Santa Maria police officers were justified in using deadly force that resulted in the shooting death of Samyr Ceballos in December, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office announced Friday, and the homicide was justified.
Furthermore, the District Attorney’s Office found that injuries sustained by two Santa Maria police officers who were wounded by other officers during the shooting were not the result of any criminal activity on the part of the shooters.
Ceballos, 24, a Santa Maria resident and a documented West Park gang member, was killed on Dec. 8 in front of his home in the 300 block of Agnes Avenue when Ceballos pointed a gun at officers while they fought to detain him as part of a drug investigation.
Four Santa Maria police officers fired at Ceballos, the District Attorney’s Office indicated in a report released Friday, with three connecting and shots hitting him a total of six times.
Two officers at the scene who didn’t fire their weapons were injured by “friendly fire” - one suffering a gunshot wound to each of his hands, and the other a gunshot wound to the foot.
Ceballos didn’t fire his gun.
The District Attorney’s Office is withholding the names of the officers involved for the time being, as there are threats to the officers’ safety.
The four officers involved were placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of internal department and external investigations. It wasn’t clear Friday when, of if, those officers will return to duty.
Toxicology reports revealed Ceballos had methamphetamine levels in his system that were near the point of overdose, according to the report from prosecutors.
Wrote District Attorney Joyce Dudley, “In each case, it appears each officer fired at Ceballos after seeing Ceballos either point the loaded 9mm handgun at them or other officers. Additionally, Ceballos was under the influence of methamphetamine during the confrontation at a level three to four times normal dosing.”
Before Ceballos pulled his gun and was shot, officers tried without success to bring him into compliance through non-lethal tactics, including deploying a stun gun.
Dudley said Friday that after she and members of her office participated in a thorough investigation that included many interviews with police and witnesses, the decision that the shooting was justified was not difficult to arrive at.
“This was not a tough decision,” she said. “What this was, was a long, involved process, and I think that’s the way it should be.”
Dudley continued, “When the pieces of the puzzle fit together the way they did this time, then it’s not a tough call.”
A senior deputy district attorney out of Lompoc headed up the review, Dudley noted, to avoid any perception of bias.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department investigated the incident along with the state Department of Justice, and turned its findings over to the District Attorney’s Office in mid February.
In addition, the Santa Maria Police Department conducted an internal investigation.
Santa Maria police Chief Danny Macagni was out of the office Friday and could not be reached to discuss the DA’s announcement, the status of the department’s internal investigation or whether the four officers involved would be returning to duty.
The December incident was the first of two deadly shootings involving Santa Maria police officers in as many months.
More public attention has been focused on the Jan. 28 fatal shooting of Santa Maria police Officer Alberto Covarrubias Jr., who was mortally wounded by a colleague as he reportedly fired shots as police supervisors struggled to arrest him on suspicion of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl.
That incident is still being investigated by the county Sheriff’s Department as well as the Office of Independent Review, a body created by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.