The Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office has issued a report concluding that Santa Maria Police officers were justified in the January 2018 fatal shooting of Alejandro Valdez after he allegedly lunged at officers with two kitchen knives in an apartment courtyard.
“With five officers, penned in the small cinderblock courtyard, the officers reasonably feared that the suspect would lunge at one or more of them stabbing or slashing them and causing great bodily injury or death with the large knives,” stated the report, which was issued Friday.
Valdez, 27, sustained 19 gunshot wounds to the head, torso, neck and extremities, according to the autopsy report. Forensic pathologist Dr. Manuel Montez also determined Valdez had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.149.
Shortly before 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 7, 2018, Santa Maria Police officers responded to the 400 block of Mill Street after Valdez's mother, Olimpia Leon, called 911. At the outset of the call, Valdez grabbed the phone from Leon before the dispatcher could clarify the reason for the call, according to the report.
Valdez reportedly told the dispatcher he had knives in his hands and was threatening family members.
Santa Maria Police officers shot and killed a knife-wielding man after he threatened his family and charged police on Sunday night.
“I am ready to die tonight,” Valdez reportedly told the dispatcher.
At the same time, Valdez’s brother, Sixto, called 911 to report an emergency at his apartment, allegedly telling the dispatcher Valdez was becoming violent and holding him and his relatives hostage.
“Please hurry, because this guy is threatening us,” said Sixto, who reportedly told the dispatcher Valdez had been drinking.
During the next 30 minutes, a dispatcher attempted to negotiate with Valdez, urging him to surrender to law enforcement.
As Valdez was on the phone with dispatch, Santa Maria Police Sgt. Matthew Kline stationed three officers — Eurbey Ponce, Julia Tatarian and Kevin Ochoa — at the front of the residence on Mill Street in the event Valdez exited through the front door of his second-story apartment. An additional "crisis entry team" of Officers Trevor Hutton, Vincent Spencer, Amner Rubio, Andres Lopez, Juan Rodriguez and Nathanael Craven set up a perimeter in the enclosed cinderblock courtyard in the back. All were in the courtyard, minus Craven, who was behind the cinderblock wall to provide cover.
Rodriguez was given a less-than-lethal, 40-millimeter foam baton launcher, according to the report.
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After 30 minutes spent on the phone with dispatch, Valdez emerged from the front door and ran down the stairs holding two eight-inch kitchen knives “in an aggressive manner,” according to the report. Officers yelled commands to drop the knives, but Valdez turned away and ran toward the courtyard, effectively boxing the team in the courtyard, according to the report.
Hearing commotion in the front, officers stationed in the courtyard backed up and headed toward the narrow exit of the courtyard in a single-file line. Before they could reach the exit, Valdez allegedly rounded the corner into the courtyard and rapidly advanced toward the officers with a “large” knife raised in each hand while ignoring commands to drop the knives.
Rodriguez shot and struck Valdez with a 40-millimeter foam projectile in the right thigh, but it had no effect, according to the report.
Hutton, Rubio, Spencer and Lopez then fired their service pistols at Valdez, killing him.
Santa Barbara County sheriff's Detective Todd Henslin later determined Valdez's death was a homicide.
As noted in the District Attorney's report, a police officer may use deadly force where “the circumstances create a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury in the mind of the officer.”
When Valdez ignored numerous commands to drop the knives and was undeterred by the less-than-lethal round, the officers reasonably feared that the suspect would lunge at them, stabbing or slashing them and causing great bodily injury or death, according to the report.
"Each of the four officers who used lethal force that night, reasonably discharged their service firearm multiple times in order to stop Valdez from inflicting death or great bodily injury on themselves or their fellow officers," the report stated.