Disappeared in Death 

Homeless and mentally ill, Joshua Pawlik was unconscious right before four Oakland police officers killed him in March. His family and friends are seeking answers.

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It was a little after 6 p.m. on March 11 when an anonymous 911 caller reported Pawlik lying on the ground between two houses near several trash bins on 40th Street in West Oakland. He appeared to be experiencing some kind of medical emergency, but the first emergency responder on the scene, an Oakland police officer, noticed a small pistol. The gun was either in Pawlik's hands or nearby. Wherever it was, the officer retreated, called off the paramedics, and signaled for backup.

The city of Oakland declined to make fire and police reports of the incident public. But according to OPD's only statement about the shooting — a press release issued three days after it happened — the officers who responded were "developing a plan for a peaceful resolution," but Pawlik "did not comply with their commands during this interaction." Pawlik presented an "immediate threat," so they shot and killed him.

The department also disclosed the names of four officers who fired at Pawlik: Sergeant Francisco Negrete, Officer William Berger, Officer Brandon Hraiz, and Officer Craig Tanaka. And OPD released a photograph of a silver and black semi-automatic pistol that Pawlik was allegedly carrying.

A transcript of OPD's radio records — obtained by the Express without the city's assistance — as well as a video taken by a bystander and uploaded to Facebook, reveals a little more about what happened.

Police dispatchers told responding officers that Pawlik was carrying a firearm. He was described as "a light-skinned male wearing blue jeans, white shirt, dark jacket" and said to be "down on the ground between two houses." The situation wasn't initially described over the radio as a possible medical emergency.

Instead, one of the first officers on the scene communicated that it "looks like he's under the influence of 922," using OPD's code for alcohol intoxication. "He has a small semi-automatic in his right hand," said the officer.

A few minutes later, another officer on scene broadcast that Pawlik "still appears to be unresponsive and not aware of our presence."

Officers surrounded Pawlik by taking cover behind a squad car with guns trained on him while others waited one block up on 41st Street. They anticipated he might try to escape by running through backyards and wanted to be in position to cut him off. They also blocked through traffic and evacuated people from the street.

About halfway through the incident, one of the officers observing Pawlik said over the radio, "gun just moved." He did not say whether Pawlik had regained consciousness or how, exactly, the gun moved.

Not long after, OPD's armored vehicle, a Lenco BearCat, arrived. The police parked the BearCat directly in front of the alleyway where Pawlik was lying. From behind its bullet-proof plates, officers trained AR-15 rifles on him. According to radio communications, at least three officers were armed with rifles.

Then, according to a cell phone video recorded by Amanda Van Raalte, a bystander who observed from one block away, the police began shouting commands at Pawlik. One officer can be heard yelling "hands up!" several times followed by "hands off the gun."

Roughly 20 seconds later, officers Hraiz, Berger, Tanaka, and Negrete fired a fusillade at Pawlik. Then, over the radio, officers described moving in to handcuff Pawlik and search him as he lay dying on the ground.

Throughout the incident, OPD did not know who Pawlik was. In fact, they didn't positively ID him until after he was dead.

The trash bins nearby were struck with several bullets and bullet fragments fired by the police. Pawlik's friends who have visited the site said they observed that the entry points on the bins are higher up than the exit holes. They believe this shows the police fired down on him as he was lying on the ground.

Did Pawlik wake up? Did he know where he was and who was yelling at him? Did he aim the pistol he was carrying at the police or make some other threatening motion? Only the body camera video recorded by the officers who shot him can potentially answer these questions.

After months of requests, Pawlik's mother, Kelly, was finally allowed to view the video last Friday. She flew to California and watched it in-person at the Police Administration Building.

Afterward, she told the Express that she agreed not to disclose any details about what the video specifically shows, but she said she now has "grave concerns" that the police wrongfully killed her son.

From a very young age it was apparent that Pawlik's mind couldn't rest. Even though his elementary school teachers thought he was brilliant, he had trouble focusing. His family worried about whether he would complete high school. That's when they discovered Pawlik was using Adderall to self-medicate. The amphetamine-like stimulant gave Pawlik a peaceful focus. But it wasn't enough. He eventually began using opiates to treat himself.

"He expressed to me numerous times that being on drugs, heroin or whatever, it quieted the voices," said Kelly Pawlik.

He once explained it to his mother this way: His untreated state was like a radio that's tuned between two stations. One conversation overlapped another, cutting in and out and making it impossible to concentrate.

Pawlik quit high school when he was 16 and obtained his GED. He later began working as a summer camp counselor, but his increasing use of heroin made working around kids impossible. He took on jobs in restaurants in Fredericksburg, but he was frequently late and had trouble staying employed.


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