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

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 2nd, 2016, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 17, Issue 21 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 17, Issue 21

UPDATED - Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department 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.

The last moments of 31-year-old Javier Gaona shortly before he was shot by officers from the Santa Maria Police Department on July 20. Witnesses said that Gaona lunged at officers just before he was shot, although some contradict this claim.

Police identified the man as 31-year-old Javier Gaona of Santa Maria. An autopsy for an official cause of death was conducted on July 25, the results of which (including toxicology and lab results) won't come out for "several weeks," according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover.

UPDATED [7-28-16, 8:19 p.m.] Once the investigation is complete, Hoover added, results will be forwarded to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office for review. so it can conduct its own investigation. Gaona was not married and didn't have any children, Hoover added.

The motivation for Gaona's last act is not clear. 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. Gaona started yelling at passing motorists and pedestrians, Partida said.

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

Partida, who said he was acquainted with Gaona 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 Gaona, 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 Gaona"tried to negotiate with him for more than 30 minutes without success.

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

Mengel said Gaona died a short time later at the hospital.

Three officers were involved in the shooting and were placed on administrative leave for at least five days, which is standard procedure, according to Martin.

Eyewitnesses at the scene offer slightly different versions of 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 Gaona 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 is 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 Gaona 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 referred all cases involving officer-involved shootings to the Sheriff's Office, Mengel said.

Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer 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 Gaona 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 Gaona. He was immediately taken to a nearby hospital.


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