If Elizabeth Kúbler-Ross' five stages of dealing with death were applied to the fatal shooting of Daniel Woodyard by San Diego Police Department officers on Feb. 4, a substantial contingent of the Ocean Beach community might place themselves in the “anger” stage.
Chuck Meece, a resident of the neighborhood where Woodyard, a long-time Ocean Beach “houseless” local, was killed, witnessed parts of the event and its aftermath. Although Meece said he understands the extreme dangers police face while on duty, he believes Woodyard was unnecessarily provoked. “They were just a big bully harassing [Woodyard] to death in two minutes.... Then to not admit, to defend this [shooting].... They chose the wrong neighborhood, the wrong man, the wrong cops, the wrong time to try to lie.”
At first impression, the reticent Woodyard's scruffy eccentricity could be unnerving. But those who had succeeded in communicating with him during the 15 years or so he roamed Ocean Beach's streets and alleyways described Woodyard as polite and independent-someone who'd sooner meticulously comb through dumpsters for his meals than accept hand-outs of food or money. That Woodyard was mentally ill to some degree was obvious, but no recollections of him causing harm to anyone or anything seem to exist.
At sundown on Feb. 8, roughly 500 people gathered at the northeast corner of Voltaire Street and W. Point Loma Boulevard/Spray Street to participate in an event billed as a “Community-In-Unity Against Police Brutality March.”
Songs, spoken tributes, poems, photos and paintings were dedicated to Woodyard's memory at the flower-strewn memorial that had sprung up on the spot where his walking days had come to an end. The crowd, a number of whom cried openly, comprised a representative cross-section of Ocean Beach's diverse population.
Many carried candles, signs and banners: “Ocean Beach Is Not/Will Not Be a Police State”; “One Man with a Knife + Two Bad Cops with Guns = Murder”; “We Demand An Independent, Community-Elected Review Board with Power to Investigate and Indict. Stop Collusion between DA and Police.”
Organizers announced the march would commence cross-town, stopping at the sea wall near a police trailer stationed in a community parking lot by the Ocean Beach pier. Requesting marchers to stay orderly, a woman named Rio said, “We've spoken to the [police department]. They didn't grant us the permission to walk down Abbott Street....”
“We're doing it anyway!” came a roar from the crowd.
With officers hovering at the fringes of the demonstration, the atmosphere was highly charged. At one intersection along the route, a squad car loudspeaker advised the group to stay on the sidewalk. Though most marchers maintained composure, several lashed out at the police.
Once at the sea wall a steady stream of mourners took turns speaking their peace, some so stridently it taxed the capabilities of the sound system set up for the purpose. Strong criticism was directed at the police for what some participants characterized as Woodyard's “execution.” Local media, accused of an overall lack of in-depth reporting of the incident, was also taken to task.
While hearsay ran high, with almost no actual eyewitness versions of what had occurred, the overall sentiment was that Woodyard hadn't approached or threatened police with a knife before he was killed; that any police officer familiar with Ocean Beach should have known he was harmless; and that only non-lethal methods should have been applied to restrain him. They contended that any knife Woodyard may have been carrying was a utensil used for eating or digging through garbage.
Lt. Jim Duncan of the police department's homicide unit did not return CityBeat's calls by press time. A Feb. 4 release from the homicide unit, which investigates all police shootings, stated that shortly after 7:30 a.m., a patrol officer approached Woodyard on suspicion that the bag Woodyard carried contained drugs. The report states that Woodyard “became agitated and pulled out a knife.” When asked to drop the knife, Woodyard instead began walking away from the officer, “angrily swinging the knife towards the officers who followed him,” the report reads. At some point, Woodyard allegedly advanced on the officers with the knife, prompting one officer to fire at Woodyard, wounding him in the hand.
“[Woodyard] continued to walk away, yelling at the officers, flailing the knife as he walked,” the report reads. “The officers continued to demand [Woodyard] stop and drop the knife. As he approached Voltaire Street, he turned towards the officers, raised the knife above his shoulder and took strides towards the officers. Two officers shot [Woodyard].”
Woodyard was transported to UCSD Medical Center where he later died.
Meece told CityBeat that he doesn't believe the police department is reporting the truth. “The police aren't reporting what we said to them, but they're reporting what some witnesses that support the police's alibi are saying,” he said.
Meece said he and other witnesses-some of whom had spoken with police-had pieced together a timeline of events from the moment officers approached Woodyard, to when he was first shot, to when he was shot the last time.
Meece said that morning, he looked outside his home and saw “a policeman with his gun drawn, holding it with two hands in front of his face-screaming at Danny to stop, to freeze. Danny was walking [away], and he was saying, ‘What did I do wrong? I didn't do anything. Leave me alone.' The policeman was yelling, and his veins were popping. Danny continued to walk, and the policeman continued to scream.
I closed my eyes and prayed out loud,” said Meece. “Within 20 to 30 seconds, I heard shots ring out. From the time they began chasing Danny, it was probably 30 to 45 seconds before they shot him the first time.”
Meece said shortly after that, he ran in the direction of the sound of a second, final round of gunfire and saw Woodyard on the ground. “The police were all around him. I approached them. They started pushing me back. I was screaming at them that they didn't have to shoot him. Immediately, there were lots of people there. The police started arguing with me that I wasn't there, that I didn't see anything, that [Woodyard] was coming at them with a knife. That I was a cop hater. That I was biased.”
Although Meece said he made an official statement later that day, he questions the police “reporting and supporting the alibi of these patrolmen without also reporting to the public that they have talked to over a dozen witnesses that deny what the police are saying. We obviously deserve an unbiased investigation of this.”
Another witness, Richard Schneider, said he looked out the open window of his apartment and saw Woodyard “come walking around the corner.... There were four policeman behind him with their guns pulled out, pointed at him. They were hollering at him to drop the knife, and he was hollering back at them he wasn't going to drop the knife.” At one point, Woodyard turned and faced the officers, who Schneider estimated were eight feet away from the man.
“Nobody said a word,” Schneider recalled, adding that Woodyard's hands were at his side and never raised. “Then, for some reason, they just fired.... They shot four times.” Not realizing at the time Woodyard had been wounded in one hand, Schneider said he then watched Woodyard “calmly” turn around and start to walk away. “I didn't see him make any threatening, aggressive... moves at all. If he had a knife in his hands, he wasn't doing anything with it. He wasn't pointing it at them. He didn't raise it up like he was going to attack them.”
Describing his vantage point as roughly 50 feet away from the scene, Schneider said he couldn't conclude Woodyard didn't have a knife, but he never saw one. “I kept wondering where the knife was and what kind of knife it was,” he said. “I could see the color of the guns. There were two regular guns, kind of silver-colored. Then there were two blue guns, and I kept thinking, ‘What kind of a gun is that?'”
According to Schneider, Woodyard and the police (who “never turned away from [Woodyard]... never lowered their guns”) walked out of his line of vision, and he heard a second round of shots.
Schneider, who said he gave a statement to an officer that day, didn't attend the Feb. 8 march. He said he wanted to write a letter to San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to ensure what he saw is part of the investigation into the shooting.
No eyewitness contesting the police account of the second, fatal round of fire agreed to be interviewed for this article. With an estimated 6 or 7 shots fired, Woodyard was hit in his chest and, according to one witnesses, his head.
“I would like to see [the police] held responsible for shooting the guy because they did have other options when they were following him down the street when they'd already shot at him,” Schneider said. “There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about this hundreds of times.... I hope it just doesn't get buried.”