”You are now a part of a family that no one wants to be a part of.”
Those were the first words exchanged when I met Deana Greer for the first time. She had taken a two-hour trip to meet my mother and I just days after my brother was killed by police, and she was the first justice family member of those killed by police that I met in person.
Her husband, James “Nate” Greer, was killed on May 23, 2014 by Hayward and Bay Area Rapid Transit police officers in a similar manner to how Woodland cops killed my brother.
The cops who killed Nate were cleared of any wrongdoing but the departments paid a one million settlement to his family last year.
When people hear that someone is tasered and killed, it is often assumed they died from the taser assault itself, but what they don’t realize is that a taser assault is often accompanied with a brutal physical beating by multiple officers, baton strikes, a dog pile and a chokehold, the latter two which lead to suffocation. Many times these victims last words are “I can’t breath”.
Nate’s story is just as sick and eerie as many are. He was originally pulled over and targeted for “driving goofy,” whatever that means. Nate had committed NO crime. While detained, police officers used excessive force, tasering him repeatedly and applying pressure on his back as he lay on his stomach.
Meanwhile an officer stepped on the back of his head, wedging a baton between his neck and the pavement, cutting off his air supply, until he stopped breathing. Instead of immediately helping him, the officers placed Nate in a full-body restraint, while making jokes about him as his life was being taken.
More than six minutes passed before anyone attempted CPR. Nate died while at least ten officers watched, doing nothing to help him.
Something I make sure to ask families of those killed by police is “How did you find out of their death?”.
The way Deana and her family found out and were treated in the aftermath of his death, only added insult to injury, and is just sickening.
Deana and her daughter heard something happened to him the day following his death. She was frantically making calls to hospitals and jails searching for her husband, being given different number after number to call.
The final call was answered by a man who responded “Yes, Ma’am, he’s here!” and naturally, she asked to speak to him. Her seconds of relief of finding her husband were shot right back down when he told her that she couldn’t talk to him because he was dead. She had no idea that she had been connected to the coroner’s office to finally get a hold of her Nate. Deana says that part of her died at that precise moment.
Another dagger to the heart this family received was that Nate’s body was not released to the them, resulting in the family having a funeral without his body. When his wife finally got to see her husband’s lifeless body, she had to unwrap him from a plastic tarp that peeled the skin off of his face.
One of the patterns I see repeating itself time after time when cops kill is that there is no respect for the deceased or the loved ones who are mourning.
Nate was 46 years old and a loving father of two children, Desiree and Joseph, as well as two beautiful grandchildren, Isaiah and Lyla. His family describes him as a kind-hearted, big teddy bear with a contagious laugh. I’ve became close to his wife overtime and recently witnessed their family go through his four year “Angelversary”. The pain doesn’t go away, time doesn’t make it easier for families like us, because we get no justice and these senseless killings continue to happen, daily.
How do we heal when the wound keeps being cut open?
Like many others, Deana noticed something was very wrong early on from the interactions she had with law enforcement. They were criminalizing her husband and fishing for information from her and her children. That caused her to become very diligent in obtaining all the information and documents that she could from the police, hospital, ambulance and such.
In her investigation, she discovered a ridiculous amount of pages had been redacted from the police reports, flaws in training and policies and that her husband’s death was going to be swept under the rug if she didn’t take action.
When Nate was killed, Diane Urban was Hayward Chief of Police. During the chief’s three-year stint with the department, 15 people died in the custody of her officers.
Nate’s death was not reported due to a flaw in the Alameda County Reporting Policy that only counts deaths by firearms. So Deana took it upon herself to make changes by addressing the issue to the county’s district attorney Nancy O’Malley, who responded immediately and later made the necessary changes to this policy.
She then focused her efforts on BART’s policy, because while completing the form to file a citizen complaint on the BART officer for misconduct or excessive force, she noticed the form was specifically tailored for the victim to complete. So she went to several BART Board meetings and spoke with the appropriate people like independent police auditor Aaron Zisser to have the policy changes made.
Finally, the policy was changed, right at the heels of the BART killing of Sahleem Tindle, whom his family now has the opportunity to have the officer involved investigated by an independent auditor. Something her husband was never allowed.
Deana no longer fights for justice for her husband as she feels it’s not possible, he’s dead. She fights for change, so that her husband did not die in vain.
Rest In Power James “Nate” Greer