Santa Maria Police Officer Antonio Peña was the off-duty officer involved in the March 25 shooting at Melody Market where 19-year-old Santa Maria resident José Manuel Reyes Rios died, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.
Along with Peña’s name, the Sheriff’s Office shared surveillance video from exterior cameras at Melody Market—a nearly nine-minute clip (which may be disturbing to some viewers) that shows the incident from two different angles.
Santa Maria Police Department Administrative Cmdr. Dan Cohen told the Sun on May 23 Peña had returned to work after being placed on administrative leave following the March 25 shooting.
Immediately following the incident, the Police Department began an administrative investigation to see whether Peña violated department policies, while the Sheriff’s Office simultaneously started its criminal investigation to determine whether crimes occurred. Both are ongoing. Once the Sheriff’s Office completes its investigation, the county District Attorney’s Office will conduct a review to determine if any crimes were committed.
“All cases are different and have a different timeline with different complexities that might make them move quicker or slow down, and the District Attorney’s Office has to conduct a review, and depending on that review it might be quicker or it will take some time,” Cohen said.
This case is different from an on-duty shooting because the officer wasn’t responding to a call for emergency services or in his uniform or using his police car—which will all be taken into consideration along with the tactics and tools Peña used, Cohen said.
In the footage, two vehicles with four occupants in each vehicle approach Melody Market just before 8 p.m., with Reyes Rios in one of the cars. At 7:58 p.m., Peña arrived in his personal vehicle followed by a family with a child.
When Peña exited the store and returned to his vehicle, the groups were engaged in a physical altercation. Two people involved got hit by one of the vehicles, and Reyes Rios brandished a weapon and ran past Peña’s vehicle while firing at the group.
The video has no audio, but according to the Sheriff’s Office, Peña verbally identified himself as an officer and ordered Rios to stop shooting and surrender.
“[Reyes] Rios did not comply with Officer Peña’s command, raising his firearm and shooting again at the other group and toward an occupied restaurant,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. “In that moment, Officer Peña fired at Rios until he dropped to the ground.”
Officer Peña called emergency services on his cellphone, ushered the bystanders into the market, and sheltered them inside until deputies arrived. Rios was pronounced dead at the scene and was in possession of a ghost gun, a firearm without a serial number typically assembled from parts.
The Coroner’s Office determined that Reyes Rios died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds. The Sun inquired about an autopsy report and Sherriff’s Office Public Information Officer Raquel Zick said that the full report isn’t available for release.
Cmdr. Cohen said that Santa Maria Police Chief Marc Schneider met with Reyes Rios’ family to view the video prior to its release to the public accompanied by Rebekah Spicuglia, the executive director for racial justice nonprofit One Community Action.
Spicuglia told the Sun that her team has since been helping the mother apply for a rental assistance grant, connected her to Community Health Care Clinics and food assistance, and welcomed her into OCA’s bereaved moms group that provides a space for parents to process grief and honor loved ones lost to violence, Spicuglia said.
“There are too many bereaved moms in this community. It’s not normal, it shouldn’t be accepted as normal, and we need as a matter of urgency everyone to come together to create a plan for violence prevention, intervention, and aftercare to support the victims and their families,” Spicuglia said.
As part of OCA’s effort to develop programs and collaboration opportunities with other agencies, the nonprofit is reaching out to local government agencies and law enforcement to facilitate conversations between the agencies and the bereaved moms group about what’s needed in the community to address violence, Spicuglia said.
“I would hope and expect that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff, Santa Maria Police Department, Santa Maria City Council, and Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors would want to hear what these moms will have to say,” she said. “We are doing our part. It’s time for the city and county to step up—specifically on creating a plan to address gun violence that looks at prevention, intervention, and aftercare.”