A Berkeley police officer fired her gun at the car of several people who had just stolen items from a CVS pharmacy in July, according to police and new video recordings released by the department Tuesday evening in response to a Berkeleyside Public Records Act request.
Cellphone video shows the officer getting out of her vehicle July 30 with her gun drawn and trying to detain a driver and several people with him. The episode had started as a shoplifting incident but became a robbery after a struggle with store staff, police said. The driver ultimately fled the scene as the officer fired her gun at his car, the video shows.
The officer — identified by BPD on Tuesday as Cheri Miller — appeared to fire at the driver’s front wheel as the motorist drove past her, according to the video. No injuries were reported in connection with the gunfire, which was BPD’s first shooting in eight years. Miller, who has worked at BPD for 22 months, is on administrative leave pending the outcome of the department’s investigation.
BPD ultimately found the alleged driver from the incident and identified him as 19-year-old Brandon Owens of Concord. On Aug. 7, the Alameda County district attorney’s office charged Owens with robbery. He is no longer in custody, according to court records online. Owens is scheduled for arraignment Oct. 5. Police said they have not identified anyone else who was in the car.
BPD’s video, which was released Tuesday just before 6 p.m., includes footage from Miller’s body camera, store surveillance video and cellphone video from the bystander.
It’s the first time since Berkeley police began wearing body cameras about two years ago that the department has released this type of footage. Assembly Bill 748, which became law in 2019, requires law enforcement agencies to release bodycam footage from critical incidents within 45 days as long as that footage would not substantially impact an ongoing investigation.
On Tuesday, BPD said Miller had been patrolling in the North Shattuck area not far from CVS, at 1451 Shattuck Ave. (near Rose Street), just before 9:20 p.m. when the robbery took place. She heard “the disturbance from the curb at the nearby Safeway” and radioed for backup before driving to the CVS parking lot, according to BPD. She could see store staff trying to stop the culprits, according to police.
Just before Miller arrived, according to the videos released Tuesday, several people in masks ran out of the CVS with stolen goods, then struggled over a shopping cart with a store employee who tried to stop them. The group threw some of the items into their car as a bystander filmed them, according to the recordings.
Miller arrived moments later with her lights and siren on and parked behind the car so the driver could not leave. She got out of her vehicle with her gun drawn and told the driver, who was standing outside of his car, to show her his hands. Miller ultimately ordered the man to get into his vehicle after he briefly walked away from her to get his keys.
“Get in?” he asked, confused.
“Yes,” Miller answered.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
As he got into the driver’s seat, Miller immediately ordered the man to put his keys on top of the car and keep his hands where she could see them. In the video, which is crisp but was shot from a distance, he appears to put something on top of the vehicle. But then, as Miller backed away slightly, the driver started his car and ignored Miller’s orders to turn it off. He then began to drive away, according to the recording.
“Turn the car off now,” Miller told the man repeatedly.
“I’m trying to,” he said, as he continued to turn the wheel, in an apparent attempt to exit the area, according to the video.
Miller yelled at the man to turn off the car, and a female voice inside the vehicle can be heard asking, “What are you doing?” as the driver continued maneuvering the vehicle out of its parking space.
“You want to turn it off for me? I can’t do it!” the driver shouted, according to the footage. He then accelerated, tires squealing. As the driver passed Miller, she turned her gun away from him and aimed it toward his car wheel, firing three times.
The case is being investigated by BPD’s Homicide Detail and Internal Affairs officers. The district attorney’s office was also notified of the incident, in line with city protocol.
Officer Byron White, BPD spokesman, said the investigation is ongoing so he could not share any additional details Tuesday.
“We’re releasing this for transparency and so people can have an idea about what happened that evening,” he said.
Police say they will release the next round of documents and information about the case, as required under SB 1421, by Sept. 30.