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Bakersfield Police records: mental health, substance use are factors in serious injuries and deaths

Family photo of Michael Dozer, killed in August 2014.
Family photo of Michael Dozer, killed in August 2014.

Between 2014 and 2019, mental health was a factor in the lives of more than 40 percent of people seriously injured by the Bakersfield Police Department. That’s according to a new analysis of the department’s records obtained under a recent transparency law.

For the purpose of the analysis, KVPR and the California Reporting Project included people described as crazy or strange by witnesses or callers to 911; people with a confirmed diagnosis, like schizophrenia; people who displayed signs of disability or erratic behavior on scene, according to police reports; and people who demanded police harm them. Out of 18 people who died, 11 fit one of these descriptions, displaying potential signs of a mental health condition or intoxication, or both.

KVPR contacted the family of Michael Dozer, killed by a Bakersfield Police officer during a confrontation at a gas station on August 6, 2014. Dozer suffered from schizophrenia, but on the scene, the officer who shot him speculated he was on drugs. Eight years ago, Dozer’s mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Bakersfield Police Department and Officer Aaron Stringer. A jury initially ruled in favor of the city, saying Stringer did not use excessive force. But the family filed an appeal after evidence and testimony of Dozer’s history of mental illness was not allowed in the trial. In 2019, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that verdict. Last fall, the city agreed to settle the lawsuit for a quarter of a million dollars.

This story was produced with the California Reporting Project, a coalition of 40 news organizations across the state, including Stanford Journalism’s Watchdog Reporting Class, the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program.

Soreath Hok is a multimedia journalist with experience in radio, television and digital production. She is a 2022 National Edward R. Murrow Award winner. At KVPR she covers local government, politics and other local news.
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