Jacob Bauer (left), pictured here with his sister Jillian Bauer, was killed during a confrontation with Pleasanton police officers on August 1, 2018. Credit: Rose Bauer

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It was 2018 and Rose and John Bauer knew something was going on with their adult son, Jacob Bauer, who had started acting paranoid and sometimes erratic. Concerned, the parents reached out to the Pleasanton Police Department to learn what they might be able to do to get their son the mental health care he needed. The elder Bauer’s ended up meeting with Pleasanton police officers in their home and at the police department on at least four occasions. Because Jacob Bauer, 38, was not a threat to himself or others, said the Pleasanton police, there was essentially nothing the parents or police could do to force him to get mental health treatment. 

Still, Rose and John Bauer were aware that two other mentally ill men had died during encounters with the Pleasanton PD, and the concerned parents wanted to alert the department that their son was harmless and not a threat to anyone should they happen to encounter him during a mental health crisis. So, toward the end of July 2018, the Bauer’s again reached out to the Pleasanton PD alerting them to their son’s deteriorating mental health situation and again asked the department to be mindful that he posed no danger should they encounter him.

Just a few days later, on August 1, 2018, two Pleasanton police officers, Jonathan Chin and Bradlee Middleton, did encounter Jacob Bauer. The officers even called dispatch and received verification of his identity. It was just the situation that Rose and John Bauer had notified the Pleasanton Police Department about on at least four separate occasions: In the midst of a mental health crisis, Jacob Bauer was walking quietly on a sidewalk in Pleasanton when he was stopped by the two officers, who were investigating a disturbance he was reported to have just caused at a nearby grocery store.

A short time later, he was killed from what a doctor later determined to be asphyxiation. His death at the hands of multiple Pleasanton Police Department officers occurred as other law enforcement personnel looked on.

Now, John and Rose Bauer are pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Pleasanton, alleging that its police officers used excessive force in that Aug. 1, 2018 incident and showed disregard for their son’s life in violation of state law, departmental policies, and state and national training standards. The Oakland law firm of Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer is representing the Bauer family in the action.

What happened on August 1, 2018?

Police had received a 911 call about a man acting erratically at a Raley’s grocery store, who employees said was “ranting to himself” and had slammed a shopping cart on the floor. They expressed concern for his mental welfare.

What happened next was captured on police body cams and video footage with audio that was recorded by a citizen who was across the street at the time of the encounter. The footage was obtained and reviewed by the law firm Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer as part of their discovery process for the case. The description of events that follows is based on the firm’s careful review of that obtained footage.

When officers confronted Jacob Bauer a few blocks away from the grocery store, he appeared calm and cooperative. He readily put down a glass at Officer Middleton’s request, denied causing a disturbance in Raley’s, said he lived down the street with his parents, and gave his name and date of birth, which enabled a dispatcher to determine he had no outstanding warrants and a valid driver’s license. 

As Officer Middleton continued to ask questions, Bauer went silent and began to blankly stare across the street with a faraway look. That is when the officers grabbed Bauer’s arms without warning to handcuff him. They did so even though there was no evidence of a felony having occurred and state law precludes officers making warrantless arrests for misdemeanors not committed in their presence. The officers’ training also says people should not be cuffed while detained during an investigation unless there is a clear danger, or the person tries to leave. Neither circumstance was present at the time Bauer was stopped for questioning.

The officers had a right to stop and detain Bauer, but a simple citation could have been issued for a misdemeanor. Bauer was unarmed, did not attempt to leave, and posed no immediate threat of death or serious injury to anybody. His parents had informed the Pleasanton Police Department at least four times that he was having mental health issues, was not dangerous, and should be treated carefully if encountered by officers.

What the officers could and should have done is call a mental health professional to assist or initiate one of a wide range of de-escalation tactics. Instead, they took the worst course possible: They quickly moved toward Bauer and tried to place handcuffs on him, throwing him to the ground. This should never have been done, especially as Bauer was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

After being grabbed by the officers, Bauer, who likely could not understand what was happening due to his mental state at the time, appeared in the video to be shocked by the sudden use of force against him and immediately sought to resist the assault (as should have been expected by any reasonable officer) while asking the officers what they were doing. He was quickly tased, multiple times, and started screaming as additional officers joined in on what quickly became a pileup of Pleasanton police officers on Bauer.

Bauer screamed, “I can’t breathe!” as officers applied pressure to his upper body and neck and he continued to scream until he lost consciousness.

Bauer’s ability to breathe was compromised by pressure to his upper body and neck and through the placement of a spit mask over his head and full body restraining wrap. One officer put his knee on Bauer’s head and neck for almost four minutes, in clear violation of training standards.

“You’re suffocating me,” Bauer could be heard pleading in the video. “Take off my mask.” 

Bauer’s breathing appeared to become increasingly labored and then he went silent, his head and body slumped forward. 

A paramedic gave Bauer a shot of sedative, but a later autopsy showed no trace of the drug suggesting that his heart had already stopped beating or was collapsing at the time of injection.

Meanwhile, officers devoted their attention for several minutes to figuring out how to secure Bauer to an ambulance gurney instead of paying attention to providing him with medical attention. When Bauer was lifted onto the gurney, his body was limp, his eyes closed. A paramedic slapped his arm and asked him his name, but he did not respond.

Seven minutes later, after Bauer was loaded into an ambulance, it was discovered he had no pulse. Resuscitative efforts began, but it took more than five more minutes for the ambulance to leave for the hospital as police officers had to remove the restraining device from Bauer’s upper body. By then, it was too late.

Sadly, Jacob Bauer was the third person in acute mental distress to die in altercations with Pleasanton police in as many years, a statistic his parents argue reflects an officially sanctioned pattern of relying on unconstitutional and excessive force against disabled individuals. 

John and Rose Bauer hope their lawsuit will inspire Pleasanton and other cities to improve the way police treat people suffering from mental crises, in particular by requiring officers to use de-escalating confrontations in order to avoid unnecessary deaths and injuries.

Their desire is that nobody else will have to suffer as their son did.