Nineteen years ago this month, I testified in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco in the matter of Hull vs. City of Oakland, Calif. I was reflecting on the circumstances of the case recently and thought perhaps the details of the shooting, the six years of uncertainty for the officer, and the jury verdict might make for an interesting read.
Following are the details.
On July 30, 1993, a rookie Oakland police officer, Gil Tournour, 24 years old at the time, responded to a call of a suspicious car parked on a residential street in what has been described as a high-crime area of Oakland. A female caller stated she suspected the occupants were engaged in a drug transaction. As Tournour parked his marked cruiser behind the brown Honda and began to exit, the front seat passenger darted from the vehicle and took off running. Tournour shouted for the suspect to stop, and then took off running.
During the foot pursuit, Tournour observed what appeared to be a semiautomatic pistol in the suspect’s right hand. Tournour drew his service weapon upon witnessing this potential threat. Suddenly, the suspect turned slightly to his left, brought the pistol under his left arm and pointed it at the officer. In response, Tournour fired twice, one round striking the suspect in the back. The suspect, later identified as Baraka Hull, age 19, went down. Tournour rushed over, recovered a .38 semiauto from Hull, which contained a magazine loaded with four rounds, and handcuffed the suspect. He then radioed in the shooting and requested EMS. However, despite the very best efforts of the responding medics, Hull expired from his gun shot wound. A subsequent pat down revealed a second weapon, a .357 Magnum revolver in Hull’s pocket.
The shooting was investigated in several forums. The Oakland PD conducted both an internal affairs investigation and a criminal investigation. The OPD IAB cleared Tournour of any department policy violations. The Alameda County DA’s Office, after reviewing the OPD CID case file, cleared the officer of any criminal charges stemming from the shooting. However, the family of Baraka Hull filed a $10,000,000 federal civil rights suit claiming the shooting was unjustified, that their son was “running for his life,” that Tournour “executed” young Baraka for simply “running away.” They also claimed the gun found near their son’s hand was unloaded.
I was working for Caliber Press at the time, teaching the Street Survival Seminars, and was contacted by the Oakland City Attorney’s Office, which asked me to review the case. Upon examining all the facts, I requested a site inspection. I also asked to take a look at all physical evidence in person and interview Officer Gil Tournour. They agreed.
I found Officer Tournour to be an articulate and credible witness. His explanation of the facts matched the evidence collected at the scene perfectly. His explanation comported with the crime scene sketch, diagrams, and photographs perfectly. But of course, as one might suspect, since one of Tournour’s two shots struck Hull in the back, the “he-shot-a-fleeing-suspect-in-the-back” mantra became the issue of the day—actually, the issue for the next six years.
The matter progressed through the normal slow grind of the Federal Civil Justice System and in December, 1995, I ventured out to Oakland to testify in deposition in the case. Based on not only my expert report authored years earlier, when added to my deposition testimony/transcript, the plaintiff’s had a pretty good idea of where my opinion was going, and that the “action vs. reaction” phenomenon was going to play a big role in both my, and eventually the jury’s analysis, of the case.
The Trial & Verdict
Flash forward four years. It’s now November 1999. I venture again out to the west coast and testify at Gil Tournour’s trial. The trial itself lasted two full weeks. And after hearing all the evidence, the jury returned a verdict in just over two hours clearing Tournour of any and all civil rights violations. The driver of the brown Honda in which Hull was the passenger, took off when Tournour pursued Hull and, as I recall, was never located.
I reviewed a few more cases for several other California agencies over the years before retiring from expert work a few years ago and testified one more time for the City of Oakland and another time for the City of Vacaville. I’m of the opinion that, despite of all the grief the West Coast departments get from my east coast brothers and sisters, the law enforcement agencies out there are top-notch, their training is excellent, and the legal cadre at the respective city attorneys’ offices just superb.
One of the more positive factors that made for what most would agree was a fairly quick verdict, in light of all the media frenzy this case received, was the outstanding investigations conducted by the Oakland PD. The case file I reviewed was not only well-written but complete with everything an objective expert would need. It’s rare when I never have to ask for more material, but such was the case in this matter. Photographs, videos, statements, depositions, scene sketches, ballistics, ATF traces on the two guns recovered at the scene, Tournour’s personnel file and training records, witness interviews, CAD logs and dispatch tapes—you name it, was all in the case file. That made for a full, complete, and understandable analysis for me, which I was able to translate into civilian-speak for the jury. Other jurisdictions reading this might take a lesson.
It’s been 25 years since the incident, and I’m guessing Gil has retired. But I’m sure the incident, as well as the six year’s aftermath, remain etched in his memory.