Fatal police shooting leaves questions

August 2, 2009 5:34:17 PM PDT
In East Oakland, neighbors are painting a very different picture of the man who was fatally shot by police Saturday. Authorities say he pulled a hatchet on the officer who killed him, but friends and family members say he was a neighborhood handyman who always carried tools.

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Brownie Polk was shot and killed at a liquor store Saturday evening by Oakland police. He was a fixture in East Oakland and the poeple who knew him say that the hatchet he was carrying was for work that he had been doing on his nearby home.

"I don't understand how this officer would shoot a man like my son," said the victim's mother Mary Polk.

One-by-one, friends came to pay their respects to Mary Polk. The house where her son Brownie lived has become a neighborhood memorial.

Polk bought cigarettes at a liquor store just down the street from his house at 9:00 on Saturday night. Authorities say he started harassing people inside the store. They say a merchant flagged down a nearby officer and when she approached Polk, he raised a hatchet above his head and walked toward the officer prompting her to shoot.

Investigators say store surveillance cameras captured the entire incident.

"When you have a cutting instrument and you're threatening an officer, that's what's going to happen," explained Officer Jeff Thomason with the Oakland Police Department.

The people who know Brownie Polk paint a different picture.

"He's nothing like what they're making him out to be," said his niece Tiffany Townsend. "Like I said, he's active in his community. His neighbors have labeled him as a landmark because he's been here for almost 30 years."

"I seen Brownie carry shovels, hammers? everything. He a handyman. He do yard work," said long-time friend Keith Evans.

The tool belt he always wore still sits in his backyard. The roofing project he had been working on right before he was killed remains unfinished. One neighbor saw the hatchet. She says it was about seven or eight inches long.

"He's a master mechanic. He always has tools and it just happened that day he might have had that tool in his pocket," said a neighbor.

Now, Polk's family has questions.

"I don't understand why the officer panicked," Polk told ABC7.

Police say that the officer has less than two years on the force and is now on paid administrative leave per the standard in all officer-involved shootings. The case is being investigated by the district attorney and the Oakland police department. This was the third fatal officer-involved shooting in Oakland in 2009. The second one happened less than three weeks ago on International Blvd. as well.

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