CHICO, Calif. - A high-profile civil rights lawyer was in Chico Wednesday to learn details of the case involving a man shot and killed in Chico by police on St. Patrick's Day night.
Lawyer John Burris, who specializes in civil rights cases, is based in the Bay Area. His legal firm has an emphasis on civil rights litigation and police misconduct and excessive force cases.
Burris was most recently noted for representing the family of Oscar Grant, an African-American man shot and killed by BART Police in Oakland in 2009.
Perhaps best known for his co-counsel for Rodney King, he also served as lead counsel for a $10.9 million verdict in the infamous Riders case against corrupt Oakland Police Officers.
Burris was in Chico Wednesday looking into the death of 25-year-old Desmond Phillips. Two Chico Police officers fired 16 rounds, killing Phillips, after answering a call to his father's home.
"We have real concerns about any fact pattern where the police are called for help for a mentally impaired person and that person winds up dead," Burris said. "So then the question is, what were the police tactics like? Did they engage in the type of conduct that was appropriate? Was it unprofessional? Excessive? Unnecessary? These are factors that we have to look at."
Burris spoke with neighbors as well as Desmond's father David, and saw bullet holes that went through three walls and into a neighboring apartment.
The family disputes the nature of the knives Phillips was holding at the time, saying one was a kitchen knife and one was a butter knife. The Butte County District Attorney's Office reported police felt in danger for their safety.
"I don't have any facts by witnesses who were present who support that view," Burris said. "It's understandable that cops will have a view to support their position. It's understandable that the DA will support them. We don't accept that at face value."
Miscommunications between the coroner and funeral home prevented Burris from seeing Desmond's body as planned, but he said he's seen cases like this before.
"We've had a lot of cases with mentally impaired people involved," Burris said. "It's always the same scenario: the police rush in, they kill someone and then they try to justify it, so we don't accept it."
The attorney added that he is still in the process of collecting information on this case that will determine if they will recommend filing a civil rights suit.