Former Yuba County deputy found not guilty in excessive force case

May 26—Former Yuba County Sheriff's Deputy Henry Abe was found not guilty in an excessive force trial on Thursday.

Abe was originally accused of unreasonable use of force following an incident on Feb. 14, 2022, where Abe was called to a residence on Forty Mile Road for a burglary in progress.

When Abe and other deputies arrived on scene, the suspect had been detained by neighbors in a field next to the house. A deputy placed the burglary suspect, 59-year-old Jerry Johnson, in handcuffs. According to the Yuba County District Attorney's Office, Johnson, who could be heard breathing hard, asked for a moment to catch his breath when deputies instructed him to get to his feet.

Abe told Johnson to get up or he would "boot" him in the ribs, officials said. Johnson replied "boot me in the ribs," and Abe kicked him. Johnson got to his feet and the deputies walked him to a nearby patrol vehicle. Johnson was not injured by the kick, the district attorney's office said.

Abe claimed the kick was necessary because he was worried that a second suspect could be hiding nearby with a firearm. However, the video from body-worn cameras did not show any particular hurry or concern on the part of the deputies, the district attorney's office said.

Following the incident, Abe was placed on administrative leave as the Yuba County Sheriff's Office opened an internal investigation.

The district attorney's office also conducted a parallel criminal investigation into the incident and elected to pursue criminal charges of misdemeanor assault by a public officer, sheriff's officials said.

At the completion of the sheriff's office internal investigation, it was determined that Abe's actions violated several policies and procedures, and fell short of the department's mission and values. Abe was subsequently terminated from his position, officials said.

Yuba County Sheriff's Deputy Kenny Smith testified at trial that the kick was outside of policy and not legally necessary. Smith explained to the jury that even if Abe needed to hurry, he should not have kicked the handcuffed suspect when he had other options, such as standing the suspect up or dragging him from the field.

A use-of-force expert brought on by the defense testified that the kick was not excessive under the cases' circumstances, the district attorney's office said.

Abe was found not guilty in the criminal trial. Though the sheriff's office said it respects the jury's decision that his actions did not rise to the criminal level, officials said that it stands by the conclusion that Abe violated department policy and his actions did not reflect the ethical standards of the department.

"We believe the citizens of Yuba County deserve the utmost respect and professionalism when interacting with any of our department personnel," Yuba County Sheriff Wendell Anderson said in a statement. "It is our duty to protect and serve the community and we will strive to provide exemplary service, while upholding the laws and guidelines set before us."

The trial, which began on Tuesday, ended Thursday afternoon with the jury finding Abe not guilty of the single charge.

"Kicking a handcuffed, out-of-breath suspect who wasn't resisting is unreasonable on its face," Yuba County District Attorney Clint Curry said in a statement. "We file charges based on the evidence, but it's ultimately up to the jury to decide what 'beyond a reasonable doubt' means in each case. I respect their decision."

Justified shootings

Prior to his termination and trial, Abe was also involved in separate shooting cases, some of which were ruled as justified or not culpable of criminality by the district attorney's office.

In 2015, eight Yuba-Sutter SWAT members shot and killed a wheelchair-bound man who raised his semi-automatic rifle in a firing position toward the officers in front of his Smartsville residence.

Brandon E. Barsnick, 30, died of multiple gunshot wounds on the night of Dec. 21, 2015, when Yuba County sheriff's deputies and Marysville police officers assisted the Nevada County Sheriff's Department in serving an arrest warrant for Barsnick on his 100-acre property on Big Oak Valley Road, the Appeal previously reported.

Shortly before the incident, Barsnick's mother called the Nevada County Sheriff's Department and informed them Barsnick was at his house and "things were going bad." She said he was "loading up guns and he's going out," and "he said he's going to kill himself but he's going to kill everybody else first." A text message from Barsnick confirmed his statements.

After arriving on Barsnick's property, SWAT members heard Barsnick threaten to kill officers as he held up a long gun and said, "this is for you."

The gun had been on his lap, then upright, and at one point, he quickly brought the weapon up in the direction of the vehicles and immediately lowered it. A negotiator directed him to put the gun down and comply with orders.

Shortly after a peacekeeper broke down the gate to his property, Barsnick raised the gun into a firing position with the barrel muzzle pointed at the team.

Eight officers independently fired 69 rounds from AR-15s, striking Barsnick at least 22 times.

Those who fired their weapons included deputies Abe, Kai Jahnsen, Nathan Lybarger, Fernando Machuca, Daniel Trumm, Chad Watson, Jeff Widener and Officer Jonathan Hindo.

Each officer in separate interviews said crisis negotiations were attempted with Barsnick, but he did not respond to directives. Each said when Barsnick raised his rifle toward the officers they feared for their lives and lives of the others present.

Former Yuba County District Attorney Patrick McGrath determined in 2016 that this shooting case was justified. Former Sheriff Steven Durfor further told the Appeal that the number of shots fired was reasonable, considering the highly volatile situation and the threat perceived to their lives.

"I don't perceive what they fired to be unreasonable or unjust," Durfor said previously.

Three years after the shooting of Barsnick, Abe and three other officers were involved in the shooting of an Oroville man who led police on a 14-mile pursuit and shot a police dog in April 2018.

Jonathan E. Alexander, 26, was killed on E Street in Marysville following a high-speed chase starting in Wheatland. Following the chase, he drew a gun and shot and wounded the dog, the Appeal previously reported.

After an investigation of the incident in 2019, the district attorney's office found there was no evidence of criminal culpability on the officers' part for killing Alexander.

"There is overwhelming evidence that officers' actions in this extremely dynamic environment met the standard of a reasonably prudent law enforcement officer, and the discharge of a firearm was an objectively reasonable use of force under both California statutory law and United States Supreme Court decisional law," Curry wrote in the report.

At around 2:17 a.m. on April 18, 2018, Alexander was clocked at driving 90 mph in a drunk driving incident. He was also driving on a suspended license. After denying requests for a breathalyzer test from a Wheatland police officer, Alexander fled the scene northbound on Highway 65 until reaching the E Street Bridge in Marysville.

Abe exited his patrol vehicle with police dog Glock. He also began yelling to Alexander, telling him to come out or the dog would be released and he would be bitten.

Alexander allegedly rolled down his window, placed his hands out of the car, but did not comply with orders to exit the car. He motioned for officers to come over toward him, saying, "talk to me, come talk to me."

The officers believed Alexander was possibly trying to lure them to his vehicle, according to the district attorney's report.

The next time Alexander rolled down his window, Abe released Glock, who ran toward Alexander's vehicle, slipped on wet asphalt and bounced off the driver's side window, as Alexander rolled the window up again. Abe and Yuba County sheriff's deputies Art Williams and Mark Nelson followed the dog, and Abe used the butt of his baton to shatter the driver's side window, and assisted Glock into the car.

Williams saw Alexander turn his body away from the window, leaning toward the passenger floorboard. Glock had bitten Alexander's left shoulder and he was seen struggling with the dog, before Abe heard a muffled gunshot from inside the car, and felt a warm blast of air on his face. He yelled, "gun, gun, gun," drew his weapon and shot at Alexander five to seven times, according to the report.

Curry concluded that Alexander was lawfully detained by the Wheatland police officer and that Alexander's flight from police quickly escalated into felony conduct, according to the report. The officers were reasonable in using standard procedures for a high-risk vehicle stop, and Abe was reasonable in using Glock to try to take Alexander into custody. The officers who fired their weapons were "justified in their use of deadly force," according to the report.

Federal lawsuit

In 2017, Abe and three other officers were involved in another shooting which led to the death of 25-year-old Eddie Sanders.

On Oct. 13, 2017, Sanders reportedly barricaded himself in the attic of a family member's Olivehurst home. After allegedly throwing screws and glass down at deputies and refusing to come out, they told him they would send in a dog, according to Appeal archives.

The dog was taken up to the attic, where he bit Sanders' left arm. Sanders began stabbing the dog with a screwdriver and allegedly leaned forward when Abe shot him five times in the head.

Following the incident, Sanders' father, Aaron Sanders of Tehama County, filed a federal lawsuit against Yuba County, Abe, Sgt. Tamara Pesci and Lt. Alan Garza — who were being sued in their official and individual capacities. Aaron Sanders asserted that the officers didn't use proper de-escalation techniques for someone with a mental illness.

The suit alleged that Eddie Sanders was schizophrenic and heard voices — information allegedly provided to a dispatcher when his cousin, who lived in the home, called the non-emergency line. Dispatch also relayed to deputies that it was believed Sanders was a transient and had a history of multiple mental health holds.

"When Abe saw Sanders attempting to defend himself, Abe made a conscious decision valuing his concern for the dog's well-being over the value of a human life, and fired his handgun multiple times aimed at Sander's head," according to the suit. "At no time did (Eddie) Sanders pose a risk of harm or danger to any person... The actions of the defendants were intentional, unreasonable and excessive uses of force."

The suit also alleged that Yuba County had a duty to properly train the defendants on proper tactics, commands and warnings, and to refrain from using unreasonable force, and that the deputies provided no de-escalation, specialized communication or specialized help "even though they had ample time and opportunity to assess the situation."

In April 2018, the Yuba County District Attorney's Office released its officer-involved shooting investigative report, stating it did not find evidence of criminal culpability on the deputies' part.