Alameda County DA recused from fatal police shooting case

It's the second time this year that the Alameda County DA's office under Pamela Price has been recused from a case.

Alameda County DA recused from fatal police shooting case
A screenshot from a video Alameda County DA Pamela Price posted Nov. 1, 2023, about plans to seek the disqualification of Rains Lucia Stern from the Jason Fletcher case. ACDAO

The Alameda County DA's office has just been recused from the prosecution of a high-profile fatal police shooting case that had been set to begin trial in April.

Attorneys in the Steven Taylor manslaughter case have been sparring since last year when Michael Rains, representing former San Leandro cop Jason Fletcher, sought to have the entire Alameda County DA's office recused from the prosecution.

That motion failed, but Rains filed a new motion for recusal this year. It prevailed in court Friday.

In making his brief ruling, Judge Thomas Reardon said that the main question before him was, "What's the appropriate agency, in light of the [recusal] motion, to handle this matter?"

"I do not believe that is the [Alameda County] district attorney's office," Reardon said.

Jason Fletcher shot Steven Taylor during a call for service inside the San Leandro Walmart nearly four years ago, in April 2020. Fletcher is now facing criminal and civil charges, including a $10 million lawsuit from Taylor's family.

Last year, Rains said DA Pamela Price had spoken too strongly about the Fletcher matter during her campaign for DA to be fair about the case.

Judge Reardon rejected that motion in May 2023 but, in a hearing in January, said he was "quite concerned" about a new photograph related to the Fletcher case that the DA's office posted in October.

A Facebook post by the Alameda County DA's Office about the Steven Taylor case led to a recusal motion, which was successful. Alameda County DA's Office

The photograph was part of a press release in which the DA's office announced that it was seeking to have Rains and his firm removed from the case.

Price appeared in the photograph with members of the Taylor family and two of her own attorneys.

In the October press release, Price said the Taylor shooting had been “acknowledged worldwide as an act of violence that should not go unredressed."

The announcement also alleged that Rains had engaged in unethical conduct that breached professional standards.

Around the same time, Price also posted a video on YouTube about her effort to disqualify Rains and his law firm, Rains Lucia Stern.

Reardon rejected the DA motion to remove Rains in January — at which time Rains said he would try again, in light of the new evidence, to have the Alameda County DA's office recused from the Fletcher case.

Attorney Mike Rains appeared before Judge Thomas Reardon on Friday, March 22. Nicole Pifari

Rains filed his renewed recusal motion last month and argued Friday that his client could not get a fair trial in Alameda County given Price's ongoing interest in the case.

He also argued that Price had "choreographed" the event in October when he had been served with recusal papers as a crowd of onlookers wearing Steven Taylor T-shirts looked on.

"She got the crowd there," Rains told the judge. "She had the photographer ready to take the picture."

Rains also said that Price had accepted $10,000 in campaign donations last fall from the Real Justice Political Action Committee, which Rains said has links to the law firm that is suing Fletcher in civil court.

"How can anyone in their right mind say that Pam Price isn't working to obtain a political advantage in the prosecution of the man to my left," Rains said, pointing to Fletcher.

Pamela Price may face new recusal fight in Steven Taylor case
Elected DAs in Alameda County have historically limited their comments on open cases after charges are filed. That’s changed under Pamela Price.

Geoffrey Lauter, of the Attorney General's Office, argued for the prosecution Friday as attorney Leah Abraham of the Alameda County DA's office sat beside him.

He said he was taking point because the AG’s office routinely handles recusal requests.

Lauter argued that the defense had failed to meet its burden and that the Facebook photo and the events surrounding it were not significant enough to merit the recusal of the entire DA's office.

He said the October announcement was not clear evidence of a significant conflict of interest by DA Price and that it would not affect whether Fletcher would ultimately get a fair trial.

He also argued that the Fletcher case had been filed by Nancy O'Malley, Price's predecessor, and that nothing had changed in the case since Price took over the office.

"This one press release doesn't appear to break the camel's back," Lauter said. "The picture is not prejudicial to anybody."

Reardon acknowledged that all of the evidence he had reviewed was circumstantial. But, ultimately, he said, he had to think about due process.

"The question here is not whether Mr. Fletcher should be prosecuted," he said. "It's by whom."

"This motion and this case law talks about what's happening as we go forward, and can we say to the best of our ability that all of the players … in particular, in light of this motion, the district attorney's office, will have that question of due process before them, just as the court does, in all aspects of the prosecution?" Reardon said.

"There's all sorts of various ways in which the prosecuting agency is held to this very high standard," he said. "So I'm granting Mr. Rains' motion."

The attorneys agreed to return to court Friday, March 29, to discuss scheduling and other matters related to how the case will proceed.

Alameda DA’s office recused by judge from Butch Ford case
The judge said DA Price’s “overarching comments” about the case had been “outside the realm of what is normal in a criminal proceeding.”

The Fletcher matter marks the second time this year that the Alameda County DA's office was recused from a criminal prosecution.

The first time was in early January with the Butch Ford misdemeanor case, which Price has linked to the Fletcher matter in various remarks online.

The DA's office has alleged that Ford gave confidential information to aid in Fletcher's defense, a claim Ford has robustly denied.

The Alameda County DA's office has appealed the January recusal ruling in the Ford case. That matter remains under review.

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