Officers’ Names Remain Secret Weeks After Fatal Shooting of a Black Man in California


He said the church was filled on Friday with friends and family members who said their final goodbyes to Mr. Yarber — a father of three whose friends called him Butchie — and Barstow residents who called for justice.

“A lot of people talked about the need for ongoing protests and marches — a lot more than I would expect at a funeral,” Mr. Merritt said.

In a statement on Monday, the Police Department said officers responded to a report of a reckless driver on March 18 and Mr. Yarber fled when officers tried unsuccessfully to stop him. The statement said that further investigation showed that the car, a blue Hyundai, was stolen.

So when someone called to report a “suspicious vehicle” — the black Mustang — in a Walmart parking lot on April 5 and provided a license plate number, officers saw that it was registered to someone whose last name was Yarber and, once on the scene, recognized the driver, the statement said.

Officers told Mr. Yarber to get out but he did not, the statement said, adding that he “continued to accelerate his vehicle forward and in reverse toward the officers, almost hitting one officer” before striking the rear of another patrol car occupied by an officer.

The statement added, “The officers feared for their safety and the safety of others and an officer-involved shooting occurred.”

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Mourners at the funeral for Mr. Yarber.

Credit
James Tensuan for The New York Times

The car was riddled with bullets. Mr. Yarber was killed and one of his three passengers was shot and hospitalized. She has since been released.

It all happened very quickly, said Marlon Hawkins, 41, who was in the front seat of the car at the time of the shooting.

He said they had just pulled in when several police cars arrived, boxing them in. There was a lot of yelling and then a lot of gunfire.

Mr. Hawkins said he jumped out of the car and onto the ground. He suffered injuries and was taken to the hospital for a few hours. He got a phone call and learned that Mr. Yarber was dead.

“I was just devastated,” Mr. Hawkins said. “It was just surreal. It was happening so fast, I couldn’t believe it. I was sick.”

Mr. Merritt has repeatedly called on the authorities to release the officers’ names.

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Flowers and candles were left in Mr. Yarber’s memory at a Walmart parking lot in Barstow, Calif.

Credit
James Tensuan for The New York Times

In its statement, the Barstow police said they were “precluded by state law from providing or sharing any information related to the personnel records of the involved officers.”

The department said in its statement that the officers were wearing body cameras and that the footage was turned over to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. It has not been released publicly.

“This case is important because it really begins to explore the idea that law enforcement is above the law,” Mr. Merritt said.

Citing a California Supreme Court decision, Mr. Merritt argued that in the case of an officer-involved shooting, police departments that want to withhold names must show clear evidence that there would be a particular threat to officers involved if their names were made public.

“They’ve decided that they would go into a black box. It’s almost as if they’re hiding, waiting for everybody to go away,” he said. “We’re not going to go away.”

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