Death and justice

Police shooting victim dies, prompting renewed calls for criminal charges against officer

Cynthia Binyon and Sarah Baker make their feelings about the recent shooting by cop of Andrew Thomas known to passersby at the intersection of Pearson Road and Black Olive Drive.

Cynthia Binyon and Sarah Baker make their feelings about the recent shooting by cop of Andrew Thomas known to passersby at the intersection of Pearson Road and Black Olive Drive.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

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Andrew Thomas died on Saturday (Dec. 19), almost a month after he was shot in the neck by Paradise Police Officer Patrick Feaster while trying to exit an SUV that had crashed and flipped onto its side. The 26-year-old’s death has widespread implications because it opens Feaster up to being charged with involuntary manslaughter.

“We see Andrew’s death, as unfortunate as it is, as a chance to make an example out of Feaster and show police officers and the whole nation that, in America, there is accountability for “… everyone—even the police,” Joshua Turner, a friend of Thomas’, wrote in a message to this reporter. “And hopefully, police in the future will think twice about pulling their gun in a situation where they aren’t at great risk because they know there will be consequences.”

Turner has been organizing protests at Paradise Community Park, located at the corner where Thomas was shot. Saturdays have brought out huge crowds. On a recent Tuesday, a few supporters, including Cynthia Binyon, continued the cause.

“This whole thing has gone nationwide,” Binyon said amid honks of support as cars drove by. “A lot of people here are very upset.”

Before Thomas’ death, the rally cry was to fire Feaster. Now, protesters are calling for the district attorney to charge him criminally. Many, like Binyon, are pushing for outside review of the incident. “Everyone would feel a lot better if people outside this county investigated this,” she said.

Turner agreed. He’s posted links to a petition on the Facebook event page he started called “Justice for Andrew Thomas #FireFeaster,” calling for just that.

“Our petition is about getting the attorney general to take over the investigation,” he said. “We feel it is ludicrous that a former PPD employee is conducting the internal investigation as well. We definitely want someone from outside Butte County to review this case.”

Former Paradise Police Chief Chris Buzzard has been temporarily rehired to conduct an internal affairs investigation into the incident, which will determine what disciplinary actions Feaster might face within the department.

“I don’t think I shot him. I wasn’t even pointing it at him. But the gun did go off.”

Those words, caught on a body camera worn by Paradise Police Officer Manuel Ayala, were spoken by Feaster. They not only admitted an accidental discharge of his service weapon, but they also came a full 11 minutes after backup arrived on the scene of the rollover crash on Pearson Road that left Darien Ehorn dead and Thomas paralyzed. The response of the commanding officer that night, John Alvies, is unmistakeable: “Oh my fucking god, are you serious?”

One can surmise that Alvies was in such shock at Feaster’s admission because within a minute of his and Ayala’s arrival on the scene, Alvies can be heard questioning Thomas, who was later shown sitting limply inside the vehicle. Thomas’ response is too faint to make out.

“What do you mean you got shot? Did you get shot at the Canteena?” Alvies asked. Thomas and his estranged wife, Ehorn, had been leaving the Canteena bar when Feaster began to follow them, suspecting a DUI. After the SUV hit a median, Ehorn was ejected from the vehicle and later died at the scene. “Who shot you?” Alvies continued. “The cop did not shoot you.”

But, in fact, Feaster had shot him. He can be clearly seen pulling out his gun and shooting Thomas on the video taken by his dashcam. At the time, Feaster had just gotten out of his patrol car, and Thomas was attempting to pull himself out of the SUV, which was lying on its side. Originally, only the dashcam video was released. It has no audio, but it still caused an uproar. At the request of this reporter, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey released the body camera videos as well.

Two weeks ago, on Dec. 10, Ramsey delivered the results of the Officer Involved Shooting/Critical Incident Protocol Team’s report on Feaster’s actions. Feaster accidentally pulled the trigger, Ramsey said, and because Thomas had survived the incident, it wasn’t a homicide and therefore there were no criminal charges to be filed.

All that changed last weekend, however, when Thomas, who already was paralyzed, died of multiple organ failure. “Now we can consider involuntary manslaughter, which allows a theory of negligence to be considered where it was not able to be considered when [Thomas] was alive,” Ramsey explained by phone. “The caveat being that it has to be criminal negligence.”

To be found criminally negligent, one must meet two criteria: “He or she acts in a reckless way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury” and “A reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would create such a risk.”

Ramsey’s office will be looking at two theories, he said. The first is the discharge of the weapon, which required a finger on the trigger that is against police protocol unless the officer intends to shoot. “The other is more of a stretch,” he said. “We’ll have to look at the medical part of this: Did any delay in the notification contribute substantially to Mr. Thomas’ death?”

Even that second theory includes theories, such as whether the delay in notifying a superior officer of the gunshot affected Thomas’ initial medical care. Also, Ramsey said they will need to confirm that Thomas actually died because of the gunshot—“I believe his lungs and his kidneys shut down,” he said. “We can certainly surmise that that’s probably a result of the gunshot wound, but I need actual medical confirmation.”

The results of the autopsy and a medical review are pending and likely won’t be finalized before the holidays.

Turner is hopeful that Feaster will be charged.

“As you know, these situations are happening all over the country, and we actually have a chance to convict a police officer for firing his weapon and killing an unarmed citizen,” he said. “The whole country wants that justice.”