Wrongful-Death Suit Names Cop Who Shot Homeless Man: Alameda, CA

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 24 Jul 1999 21:34:30 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  San Francisco Chronicle - Thursday, July 22, 1999


     Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer

An Alameda police officer recently honored as ``Officer of the
Year'' was named yesterday in a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that
he wrongfully shot and killed a homeless man during an argument.

Officer Sean Lynch, a 13-year veteran, shot and killed James Robert, 30, on
November 6 on a railroad right of way after the transient allegedly
brandished a hunting knife at the officer.

Lynch had awakened Robert in the early morning hours at the vacant Alameda
Belt Line Railroad property near the 900 block of Atlantic Avenue, where an
arson fire had damaged some railroad ties.

Police said Robert became combative and pulled out a hunting knife, waving
it in a threatening matter. Lynch feared he was in danger and shot him.

But Robert's family, in a federal lawsuit alleging wrongful death and civil
rights violations, said Lynch acted negligently in shooting a man they
described as not aggressive and mentally impaired.

``At no time did James Robert pose a significant threat of death or serious
physical injury to defendant Lynch,'' said the lawsuit, which also names
Police Chief Burnham Matthews and the city of Alameda.

``This appears to be a completely unjustified killing,'' said Michael
Haddad, an attorney for Robert's family.

But Matthews said the department cleared Lynch of any wrongdoing after a
``very scrupulous'' investigation. ``I feel satisfied that the use of force
in this situation was well within not only our guidelines but those dictated
by the state of California,'' the chief said.

Lynch, who was picked by the department as ``Officer of the Year'' in 1998,
has been involved in two nonfatal shootings since 1990. Both were deemed
justified by the district attorney. He is now a detective in the
violent-crimes unit.


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