Berkeley Police Exonerate Officer in Shooting Death; DA Yet to Weigh In

By Judith Scherr
Friday June 13, 2008 - 09:40:00 PM

The February shooting death of Anita Gay, 51, by Officer Rashawn Cummings was justified, Berkeley police say. 

“My conclusion is that he acted appropriately,” Police Chief Doug Hambleton told the Planet on Friday, the day after a three-inch Berkeley Police report was released to the public.  

The Alameda County district attorney has received the Berkeley Police Department report and is conducting its own investigation, Hambleton said, adding that the district attorney has not yet issued findings on the case. 

After the Feb. 16 incident Cummings was placed on two weeks paid administrative leave, then returned to full duty. Cummings has been with the department since December 2002. 

The entire Police Review Commission will sit as a Board of Inquiry to look into the incident, according to PRC Officer Victoria Urbi, who staffs the commission. Urbi said she is taking the lead in the investigation. 

Following the commission’s hearing on the incident, which will likely be in July, a subcomittee will review policies to see if different procedures are needed to avoid such an incident in the future. 

Andrea Prichett of Copwatch said she welcomes the PRC investigation. “They need to ask the question, ‘Did this woman need to die?’” she said. 

Prichett also wants the PRC to look at why the officer responded alone to a domestic violence call. 

“I’m sorry the chief doesn’t see anything wrong,” Prichett added.  

Copwatch is planning a vigil for Anita Gay June 16, 5-7 p.m. at the southeast corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Ashby Avenue. 

The incident began with a call from neighbors concerning a smashed window. 

Gay was interviewed at the time, but not detained. “We suspected that she was involved somehow. We had no witnesses to corroborate it,” Cummings told the investigator when interviewed soon after the incident. 

The police report describes a second call to the same address. “Officer Cummings was the first to arrive,” the report says. 

The call was “a report of a 415 family [disturbance] between mother and daughter,” Cummings told investigators. 

The officer went on to say that he witnessed a woman at a window above, yelling down to a woman on the ground whom he recognized from the earlier call as Gay. 

The woman above, Gay’s adult daughter Leniece Lomack, was yelling “’Don’t hide the knife now.’” according to Cummings. He told investigators he shined his flashlight on Gay and saw her put the knife into her waistband. 

“So as I approached, I kind of keep my distance because at the time I was by myself. I didn’t have any cover,” he told investigators. 

He said he then told Gay to put her hands on a wall near the foot of the staircase. She complied after being told twice. The officer was six-to-eight feet behind Gay at the time. 

“I didn’t want to go hands on with her yet because I hadn’t had cover with me and I wasn’t trying to fight with someone who had a knife in their waistband without cover,” he told investigators. 

At that point Laniece Lomack came outside and exchanged curses with Gay, Cummings said. 

“After they yelled at each other for a minute, Anita just spontaneously , within less than a second, grabs the knife from her waistband real fast, raised it above ... her head and ran up the stairs as if she was gonna stab the woman on the porch,” he said. “At that point I tried to holler at her, but it happened so fast, I couldn’t get two words out. I drew my gun and I fired twice.” 

(Testimony indicates that one shot killed Gay and the other grazed the eye of one of Gay’s daughters.) 

“Do you have any doubt in your mind whatsoever had you not been able to get your gun out that she would have stabbed her?” the investigator asked Cummings, who responded, “I’m positive she would have got stabbed.” 

Cummings told investigators his goal in shooting Gay was to try to incapacitate Gay.  

Asked why he didn’t use pepper spray, Cummings responded that it isn’t effective on everyone. 

Both of Gay’s daughters, Sherrie and Laniece Lomack, witnessed the incident and corroborated the officer’s testimony, according to transcripts of testimony. 

Sherrie Lomack told officers her mother was an alcoholic and a “crackhead” and would become violent when she drank. She said she was drunk the day of the incident. 

Questioned as to why she and her sister came out of the apartment after they had initially locked themselves in for fear that their mother would hurt them, Sherrie Lomack said they came out because they felt safe with police there. 

“We didn’t go down until the police was there.” Sherrie Lomack told investigators.  

The first 100 pages of the police report reviewed by the Planet does not indicate that police told the sisters to stay inside the apartment. 

The investigator asked Sherrie Lomack, “He saved your sister’s life?” 

“Yes he did,” she responded. 

“And saved your life?” the investigator continued. 

“Yes, he did. Yes, he did,” Sherrie Lomack answered.