MARTINEZ -- After hearing testimony from three law enforcement officers and a forensic pathologist, a 12-person jury ruled at a coroner's inquest Thursday that a 21-year-old Antioch man died at the hands of another last year after being shot and killed by two Concord police officers.
Coroner's inquests are held for all officer-involved or in-custody deaths in Contra Costa County. Juries do not assign criminal or civil liability. Their task is to determine the manner of death, according to four definitions set forth by the state.
Charles Burns was ruled to have died "at the hands of another, other than by accident" on May 10. A federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Burns' family and his friend Bobby Lawrence in San Francisco. Burns and Lawrence were headed to Walmart to buy a Mother's Day card when the shooting occurred, according to the suit.
Thursday's testimony featured dramatic details about the shooting.
Burns was running from a Concord Police Department task force when he was shot by two officers -- neither of whom appeared at the inquest -- who believed he was reaching into his waistband for a firearm, according to testimony. Officer A emptied his entire nine-shot clip, according to inspector John Conaty of the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office, who helped investigate the shooting.
"He feared for himself and other officers," Conaty said, adding that Burns was known to Concord police as a gang member who carried a gun. "He fired until he believed Burns was no longer a threat."
After Burns fell to the ground, Conaty said, he rolled from his left side to his back, at which point a police dog, apparently believing Burns was making an aggressive move, attacked. Several of Burns' family members, some wearing T-shirts that read "Justice for Charles starts here," gasped at the testimony.
Antioch Police Department Detective James Stenger testified that Officer B, upon hearing the shots fired by Officer A, believed them to be coming from Burns. Officer B fired two shots at Burns.
"(Officer B) believed he saw a butt of a gun in Burns' hand," Stenger testified. After the shooting, officers found a cellphone in Burns' hand. No weapons were found on his body. A bag of pills, later determined to be oxycodone, were stuffed in his underwear.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Arnold Josselson, reading from a colleague's autopsy notes, testified that Burns was hit by 10 gunshots. Three of the wounds, he said, were considered fatal.
Josselson also testified that toxicology tests showed Burns had methamphetamine and oxycodone in his system when he died. During a subsequent search of Burns' house, officers found approximately 1.5 pounds of methamphetamine, $17,000 and a semi-automatic handgun.
The Burns family applauded when the jury's verdict was read. Attorney Peter Johnson, who represents Burns' parents, said there was little in the testimony that surprised him.
"I didn't feel it was much of a fact-finding venue," he said. "I thought it was really directed at giving the police an opportunity to put their best foot forward in front of the public."
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him at Twitter.com/garyscribe.