The killing of 23-year-old Robert Villa by Tustin Police last year sparked angry protests in the city. The tragic case of a domestic disturbance call turned deadly fueled contesting versions of what really happened. Police claimed Villa had been wielding a knife when officers opened fire. A lawyer representing the family at the time said that Villa's stepfather witnessed the shooting and that he held no knife in hand at the time. Other relatives questioned why a Taser couldn't have been used instead.
A year-and-a-half later, the Orange County District Attorney's (OCDA) office finally released its investigation into the shooting clearing all officers involved.
The OCDA's report paints Robert Villa as a troubled young man suffering from bipolar disorder and depression. Separated from his wife, he moved in with his mom and stepfather after being put on parole for domestic violence. According to family members, Villa hadn't slept for two days prior to the deadly shooting and had been “freaking out.” His stepfather suspected he was high on meth.
On the morning of February 10, 2014, things only got worse. Villa mumbled on about government conspiracy theories adding something along the lines of “They're going to kill me. I might as well go out like this.” His stepfather called police saying Villa was “going crazy in the house” later informing the operator that he had a knife. Family members fled the apartment scared by Villa breaking a door down by stabbing it. Before police arrived, though, the stepfather told the operator he believed that his stepson no longer had a knife.
Tustin police officers David Nguyen, Scott Wright, Brian Stroud and Michelle Jankowski arrived on scene at the Casa Cortez apartment complex around 11:35 a.m. Before that, witnesses saw Villa stabbing a knife into the ground in an agitated state. Nguyen found him in the courtyard soon after. The cop told OCDA investigators that Villa pulled the knife from the ground and looked like he wanted a fight. “Drop the knife, dude,” Nguyen ordered to no avail. “Fuck you!” Villa said after repeated commands.
Police opened fire when Villa started charging at them with the knife. The officers said that batons and Tasers just weren't an option given how close they were to him. Eighteen bullets were fired between them striking Villa down to the ground. An autopsy later showed he had been hit 5 times and died as a result of the wounds. A toxicology report found meth and weed in Villa's system. Whether they were anything more than trace amounts is unclear.
Three of the four officers involved cooperated with investigators. Stroud refused, pleading the fifth instead. The OCDA convened a grand jury to look into his role in the shooting. One way or another, no evidence of “criminal culpability” warranted charges against Stroud, Nguyen and Wright. The shooting was ruled justified within policy.
The Weekly couldn't reach Villa's mother for comment by press time.
As always, the report can be read in its entirety online.
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2