Together in tragedy
Gathering unites parents of those killed by Chico police
Since learning that their 34-year-old son, Tyler, had been killed while traveling through Chico in July—shot first by a security guard, then by Chico police—Scott and Paula Rushing have suffered grief and confusion that can best be articulated in metaphorical terms.
“It’s like being underwater,” Scott Rushing said. “It’s like the surface of the water is right above us but we’re being held down, we can’t make it up to take a breath.”
He and Paula were in town from Ventura and on Sunday (Sept. 17) attended a gathering at Chico City Plaza marking six months since the shooting death—also by Chico police—of Desmond Phillips.
At the event, the Rushings commiserated with others who’ve lost children to fatal police encounters. In addition to Phillips’ father, David, James Sharpe was in attendance. His daughter, Breanne, was shot and killed by Chico police in September 2013.
Sunday’s event was organized by Justice for Desmond Phillips, a consortium of family members, concerned citizens and members of activist group Showing Up for Racial Justice formed shortly after the 25-year-old was killed during a mental health episode. The gathering featured free food provided by the Phillips family and activist group Food Not Bombs, as well as artwork, a graffiti wall and a memorial table dedicated to people killed by law enforcement in Butte County.
The three bereaved fathers spoke at the gathering, starting with Phillips, who continues to question the findings of a Butte County Officer Involved Shooting/Critical Incident Protocol Team investigation led by District Attorney Mike Ramsey. That investigation found two officers justified in shooting his son (see “A deadly mix,” cover story, June 1).
“No matter what, they’re justified,” Phillips told the crowd of about 100, referencing his son’s case and other officer-involved shootings. “To me, the DA and Chico police are promoting murder … [they’re] giving these guys a message, [saying] ‘Go out there, shoot somebody, let’s kill ’em, I’m not going charge you.’ They got a badge, and a gun. That’s dangerous.”
Justice for Desmond is calling for an outside investigation into the shooting, and on Monday (Sept. 18) held a rally outside California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s Sacramento office to deliver a petition signed by more than 45,000 people asking for one.
Sharpe took the stage next. His daughter’s shooting was also declared justified, as—according to the investigation—she reportedly tried to run down officers in a stolen car (see “Cops cleared,” Newslines, Oct. 10, 2013).
“The same agency that was sworn to protect and serve her murdered her and shot her in the back of the head,” Sharpe said. “She was 19 years old; they shot 19 times and hit her three [times]. It was like the wild, wild west—they hit houses, a bus stop, cars.”
The use of deadly force over de-escalation figured prominently in Scott Rushing’s address to the audience: “There needs to be amped-up education of officers on how to deal with the mentally ill or people that appear to be mentally impaired … every other means of nonlethal force should be used before.
“Think about it, they’ve got bean bags, pepper spray, mace, dogs and batons. The last thing should be a bullet.”
Other speakers called for better de-escalation and critical incident training (CIT) for the Chico Police Department. An eight-hour CIT session attended by 60 CPD personnel (including 42 sworn officers) was held Sept. 11, with more of the current roster of 95 officers slated to attend another session on Oct. 12. The CPD held similar sessions in 2015. According to the CPD, 16 officers have completed a 40-hour CIT training course. The department is in compliance with state laws passed in 2015 that mandated increased hours of CIT training for cadets and peace officers.
Directly following Sunday’s public event, about a dozen people gathered at the corner of Fourth and Main streets for a quieter memorial for Tyler Rushing. His parents said a few words and handed out flowers before leading the assemblage on a short walk to Mid-Valley Title and Escrow Co., where their son was killed after he allegedly stabbed an armed security guard responding to a burglar alarm, as well as two CPD officers who responded to the scene.
The Rushings said their anguish is exacerbated by a lack of information as the investigation remains underway. They met with Ramsey last week to hear some of the findings, and complied with his request not to share that information publicly until a press conference is held at the investigation’s end.
Tyler’s parents have expressed anger with their son’s portrayal in police and some press reports that they feel implied he was homeless, drug-addicted and suffered from mental illness. They counter that he owned a successful window-washing business in Ventura, traveled often to attend and work at music festivals and, to their knowledge, didn’t use hard drugs or display signs of mental illness. He came to Chico three days before he was shot after his wallet and belongings were stolen at such a concert in Mendocino County, and arrangements to bring him home were in the works. Several people at the small memorial who met Tyler during his time in Chico corroborated his parents’ assertions that he was kind, gentle and nonviolent.
“Tyler was all about peace, love, positivity and helping people,” Paula Rushing told the small gathering. “We want to celebrate what Tyler was here for. He was here to get a message out for people to help each other, to be here for each other.”