One year after he died, Jacob Faust's family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city of San Diego that they say is the only way to find out what really happened the night the 25-year-old artist and musician was shot by a San Diego police officer.
His parents, Rick and Lynne Faust, and his sisters, Rory and Amy, know relatively little about what happened the night of April 4, 2005. “All you have is silence and the city looking the other way, not wanting to acknowledge anything,” Lynne Faust said.
California, and San Diego in particular, has strong protections in place to keep law-enforcement records from public disclosure. In the case of an officer-involved shooting, only if a victim's family decides to sue is law-enforcement required to turn over items like witness statements, scene photos and records from the police department's internal investigation of the shooting. The San Diego Police Department does make public a five- to 10-page “summary” letter put together by the District Attorney's Office in which the DA concludes whether or not the actions of the officer or officers were justified. In November, San Diego County DA Bonnie Dumanis found the shooting “tragic,” but justified.
On April 4, 2005, at around 1:20 a.m., police officer Brian Keaton pulled Faust over for making an illegal left turn from Broadway onto Fourth Avenue downtown, a block away from his parents' apartment. Ten minutes later, officer Stephen Holliday drove by. Keaton asked Holliday for assistance, saying, according to the DA's letter, that Faust was “being a jerk.” Since he was driving on a suspended license, Keaton told Holliday he feared Faust would become angry when informed that his vehicle would be impounded.
According to the DA's letter, Holliday shined a flashlight in the back of the van and spotted what looked like a gun in the back pocket of the passenger seat. Holliday yelled at Keaton to get Faust out of the van, at which point, the letter says, Faust resisted, telling officers they had no right to forcibly remove him. Holliday told Faust, “I think you have a gun.” Keaton, according to the DA's letter, told police investigators that Faust told him it was a toy; then, he told investigators, he “believed Mr. Faust was reaching for something behind the seat.” Holliday said he saw Faust pull the gun from the seat pocket.
The DA concluded that it was likely Faust was leaning over to show officers that the gun was only a toy when Holliday, standing behind Faust with his gun pointing through the van's back-seat window, fired three times, striking Faust in the neck, upper left arm and back. The young man was pronounced dead at Scripps Mercy Hospital 25 minutes later.
Fingerprints taken from the toy gun removed from the car “lacked sufficient clarity to establish a match” the DA's report says.
California law allows law-enforcement officers to use deadly force if they believe their lives are at risk.
Lynne Faust doesn't buy it.
“That the [district attorney] has to say it was justified because [the officers] were afraid-that just doesn't wash,” she said, “because that's not who Jake was.”
Attorney Mike Marrinan, who's representing the Fausts, said police-shooting deaths are, for one obvious reason, problematic.
“In other cases, I can ask the client what happened and then, if the client's version is different than what the police say, we can test that against physical evidence and other witness testimony. The tragedy of a death case like this,” he said, “is they killed your witness, so you can't ask him what happened. So you need to do what we're doing, which is to try to determine the truth of what happened through the evidence that is available. If the person they shot were alive, you could interview the person and say, ‘What happened?' But he's not. And so people like Lynne and me and others have to try to piece it together.”
Marrinan said the case could take a year to 18 months to resolve. Deputy City Attorney Don Shanahan, who's representing the city and officers Keaton and Holliday, said the officers acted responsibly under “circumstances that led [them] to believe that Mr. Faust was reaching for what appeared to be a pistol.”
To help the Fausts cover their legal fees-Rick Faust is chronically ill and on disability-Jacob's friends, many of whom, like him, are artists and musicians, organized “Faust Fest,” several nights of art shows and performances by local bands. Mission Hills' Gelato Vero hosted an art auction where Rick Faust, a painter and illustrator, auctioned off a series of paintings he created in memory of his son.
On April 4, a crowd of family and friends gathered for a vigil in front of the Golden West Hotel at Fourth Avenue and G Street-the location of the shooting-in spite of the rain, and then walked 12 blocks to the police station.
Ryan Severance, a friend of Jacob's who performed with him in the vaudevillian music ensemble The Carnival Barkers, and who helped organize Faust Fest, said being proactive was a necessary catharsis for Jacob's large network of friends. Severance said he's been contacted by other musicians and artists who'd like to extend the festival at least to June to help the family raise additional money.
“These kids have had so much determination and so much love for Jake,” Lynne Faust said. “They want answers just as badly as we do. They haven't forgotten, and I think that says a lot about who Jake was.”