Santa Maria Sun / Breaking News
DA finds shooting of Santa Maria police officer justified
A Santa Maria police officer was justified in using deadly force in the shooting of fellow officer Albert Covarrubias, Jr., the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office concluded on June 19.
In a detailed, 18-page report, District Attorney Joyce Dudley determined officer Matthew Kline reacted appropriately to a “life-threatening situation” when he shot Covarrubias on Jan. 28, as two officers attempted to arrest Covarrubias on suspicion of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old Police Explorer.
According to the report, upon becoming aware he was under investigation by the department, Covarrubias threatened to kill himself. Supervisors sent Sgt. Chris Nartatez—a cousin of Covarrubias—and Sgt. Mark Norling to arrest Covarrubias at the conclusion of a routine DUI checkpoint. As Nartatez attempted the felony arrest, Covarrubias took his gun from his holster and fired.
The DA’s report states Kline, who was Covarrubias’ best friend, saw the officers engaged in a struggle and reacted, shooting Covarrubias three times. Covarrubias, a 29-year-old with four years of experience on the force, later died during emergency surgery at Marian Regional Medical Center.
“Officer Kline recognized ‘the fight for life’ and knew they were struggling over control of the weapon,” the report states. “He was concerned that because one round had already been fired and there was a fight for control of the gun, that someone was going to get shot if he didn’t act.”
In addition to the ruling, the DA’s office also examined the lead-up to the shooting, including text messages from Covarrubias to the victim, as well as a pretext call in which the officer admitted to the sexual relationship.
“Knowing that his conduct was illegal, and, if uncovered, would not only destroy his career but result in his incarceration, Officer Covarrubias asked the victim to deny the relationship,” Dudley concluded in the report. “Based on the information at hand, it was decided it was necessary to act immediately and arrest the officer.”
Covarrubias’ death led to scrutiny of Santa Maria Police Chief Danny Macagni and multiple investigations by agencies, including the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, an internal affairs probe outsourced by the SMPD, and an audit of the department by the Los Angeles-based Office of Independent Review, which is expected to begin soon.
The Sheriff’s Department forwarded the results of its criminal investigation to the DA’s office in early May.
The city of Santa Maria released a statement acknowledging the findings and urging the public to “be patient” while the Office of Independent Review completes its investigation.