The family of a 71-year-old Florida man shot dead by law enforcement officers after reportedly confronting them with a gun Monday in Santa Maria is full of questions about what happened, and full of distrust of the official account.
“You’re going to believe the murderers?” asked Theresa Naveja, sister of Jose Naveja, who was shot and killed by police.
“All too often they hide behind that blue shield, and they executed my brother, a man who was very significant in his family,” she added.
According to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, the incident that resulted in the death of Jose Naveja began about 9 p.m. Monday when deputies responded to a 9-1-1 call in the 200 block of South Broadway in Orcutt.
A woman, identified by Theresa Naveja as their sister Bonnie Fout, told dispatchers that she had been threatened by Jose Naveja, who had a gun.
A sheriff’s sergeant spotted Jose Naveja at a nearby gas station, according to officials. Jose Naveja allegedly told the sergeant he was armed and had guns in his vehicle, and ultimately led deputies, California Highway Patrol officers and Santa Maria police officers on a slow pursuit through Santa Maria.
Jose Naveja stopped his car at the north end of Preisker Lane and threw several guns out of his car, according to sheriff’s officials.
Then he allegedly got out of his vehicle, picked up a gun and confronted officers, who fired multiple shots and fatally wounded the man.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department is continuing to investigate how many shots were fired and who fired them, among other factors.
Once the Sheriff’s Department’s investigation is done, the findings will be turned over to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office for review.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Mark Williams said Thursday that the continuing investigation prevented him from providing details such as the name of the alleged robbery victim, and the manner in which the suspect allegedly confronted officers.
“The mission that we have is to do a thorough, complete investigation and make sure it’s accurate,” Williams said.
He noted that the Sheriff’s Department is juggling several officer-involved shooting investigations.
Monday’s shooting was the sixth officer-involved shooting in northern Santa Barbara County in the past eight months.
Each of the shootings the Sheriff’s Department has or is investigating involved a completely different set of circumstances, Williams said.
“We’re looking at each one of those on their own merit,” he added.
Contacted by phone Thursday, an emotionally spent-sounding Fout said her brother had been visiting at her Orcutt home for about a month. She declined to discuss the events surrounding the shooting.
Theresa Naveja, now living in New Mexico but formerly a neighbor of her brother in Florida, described Jose Naveja on Thursday as a “family man” married for 50 years to his wife, Florentina. They have four grown children and numerous grandchildren.
Jose Naveja retired to Sebring, Fla., after working for the New York City Transit Authority for about 25 years, Theresa Naveja said.
He served as a Marine in the Vietnam War, where he engaged in deadly hand-to-hand combat that emotionally scarred him for life, his sister said. He was being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder from the experience, according to Theresa Naveja.
He also suffered as a result of being exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange during his military service, his sister said. He was also a cancer survivor and suffered from diabetes, she added, and was taking numerous medications to deal with his ailments.
Fout reportedly claimed that she called police because their brother had a gun by his side and tried to force her to write a check for gas money so he could drive to see his son in New York, according to Theresa Naveja.
Jose Naveja had been despondent before he was shot, she said, and was in one of the emotional episodes that he slipped into every few months when he went off his medication.
“He gets extremely depressed,” she added.
Theresa Naveja said her brother had a permit for his guns, and took them as he traveled cross country by car because he didn’t want to leave the weapons unsupervised at home.
Theresa Naveja said she has received conflicting messages about what transpired Monday night, and doesn’t know exactly what happened leading up to the shooting.
“He was a Marine, and if he saw all these guns pointed at him, he probably went into Marine mode. Once a Marine, always a Marine,” she added.
Williams said investigators are considering the possibility that Naveja committed “suicide by cop,” in which someone provokes a police officer to use lethal force because the person wants to die, but Theresa Naveja doesn’t believe that her brother was doing that.
She noted that Jose Naveja had his car packed with belongings to visit his son, and could have shot himself or deliberately crashed the car if he wanted to kill himself.
“He had no reason to want to do suicide by cop,” Theresa Naveja added.
Jose Naveja’s daughter, Stephanie Naveja of Florida, said she also didn’t know all the details of what happened leading up to and during the shooting, but had questions for police.
“I’m getting different versions. Nothing is making sense to me except it’s very convenient that the camera didn’t work,” Stephanie Naveja added, claiming a law enforcement officer said a patrol car camera failed to record the event.
Again, Williams said the continuing investigation kept him from confirming or denying the claim that a law enforcement camera didn’t work properly.
He said, however, that investigators are looking into any available video or photos of the event as part of their inquiry.
Stephanie Naveja said her father always respected the authority of law enforcement, and was even a stickler for ensuring his children wore their seat belts.
“I know for a fact that my dad would never threaten a cop, hurt a cop, because he was in the Marines,” she added.