National Scrutiny of Fatal Police Shootings Reminds Us of Two OBceans Killed By Cops

by on November 20, 2014 · 12 comments

in Civil Rights, Environment, History, Life Events, Ocean Beach, San Diego

cop gun badge cuffs flagThere is a soul-searching national scrutiny going on right now about fatal shootings of civilians by police officers.

In a LA Times article, published Nov. 16th, the issue of police killings of civilians is raised and it describes how the ranks of families are expanding “who demand answers about why lethal force was used, and who decides what is reasonable use of force.”

The key and central question is : What’s reasonable force?

This is significant in what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American – the incident that has heightened an awareness across the country into police-civilian issues. First, was the horror at the level and types of military hardware and equipment displayed by the Ferguson police.  This caused a revulsion that swept the country and was even felt here in San Diego when the local school district returned their military-tank-truck, donated to them by the Pentagon.

And next is a national conscience-probing of the numbers of civilians killed by police officers, and also how difficult it is for civilians to have the police officers involved in non-reasonable shootings indicted or convicted. The LA Times:

Those questions are in play in Missouri right now, as a grand jury weighs whether to indict police Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old. … The hurdles for indicting or convicting a uniformed officer are high, for many reasons.

“There’s a great deal of deserved respect for the difficulties of being a police officer,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law. “There’s a desire to give great deference to police officers.”

As with Ferguson, critics sometimes see law enforcement agencies as reluctant to go after their own members.

To add to all this, police killings of suspected felons are the highest they’ve been in 2 decades.

This needed soul-searching reminds us of the two fatal shootings of OBceans by police over the years.

First in 1991 there was Tony Tumminia, a 21-year-old OB native who was gunned down by police on West Pt Loma Avenue.

And in 2003, the well-known homeless man, Danny “the Walker” was fatally shot in front of dozens of witnesses – also on West Pt Loma.

Tony Tummania

As a young kid in OB, Tony lived at the beach – as he and his slightly older brother Dominique – had the run of the War Zone, living on Brighton and then on West Pt Loma, right off the San Diego River. Their navy father had abandoned them years before and they lived with their mom, Diana.

Diana was very active during the early, mid 1970s as an activist in Ocean Beach, so both Tony and Dom were very well known in the local social circles of the progressive crowd.

Tony went to all the local schools, and subsequently, became involved in local youth circles that flirted with fringe lifestyles.  By time he was 21, he lived in a small cottage in the 4900 block of West Pt Loma. One morning, police detectives came knocking on his door. They had issues to discuss.

It’s unclear just exactly what happened, but at some point Tony took the detectives to his parked truck, resting in the parking lot of what’s now the restaurant the Third Corner. They got into a tussle over nun-chucks, and the cops shot him, dead. He died right there on the sidewalk.

Shocked, the community had a memorial protest a few days later. Diana Tummania was so shaken that after she moved from OB not too long after, she has never set foot in the community since. She sued the police and city and obtained some small amount of change.

danny thewalkerwoodyardDanny “the Walker” Woodyard

On February 4, 2003, a well-known homeless man who OBceans also saw walking around the community, Danny “the Walker” Woodyard was fatally shot by cops on West Point Loma Avenue near the intersection with Voltaire Street, a few yards from the entrance to north beach parking lot.

That  morning he had been dumpster diving with his only tool, an old knife.  Thinking he was a drug dealer they were looking for, Danny was confronted by police officers, who ordered him to drop his knife.  What happened next was viewed by dozens of OB residents who called out – even yelled – to the police from their porches, front doors and windows not to shoot the man.

Here’s a report we made in 2008:

On February 4, 2003, police officers shot and killed Danny as he too was supposedly advancing on police with a knife. Although, that incident occurred in front of dozens of OB residents, who were outraged by the blatant killing of a known homeless man, slightly mentally off, who had been “dumpster diving” that morning with his digging tool, a knife.

Just several days later, OBGO (Ocean Beach Grassroots Organization) led 500 locals and family in a memorial to Danny at the site of what many in the community believed was a murder, and then a march down Abbott Street to a rally at the foot of Newport. Hundreds chanted, “Stop police brutality!” This was 2003! Not the Sixties or Seventies!

To calm the community, the DA’s Office organized a public forum at the OB Rec Center on March 4th – exactly a month after the killing. DA Dumanis was there, along with then-police chief Jerry Sanders, the Councilman and psychologists and counselors. Chief Sanders made a big point of how many resources the police have to assist the homeless, especially the mentally-ill homeless, from shelters, therapists, to non-lethal weapons, — none of which were available for some reason the morning Danny was shot. And apparently, none were available the day that Dominic Long was killed, either.

Danny’s shooting was particularly disturbing, not because it was done in front of so many residents, not because the residents’ version of what happened differed sharply with the police account and the later DA exoneration, but that it was the fourth killing by police of homeless men with mental problems within three years – back then.

On May 17, 2003, the DA’s Office released a report saying the Woodyard shooting was justified. [For the OBRag’s report on that, go here.]

There was a lot of talk back after Danny’s shooting about the use of lethal force by police, and all the non-lethal alternatives they have. But it was continually pointed out by the DA and police that officers – when placed in a position to shoot their weapon – always, always shoot to kill. This policy – apparently – has not changed.

Here we are, years later, and the nation is having  this discussion.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Aristotles November 20, 2014 at 12:27 pm

The nation isn’t “having a discussion”: the media is yet again trying to tell us what to think.


Frank Gormlie November 20, 2014 at 3:54 pm

However it starts, as a nation, we need to have this discussion.


Christo November 20, 2014 at 7:10 pm

1) He was wielding a knife.
2) He refused to drop it when confronted by police.

Make no doubt- he was in control of the situation the entire time.


Frank Gormlie November 20, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Christo – were you there? Did you witness the incident? He was a homeless man, well-known, with a slight mental problem.


Christo November 21, 2014 at 8:10 am

I was not. However, every new report- including you own list’s the same 2 things:

1) He was wielding a knife.
2) He refused to drop it when confronted by police.

Are you now saying those 2 things did not occur?

I knew Danny as most Obecians did. He was digging in my trash on a regular basis. When I told him to get out of my trash and he growled at me. More than once. When he got himself shot- I was not suprised. He did not think the rules of society applied to him and ultimately paid the price for that.

Virtually every police shooting involves a citizen refusing to comply with a request by a police officer. You know, things like “Drop the knife”, “Get out of the street”, “Put you hands behind your back”. Things escalate and someone ends up dead.

The simple solution is to follow the law. Don’t refuse a request that does not place you in immanent danger. If the officer does not follow the law, get legal council.

I understand that Danny had mental issues- but it is not okay to walk around brandishing a knife on a police officer.


PigStateNews November 20, 2014 at 5:29 pm

At least 981 people have been killed by U.S. police since January 1, 2014.
At least 1735 have been killed since May 1, 2013.


Rufus November 21, 2014 at 4:10 am

They died responding to your phone call asking for help.


Marc Snelling November 24, 2014 at 8:11 am

“Virtually every police shooting involves a citizen refusing to comply with a request by a police officer.”

Does every police shooting have dozens of witnesses yelling at the police not to shoot?

Does every police shooting shock and disgust the public enough to result in hundreds or more people marching to draw attention to it?

“He did not think the rules of society applied to him and ultimately paid the price for that.”

You have no idea what Danny was thinking.

“brandishing a knife on a police officer”

According to witnesses he was holding the knife at his side, was walking away, and was shot in the back from a distance – enough of a distance that some of the shots fired missed.

I was close enough that morning to hear the shots. Seeing people soon after this tragedy it was very clear they were traumatized by witnessing this – and it wasn’t by Danny growling at them or rifling through their trash.


Frank Gormlie November 24, 2014 at 9:52 am

Thank you.


Christo November 24, 2014 at 10:23 am

The taking of a life is tragic and traumatic. I am not trying to deny that.

“According to witnesses he was holding the knife at his side, was walking away, and was shot in the back from a distance – enough of a distance that some of the shots fired missed.”

The facts remain that he was holding a weapon and refused to drop it.

“You have no idea what Danny was thinking.”

You are right about that. I do not know what he was thinking. His actions said it all- he had a responsibility to comply with the police request to put down a weapon and he did not.

Was a better option to let him run off with a knife?


Marc Snelling November 24, 2014 at 11:58 am

“Was a better option to let him run off with a knife?”

Your question is misleading, he was not running according to witnesses. Also this is the same knife people noted he carried regularly and used for trash picking. So to “let him run off with a knife” would be letting him go back to what he had long been doing. But a short answer to your question is yes.

Your question is also a false choice, really there were more than two options. They could have used non-lethal force like a taser. But there is also context to this specific shooting that your question ignores. He was not the person the police were looking for in the first place, and if the police were local to OB they would have known who Danny was and could have recognized his behavior.

This shooting also has the context of occuring around the same time as other deaths of homless men from SDPD bullets. The man who was shot and killed in Midway holding a tree branch, the man who was shot and killed on the SD River bike path with no weapon.

My guess is if you asked the neighbors who witnessed this shooting they would say it was a better option to let him walk away then to start firing, putting bullets in their buildings and cars.


Old Hermit Dave November 24, 2014 at 8:09 pm

Kind of a shame that Cops today never saw any old Cowboy Movies. Remember when the guy in the White Hat shot the gun out of the hand of the Guy in the Black Hat. Shots in the legs usually slow people down, but of course when Cops KILL they don’t have to ever hear from the victim that he didn’t do anything wrong.


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