OC DA Clears Santa Ana Police in Apparent 'Suicide-by-Cop' Involving Teen
While Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas makes his case in the Kelly Thomas murder trial against two former Fullerton policemen, his office continues to crank out investigative letters. The latest, released yesterday, details an incident in which Jose Rodriguez, 14, was gunned down by Santa Ana police on September 27, 2012.
Coming more than a year after the officer-involved shooting, the eight-page report delivered to Interim Police Chief Carlos Rojas paints a portrait of a troubled teen that called police to the scene of his East Wisteria Place home saying that there was an armed man nearby.
When officers arrived, it was Rodriguez himself who was holding a shotgun.
Santa Ana policemen Gregory Stys and Eric Majors were first to arrive. Backing them up were Officers Robert Romero, Pablo Sarabia and Corporal Jesus de la Barcena. According to the report, they repeatedly issued commands for Rodriguez to drop the weapon as did of his mother's boyfriend J.B. only for him to refuse and utter, "Why does this always happen to me?"
Before the standoff, Patricia Jaimes picked up her son from a friend's house and he appeared to be disconsolate. She told police outside the home that her son had a BB gun and that it was unloaded. The officers identified the weapon as a shotgun. De la Bacerna requested that a unit with a 40-milimeter arrive on scene for the purposes of potentially resolving the situation with a less-lethal weapon.
But the critical moment came next. Rodriguez was said to have made a turn towards Officer Stys and de la Barcena before dropping his cellphone and raising the shotgun. At that point, Romero and Stys opened fire on the teen, fearing lives were in jeopardy. The shotgun was later found to be unloaded. Autopsy results show Rodriguez sustained six gunshot wounds to the front of his body and died as a result of them. The teen's toxicology report showed no traces of alcohol or controlled substances in his system.
De la Barcena and Majors offered voluntary statements to OCDA investigators the day after the shooting. Romero and Stys, the officers who fired, did not do the same until May 30, 2013. Thirty-seven witnesses were interviewed with none of them quoted. If Rodriguez's mother and boyfriend were among them, no portion of their statements were made public in the report.
"There is ample evidence that the police officers who were on scene were working toward reaching a peaceful resolution with an uncooperative Rodriguez," reads the OCDA's legal analysis of the incident. Reviewing the circumstances, Stys and Romero's actions were deemed to be "reasonable and justified."
The investigative letter can be read in its entirety online.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @dpalabraz
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