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City settles for $5.9 million in for man who died after being forcefully detained

The city of Pleasanton has agreed to pay $5.9 million and consider policy changes for its Police Department in the wrongful death case of Jacob Bauer, a 38-year-old white resident who died in 2018 after being forcefully detained by police.

The settlement is one of the largest of its kind in the Bay Area, according to lawyers for Bauer’s family, who brought the suit in 2019. The lawsuit alleged that police used excessive force and unlawfully handcuffed Bauer, violating his constitutional rights. By settling, the city doesn’t admit fault, but has agreed to hold a listening session between the police chief and Bauer’s family.

On Aug. 1, 2018, Pleasanton police were called to a Raley’s grocery store after receiving reports that a man — Bauer — was breaking bottles and causing a disturbance. Though Bauer was never officially diagnosed, his family alleged in the lawsuit that he suffered from a mental illness and had informed the Police Department of his condition several times, including days before his confrontation in the grocery store.

At least six officers tried to detain Bauer at the same time, according to a 2020 investigation by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. The investigation found that those officers used a Taser stun gun on Bauer multiple times, struck him with a baton and hit him with their hands in their attempts to subdue and handcuff him.

After subduing him, the officers placed Bauer in restraints including a “spit mask,” a facial covering used by police to prevent detained individuals from spreading transmissible diseases. Police allege that Bauer had been spitting at and biting them during the altercation.

Bauer’s family alleges he told the officers, “you’re suffocating me” and “I can’t breathe,” but continued to be restrained.

About 20 minutes after being detained, paramedics arrived and noticed that Bauer’s skin was turning blue and he no longer had a pulse. Despite the paramedics administering CPR, Bauer was later declared dead.

The District Attorney’s investigation absolved the officers of any criminal liability, finding that the use of force was reasonable and justified given Bauer’s resistance. The coroner who examined Bauer ruled his cause of death to be methamphetamine overdose due to the presence of a potentially toxic level of the drug in his system.

But John and Rose Bauer, Jacob Bauer’s parents, say it was the physical restraint by police that caused their son’s death.

The practice of using “spit masks” has garnered more attention due to their use during the pandemic and in several alleged cases of police brutality. Joe Prude, a Black resident of Rochester, New York, also died partially due to oxygen deprivation after officers placed him in a spit mask, though the medical examiner did not determine whether his death was due to the mask in particular.

The coroner in Jacob Bauer’s case noted that Bauer also suffered from asphyxiation due to his restraint but ruled that it did not result in the underlying cause of his death.

In a statement, the Pleasanton Police Department emphasized that the District Attorney’s report had found none of the officers at fault of any criminal actions, but extended sympathy to those impacted by Jacob Bauer’s death.

The department said:

“The Pleasanton Police Department values the sanctity of life and continues to extend its most sincere condolences to the Bauer family.” 

John and Rose Bauer have been advocating for police reforms on his behalf and said in a statement that they will use their meeting with the Pleasanton police chief to discuss changes in how the department handles encounters with individuals who may have mental illnesses.

Rose Bauer said in a statement:

“No parent should ever have to live with the visions of the violent death of their child. … Jacob lost his life over a few broken bottles at a grocery store. I hope this settlement creates real changes to stop police from using excessive force against the mentally ill.”

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