was in reasonable fear" and "was justified in shooting Brown."

But forensic evidence examined by OPD showed no signs of strike marks on Bellusa's shirt or his protective vest, contradicting both officers' claims that Brown used the screwdriver as a weapon. And Stewart and Bellusa both said in OPD interviews and later depositions that Brown wasn't lunging for the steering wheel after the first two shots.

There were also other findings in Peterson's report that didn't line up with some of the evidence and witness statements, raising still more questions.

Bellusa found Peterson's role as the internal affairs investigator alarming, because, he said, Peterson is an old friend of the Sarna family. According to OPD records, Sarna's father, Pete Sr., was a captain in OPD until he retired in 1980. Peterson, an OPD lieutenant, retired in 1998.

Bellusa also told attorneys during the civil lawsuits that Sarna reacted jubilantly to the news that Peterson was handling the investigation. "[Sarna] said, 'I'm not worried about anything, everything is taken care of.' He said he 'might as well have a limo pick us up and have drinks in the limo and take us to Mike Rains' office to meet with Peterson.'" (Rains is the longtime attorney for Oakland and OUSD police officers.)

According to Bellusa, Sarna even referred to himself one time as "The Wolf," a reference to the Harvey Keitel character in Pulp Fiction who cleans up a homicide scene and disappears the body for two clumsy hitmen.

Peterson declined to discuss his investigation of the shooting, citing legal and professional rules against disclosing personnel information. He also didn't respond to a question about whether he is friends with the Sarna family.

But Howard Jordan, who was OPD chief at the time, wrote in an email to the Express that his department should have conducted the internal affairs investigation — not Peterson.

"Johnathan Bellusa was absolutely correct," wrote Jordan. "I made several attempts to have this case assigned to OPD since it happened in our jurisdiction as this has been the practice in the past. I can only suspect that Sarna was afraid that he would not have been able to control the outcome of this investigation if OPD had been allowed to investigate it."

Setting aside questions about who should have conducted the internal affairs investigation or whether OPD's original criminal investigation was rigorous enough, what it all boiled down to in the end was whether or not Bhatt saw the pistol and whether it was necessary to fire eight shots at Brown. Were the first two shots enough to stop Brown from trying to start the car? Were the following six necessary? And if not, would Brown have survived?

According to forensics reports prepared for OPD and OUSD, Bhatt fired two volleys of shots at Brown. The first was a "double tap" — two quick gunshots, followed by a dud round that jammed his gun. Bhatt had to clear the round from the chamber before firing again.

But how long did that take? Bhatt told Peterson it was a "half-second fluid action" to clear the jam and continue firing.

Bellusa didn't describe two volleys of shots when he was interviewed by OPD on the night of the shooting, according to OPD reports. But later, during the civil lawsuits, Bellusa said the two volleys were separated by anywhere from 10 to 15 seconds, perhaps longer. He recalled falling out of the car as Bhatt fired twice. He stumbled around to the back, looked up, and claimed he saw Bhatt tapping his pistol to clear the jam while Brown lay moaning, nearly motionless in the passenger seat. Then Bhatt fired again.

Bellusa has come to the conclusion that the second round of shots wasn't necessary and that it's possible Raheim Brown could have survived.

But because OPD never interviewed the officers a second time and never did a reenactment of the incident, the time pause between the first and second volley of shots was never conclusively estimated.

The only reenactment took place in March 2011 when two attorneys representing Bhatt, Bellusa, and the school district in the civil suit filed by Davis had the officers do a walk-through in an OUSD parking lot. Bellusa said this reenactment revealed that there was a significant delay of more than 10 seconds between the first and second volley of shots.

The school district's attorneys, Peter Edrington and James Marzan, didn't respond to questions about the reenactment or Bellusa's assertions.

The only other witness account raises still more questions.

Timesha Stewart, who was distraught immediately after the incident, told OPD investigators when she was interviewed that night that both Bhatt and Bellusa shot Brown. However, her claim was disproved by physical evidence.

Reached by phone several weeks ago, Stewart admitted it was a confusing moment, but she said the official police version of what happened is false and that the killing was never properly investigated. She also said Bellusa's version is false.


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