Monday, October 22, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 33

Santa Maria Sun / Breaking News

Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office investigates SMPD-involved fatal shooting


An investigation of a July 20 incident involving a man who was fatally shot by police officers from the Santa Maria Police Department (SMPD) has been turned over to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, according to SMPD Sgt. Russell Mengel.

UPDATE: Police identified the man as 31-year-old Javier Gaona of Santa Maria. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday, July 25, 2016. An official cause and manner of death is pending toxicology and lab results which will take several weeks to complete, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover.

The intense situation began around 8:45 a.m. at the corner of Broadway and Enos as traffic traveled along Broadway. Sixty-two-year-old Adan Partida saw a man talking to a group of landscapers doing work on the median. The man started yelling at passing motorists and pedestrians, Partida said.

When police arrived the man pulled a knife and ran across the road to the corner closest to the gas station, he said.

Partida, who said he was acquainted with the man and had just talked to him, said the man was homeless and was upset because he didn’t receive money he was owed.

“He was just very upset that he didn’t get the money that he needed,” Partida said.

More SMPD officers arrived and surrounded the man who was backed up against the FoodsCo gas station sign holding a knife to his neck. According to SMPD Chief Ralph Martin, police officers—including a FBI negotiator who was speaking Spanish to the man—tried to negotiate with the man for more than 30 minutes without success.

Police then deployed less-than-lethal beanbag and tennis ball-sized rounds in an attempt to subdue the man, but those attempts didn’t work. Several moments passed and then a burst of gunfire rang out and it was apparent that the man was shot.

Mengel said the man died a short time later at the hospital. His name hasn’t yet been released.

Eyewitnesses at the scene offer slightly different versions as to what happened between the time officers fired the beanbag rounds and the bullets.

Victor Jaloma arrived on the scene shortly before the police opened fire. He said the man walked toward the officers, which caused them to shoot. He estimated he heard at least 10 shots.

“He kind of walked toward them,” Jaloma said. He then asked why so many shots were needed. “I get it. They get scared, the dude has a knife, he’s unpredictable. But you’re going to tell me that a man walking 20 feet away from you and you’re not going to be able to stop him?”

However, Partida, who was at the scene from the very beginning, said the man didn’t walk toward officers but was dazed and stumbling from the beanbag rounds.

“The more they shot him, the more he was just going anywhere and everywhere,” Partida said. “For anybody who’s getting shot with a beanbag, you lose a sense of what’s happening. Nobody was threatened, none of the police officers were ever threatened.”

The SMPD wouldn’t comment on the shooting itself and refers all cases involving officer-involved shootings to the Sheriff’s Office, Mengel said.

Hoover told the Sun her agency is investigating the circumstances surrounding the shooting at the request of the SMPD.

Two independent videos taken by witnesses at the scene, and shared with the Sun, show a chaotic situation that unfolded within a matter of seconds. In one video, several seconds passed between the beanbag rounds and the gunshots.

Another video, taken from a different angle, shows the man jumping up and down in an attempt to stab himself in the torso as he is getting shot.

Within minutes, an ambulance arrived on the scene as police performed life-saving procedures on the man. He was immediately taken to a nearby hospital.

A small crowd gathered in the parking of the Vallarta Market became visibly upset following the shooting.

Jaloma said the shooting only adds to the grief stemming from a volatile month across the United States that involved several officer-involved shootings, and multiple police being gunned down in Baton Rouge, La., and Dallas, Texas.

“You’re going to tell me that 10 officers couldn’t shoot him in the leg?” Jaloma said. “In the last week, how many times has this shit gone on? A lot of us are mad.”

Partida, too, didn’t understand why multiple shots were needed. It was his first time watching a man get shot by police, he added.

“I am very upset,” he said. “It’s very emotional. He never made a threat to anybody man, he just made a threat to himself.”

News Briefs is compiled by Sun writers from staff reporting and local and national media. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, email, or mail.

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