Controversial 2016 shooting led to deputy’s reprimand, newly released documents show

Sam Stanton, Molly Sullivan

A Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputy who opened fire on a vehicle after it roared off with him hanging from it violated the department’s use of force policies and was reprimanded, newly released internal affairs documents show.

The 922-page file released late Friday breaks down the October 2016 incident in which Deputy Adam Taylor made a traffic stop that ended with him firing five rounds at the car near Winding Oak Drive and Long Canyon Drive in Fair Oaks.

Records show Taylor told investigators he thought the motorist, Brittney Nicholls, may have been reaching for a gun inside the car and that she drove off with his arm still inside the vehicle before he was able to wrench away but sustained a shoulder injury. The documents also show Taylor told investigators he feared Nicholls might turn the vehicle around and run him down.

But sheriff’s investigators determined that Taylor’s decision to fire at the fleeing car was “risky and not well thought out.”

“Although Deputy Taylor stated he thought the vehicle was going to return ad run him over and finish him of, I don’t believe the threat of this happening existed,” an Oct. 12, 2017, finding by Chief Deputy Phil Brelje found.

The findings are contained in disciplinary documents law enforcement agencies are now required to make public as a result of Senate Bill 1421, passed last year. Sheriff Scott Jones’ office has so far released 11 such files in the wake of a successful lawsuit by The Sacramento Bee to force disclosure of the documents.

The findings concur with then-inspector general Rick Braziel’s opinion published in a 2017 annual report.

In his review of the case, Braziel said Taylor’s use of his duty weapon was not reasonable, citing that Nicholls and the passengers of the vehicle “did not pose an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury” to the deputy.

“The use of deadly force against Nicholls was not reasonable or necessary and placed Nicholls and the two passengers at risk of serious injury or death,” Braziel said in the report.

Braziel later clashed with Jones over his review of such cases, and Jones ultimately refused to allow him access to sheriff’s facilities, effectively ending Braziel’s position as the county’s inspector general.

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert also reviewed the shooting and determined a jury would not likely find wrongdoing.

On October 25, 2016, Nicholls was charged with two felony counts of battery of a peace officer, but the charges were later dismissed in May 2017, according to court records.

Nicholls later sued the department in federal court over the incident; that case was settled in April.