BROAD DAYLIGHT. Lee Merritt, an attorney for the family, said Yarber was not armed and that the car posed no danger to officers when they began spraying him with bullets.
“They saw a car full of black people sitting in front of a Walmart, and they decided that was suspicious,” said Merritt. “They just began pouring bullets … It’s irresponsible. It’s dangerous. It’s mind-boggling, the use of force.” [MORE]
The church was holding a funeral for Diante Yarber, 26, who died in a police shooting on April 5. He was behind the wheel of a black Mustang in the parking lot of a Walmart in Barstow, Calif., with three passengers when officers arrived and told him to get out of the car.
Instead, the police said, Mr. Yarber accelerated in reverse, then forward and then in reverse again, striking patrol cars before four officers opened fire.
Protests erupted in Barstow after Mr. Yarber’s death, and video footage of the shooting was shared online by the activist Shaun King and has been viewed more than 200,000 times. The episode occurred just weeks after the police in Sacramento fatally shot another black man, Stephon Clark, whose death set off marches across that city.
While many now know the name of Mr. Yarber, the names of the officers who fired at him have yet to be released by officials.
“More than I’ve ever seen before, law enforcement is being really, really closelipped about this investigation,” said S. Lee Merritt, the lawyer representing Mr. Yarber’s estate.
He said the church was filled on Friday with friends and family members who said their final goodbyes to Mr. Yarber — a father of three whose friends called him Butchie — and Barstow residents who called for justice.
“A lot of people talked about the need for ongoing protests and marches — a lot more than I would expect at a funeral,” Mr. Merritt said.
In a statement on Monday, the Police Department said officers responded to a report of a reckless driver on March 18 and Mr. Yarber fled when officers tried unsuccessfully to stop him. The statement said that further investigation showed that the car, a blue Hyundai, was stolen.
So when someone called to report a “suspicious vehicle” — the black Mustang — in a Walmart parking lot on April 5 and provided a license plate number, officers saw that it was registered to someone whose last name was Yarber and, once on the scene, recognized the driver, the statement said.
Officers told Mr. Yarber to get out but he did not, the statement said, adding that he “continued to accelerate his vehicle forward and in reverse toward the officers, almost hitting one officer” before striking the rear of another patrol car occupied by an officer.
The statement added, “The officers feared for their safety and the safety of others and an officer-involved shooting occurred.”
Meanwhile, the video, posted online by attorney S. Lee Merritt on this Facebook page , shows the Mustang apparently pinned between two marked Barstow Police Department cruisers and then slowly reversing into one of them as a fusillade of bullets can be heard firing. In the video, rapid gunfire can be heard as a black car appears to drive slowly in reverse.
Merritt said "video evidence shows the black Ford Mustang Yarber was operating backing slowly away from police when they opened fire," he told the station.
He also told KABC that the officers' "firing over 30 rounds into a car occupied by four unarmed pedestrians in a crowded Super Walmart parking lot in the middle of the day was massively irresponsible and reckless."
The car was riddled with bullets. Mr. Yarber was killed and one of his three passengers was shot and hospitalized. She has since been released.
It all happened very quickly, said Marlon Hawkins, 41, who was in the front seat of the car at the time of the shooting.
He said they had just pulled in when several police cars arrived, boxing them in. There was a lot of yelling and then a lot of gunfire.
Mr. Hawkins said he jumped out of the car and onto the ground. He suffered injuries and was taken to the hospital for a few hours. He got a phone call and learned that Mr. Yarber was dead.
“I was just devastated,” Mr. Hawkins said. “It was just surreal. It was happening so fast, I couldn’t believe it. I was sick.”
Mr. Merritt has repeatedly called on the authorities to release the officers’ names.
In its statement, the Barstow police said they were “precluded by state law from providing or sharing any information related to the personnel records of the involved officers.”
The department said in its statement that the officers were wearing body cameras and that the footage was turned over to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. It has not been released publicly.
“This case is important because it really begins to explore the idea that law enforcement is above the law,” Mr. Merritt said.
Citing a California Supreme Court decision, Mr. Merritt argued that in the case of an officer-involved shooting, police departments that want to withhold names must show clear evidence that there would be a particular threat to officers involved if their names were made public.
“They’ve decided that they would go into a black box. It’s almost as if they’re hiding, waiting for everybody to go away,” he said. “We’re not going to go away.” [MORE]