It was a shocking and senseless killing.
A police officer stepped in front of a slow-moving car and fired into the windshield and passenger-side window, striking the unarmed driver nine times. The fatal shot went through his heart and left lung.
Contra Costa Sheriff David Livingston defended Officer Andrew Hall’s actions in 2018, cleared him of wrongdoing and put him back out on the street — only to have him kill again 2½ years later in another probably avoidable confrontation.
But Livingston’s defense of Hall didn’t stop there. After the officer was convicted of felony assault with a firearm for the first shooting, a judge in March sentenced him to six years in state prison, and the county agreed to pay more than $9 million to settle lawsuits stemming from the two fatalities, Livingston doubled down.
In an email to his department, the sheriff lambasted the district attorney for charging Hall, an officer whom Livingston said had served “with honor and distinction.” Rather than respecting the jury verdict and our judicial process, Contra Costa’s top cop was calling it into question.
For voters, this should be the final straw.
New leader for the times
For nearly 12 years now, Livingston has run roughshod over those who question him, stonewalled requests for public records about transgressions of his deputies, accused those who question inequities in policing of playing the “well-worn race card,” and defended indefensible behavior of his subordinate.
It’s time for a sheriff who respects our criminal justice system and recognizes the importance of transparency and reform — a leader with a policing approach and racial sensitivity appropriate for the 21st century.
Voters should elect Benjamin Therriault, who has worked as a Richmond beat cop, vice detective, gang detective, housing officer, bicycle officer and crisis negotiator. And who has served as the president of the Richmond Police Officers Association since 2015.
Therriault has nearly two decades of law enforcement experience, six as a military policeman in the U.S. Air Force followed by 13 in Richmond. We wish he had more administrative experience. But, unlike Livingston, he is known not just as an advocate for the officers he represents but also for rebuilding public trust in policing through accountability.
He understands the need for cops to change with the times. He supports community policing, providing jail inmates with education programs to help them reenter society, body cameras for sheriff deputies and new approaches to responding to calls involving mental health crises.
In short, he represents a new generation of policing — a contrast to Livingston’s old-school, sharp-elbowed approach to politics and leadership.
$9.4 million settlements
While Livingston still steadfastly defends Hall — a deputy who worked as a Danville police officer under a Sheriff’s Office contract with that city — the county has paid out $9.4 million to settle lawsuits for his killing of two mentally ill men of color.
Livingston argues that Hall shouldn’t be punished for his split-second decisions that ended tragically. While the second incident, the March 2021 killing of Tyrell Wilson, who was standing in the middle of an intersection wielding a knife, was a somewhat closer judgment call, it’s exactly the sort of situation where de-escalation could have avoided a fatal shooting.
As for Hall’s first killing, of motorist Laudemer Arboleda in November 2018, that was inexcusable — as is Livingston’s ongoing defense of it. The video of the shooting shows clearly that Hall didn’t need to fire his weapon.
Hall is the first law enforcement officer in Contra Costa County to be convicted for an on-duty killing. The jury convicted him of assault with a firearm but ended up deadlocked on a more serious voluntary manslaughter count.
Yet, Livingston wrote after the sentencing, “I was proud to support him publicly and privately after the events of November 3, 2018, and I support him today.”
On the day of the killing, Arboleda had been spotted wandering in a residential neighborhood, but he had committed no crime.
As police tried to stop him, he led them on a slow-speed chase through Danville. Cops used two patrol vehicles to try to block his path, but Arboleda steered his car through an opening between them. It was then that Hall opened fire.
When John Burris, the Arboleda family’s lawyer, suggested the dead man’s skin color might have been a factor, Livingston accused the attorney of “reaching for his well-worn race card.”
The disturbing language and lack of any acknowledgement of possible racial bias in policing demonstrates a stunning insensitivity to the times we’re living in — especially for the sheriff of a Bay Area county of more than 1.1 million people.
Yet it wasn’t an isolated incident. Last year, LaDoris Cordell, a retired Santa Clara County Superior Court judge and former independent police auditor for San Jose, raised concern in a commentary that 84% of sheriffs in California were White males and none were African American.
In his published rebuttal, Livingston responded, “Cordell found it necessary to drag race into the argument by suggesting there are just too many White people in the ranks of sheriffs. Her comments are offensive.”
Livingston just doesn’t get it.
Retribution for dissent
For a decade, we’ve witnessed the sheriff’s bombastic bullying of those who dare to disagree with him. When then-Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus resisted Livingston’s 2012 proposal to expand the West County Jail, the sheriff tried a political end run to unseat Magnus as the police chiefs’ representative on a key review committee.
Five years later, Livingston was on the verge of a deal with El Cerrito to provide dispatch services for the city. It would have been a win-win, saving El Cerrito money and boosting the sheriff’s revenues by about $500,000 a year — money that could have been used to hire two more deputies.
But Livingston nixed the deal when city officials spoke out against the jail project, for which he was seeking state funding. He accused the City Council of weighing in on “a matter that has zero impact on the citizens of El Cerrito.”
Last we checked, the city is still part of Contra Costa, its residents are not immune from incarceration, and the city’s taxpayers are on the hook for their share of county financial obligations. But city officials weren’t going along with Livingston’s jail plans, so retribution was his response.
While trying to punish critics and defending Hall’s criminal behavior, Livingston has also tried to block public review of his office and actions of his deputies. Under a transparency law that took effect Jan. 1, 2019, law enforcement agencies are required to release records of officers’ discharges of firearms, use of major force, sexual assault and dishonesty.
But Livingston’s office has been far more resistant to releasing documents than most law enforcement jurisdictions. He claimed, for example, that records of incidents in which his deputies inflicted great bodily harm were not disclosable unless his office had conducted a formal investigation.
It was a highly unusual claim, one rejected in court after a coalition of news organizations, including this one, sued. It was a claim that would have undermined one of the key purposes of the law, to help the public understand whether law enforcement agencies were properly reviewing questionable conduct.
Before the media lawsuit, the Sheriff’s Office had released records of only 11 incidents from 2014-18, with only three involving great bodily injury. After the court ruling, the office was forced to release records from 34 additional incidents involving great bodily injury from the same time period.
The county also ended up paying the media coalition $380,000 in attorney fees. In other words, taxpayers are footing the bill for Livingston’s recalcitrance.
Time for change
It’s time for change.
For the sake of their pocketbooks and the integrity of policing in their county, Contra Costa voters should stop putting up with Livingston’s bullying, disdain for our judicial system, disregard for transparency laws and defense of unacceptable law enforcement behavior.
They should elect Benjamin Therriault as county sheriff.