On March 3, 2022, at 1:27 pm, shots were fired by police and sheriff deputies that abruptly and violently ended Yan Li’s life. She was 47.
What happened? Why one’s life had to end in such a tragic way?
Yan Li graduated from Yale University with Ph.D. in Biostatistics in 2003. She worked at several pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer and Allergan, and also had academic appointments.
In recent years, Yan Li lived in San Diego, until her last day in life.
In 2018, she purchased a condominium in Little Italy, making San Diego her home.
For reasons unclear to the public, she owed HOA dues. The HOA subsequently put a lien on her property and sold it to Home Expo Financial Inc (HEF).
On October 12, 2021, HEF filed a complaint with the Superior Court of California. A judgement against Yan Li as the defendant was entered on January 10, 2022.
On February 4, 2022, the court issued a Writ of Possession of Real Property or commonly known as eviction notice (a public record).
In California, evictions are executed by a county sheriff’s department and each county has its own procedure. On an unspecified date between February 4 and March 3, San Diego County sheriff department issued instruction to deputies for the eviction process. On the instruction, it is indicated that ‘the possession of the property must be turned over to the landlord on or before Friday, March 11, 2022’.
It is important to know that, in San Diego, the law requires the eviction served in two steps –
“The Sheriff will serve the tenant with a Notice to Vacate the property. This gives the tenant 5 days to vacate the property. If the tenant does not vacate the property, the Sheriff will remove the tenant from the rental unit and lock him/her out.”
(under ‘what happens if landlord wins at trial’ - https://www.sdcourt.ca.gov/sdcourt/civil2/landlordtenant/landlordtenantfaqsmain/tenantfaqs)
The two-step eviction process is ubiquitous throughout California.
What happened on March 3 can only be gathered from the 10 minutes heavily edited and redacted video released by San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
On March 3, a deputy went to Yan Li’s property to deliver the eviction notice. This is believed to be the first of the two steps as no earlier delivery of any notice had been reported. In a subsequently released official video, San Diego Sheriff’s Department also indicated that ‘A deputy with the Sheriff’s Court Services Bureau was on the 5th Floor to post a notice of eviction…’
Note: there are two different clock times, exactly 8 hours apart, on videos of the body cameras worn by police officers and sheriff deputies. The correct one indicates the incident in the early afternoon rather than the evening. The time stamps described below have been corrected to reflect this fact.
At 12:36 pm, a deputy arrived at Yan Li’s residence, holding the Notice of Eviction.
The deputy knocked on the door, and was greeted by Yan Li. The deputy handed the notice to Yan Li.
Within seconds the deputy noticed that Yan Li had a knife in her hand. It is unclear if Yan Li was using it in cooking at the time or as a tool for self-defense.
The deputy immediately drew the gun and ordered her, ‘put the knife down right now or I’m gonna f--king shoot you!’. The deputy right away requested for backup.
Yan Li yelled back, ‘you put the gun down…how do I know you are not an intruder!’.
‘Call the police’, Yan Li yelled again.
‘Where is your badge?’, Yan Li questioned repeatedly, to which the deputy ignored and never showed his badge.
It is worthwhile to note that, to many people, especially those new immigrants, sheriff deputies are not easily recognized as law enforcement officers because of different uniforms. It was a legitimate possibility that Yan Li questioned the identity of the deputy.
While being pointed at by the gun, Yan Li kept asking how the deputy came inside the building, how he obtained the eviction notice. She kept repeating, ‘you are a thief, you are a thief’, ‘where is your badge, where is your badge’ and also yelled into the hallway, ‘hi, there is a fake police over here!’.
It is obvious from the video that Yan Li was in the state of emotional and mental distraught.
The heated exchange lasted about two minutes before Yan Li threw the eviction notice on the floor and shut the door. Yan Li never left her room during the interaction.
It is important to note that, the first of two-step eviction process had been completed by then. The deputy should have left, or, according to legal expert, obtained a warrant to enter Yan Li’s residence if needed.
In less than ten minutes, at around 12:47 pm, additional deputies and SDPD police officers of K-9 unit with a dog showed up. According to exchanges between neighbors on social media, Yan Li was terrified of dogs.
Reportedly a mental health expert of PERT (PSYCHIATRIC EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAM) was requested but was not able to assist because the police officers and deputies took forceful actions before the PERT expert arrived. According to exchanges between Yan Li’s neighbors on social media, PERT had previously had interactions with Yan Li many times.
The Sheriff Department did not release videos of the activities between approximately 12:47 pm and 1:26 pm. However, according to the description on the official video, the deputies and police officers were convinced that ‘there was a threat to public safety’ and arrest of Yan Li was necessary. Yan Li stayed inside her room during the verbal exchange and never stepped a foot outside in public. The imminent danger for the warrant-less arrest did not appear to exist. The sheriff department also mentioned in the video that a building manager told officers that Yan Li threatened a maintenance worker on previous day. However, no one reported the threat to police when it happened and there was no harm reported either. Therefore, whether it was a real threat is questionable.
By 1:26 pm, deputies and police officers were ready to enter Yan Li’s residence.
They asked Yan Li to open the door. Guns were drawn. A dog was barking.
Yan Li responded by yelling, ‘are you trying to invade?’, ‘You are an intruder’.
At 1:26 pm, a deputy opened Yan Li’s door with the key presumably provided by the building management.
Deputies went in with guns drawn. A K-9 officer went in with the dog. They demanded Yan Li to show her hands and come out. She was inside her bedroom.
Yan Li refused to come out and responded by yelling ‘this is invasion’.
At 1:27 pm, one deputy yelled ‘bean bag, bean bag’ and fired shots at Yan Li with bean bags.
Upon being shot at, Yan Li ran out from the bedroom towards the deputies and police officers with knife in hand. The deputies and police officers rushed back towards the hallway.
Yan Li chased and stabbed the K-9 officer in the chest. The officer suffered minor wound according to report.
Right then, two deputies and one police officer fired shots at her and killed her instantly.
Yan Li was shot to death within an hour after the first encounter with the police. For a comparison to a recent incident less than a month earlier, when a police SWAT team responded to a man shooting inside his Rancho Bernardo home, the standoff lasted more than six hours before the suspect was taken into custody alive.
The description in this article is based on public information. The interpretation, speculation, or conclusion is by the author only. The views expressed should not be seen as the official position of ACA.
Future updates are expected.