During vigil, family calls for more transparency after Sonoma County deputy shoots, kills man

A vigil held Friday for a Lake County man who was shot and killed last week by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy near Healdsburg was filled with prayers and calls for greater transparency over the moments that led up to his death.

The event commemorated the life of David Pelaez-Chavez, the Lower Lake resident who was fatally shot July 29 by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Dietrick in a forested area of the Franz Creek bed.

The vigil began at 6:30 p.m. at Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square and was attended by roughly 80 people, including friends and several members of Pelaez-Chavez’s family.

North Bay Organizing Project, a nonprofit that advocates for social, economic, racial and environmental justice, hosted the event. The group gathered around a small altar set up at the southern corner of the square, where a poster bearing a photo of Pelaez-Chavez was surrounded by candles and flowers.

Speaking at a microphone in front of the altar, local faith leaders led the group through prayers, and community members and Pelaez-Chavez’s relatives vowed they would seek the truth.

“We want them to tell us the truth,” Jose Pelaez, one of the four siblings that attended Friday’s vigil, said regarding law enforcement’s account of what led to Pelaez-Chavez’s death. “They don’t want to say anything and they just write what they want (about the shooting.)”

Authorities say Pelaez-Chavez was holding a hammer, a garden tool similar to a pickax and motioning to throw a large rock at deputies when Dietrick fired three shots at him.

Dietrick fired the rounds from 10 to 15 feet away sometime shortly after 10 a.m. The shooting happened after repeated commands to Pelaez-Chavez that he drop the items in his hands and after another deputy, Anthony Powers, deployed a stun gun against Pelaez-Chavez, authorities said.

Pelaez-Chavez, who police said was yelling and rambling words before the shooting, was declared dead at the scene 30 minutes later. He did not speak English, according to his family.

Deputies began to search for him after an 8:20 a.m. report of an attempted break-in at a home in the 5200 block of Tre Monte Lane. Pelaez-Chavez was suspected of attempting to break into the home and stealing and crashing two vehicles over a period of about 90 minutes before deputies caught up to him, police said.

A person at a home in Pelaez-Chavez’s path confronted him with a gun, prompting Pelaez-Chavez to tell that person to shoot him, authorities said.

John Cregan, chief of the Santa Rosa Police Department, which is investigating the incident, described the first vehicle theft as a carjacking during a Friday meeting with The Press Democrat editorial board.

Carjackings require a suspect to use force to steal a vehicle. A physical altercation occurred when a worker on the property attempted to stop Pelaez-Chavez from stealing the car, a pickup truck, which led the worker to be dragged on the ground for 20 feet, police said.

That description of Pelaez-Chavez was in conflict with the man family and friends said they knew.

Healdsburg resident Rocio Gonzalez, 45, said she’s known the Pelaez family for more than 20 years. She knew the family to be hardworking people, and described Pelaez-Chavez as a relaxed and respectful person.

“I was surprised,” Gonzalez said. “We didn’t believe the version given to us by the (sheriff’s office) because he’s not like that.”

Both Dietrick and Powers had their body cameras on during their search for Pelaez-Chavez, Santa Rosa police Sgt. Chris Mahurin said. And the shooting was captured on video, he added.

That video, however, has yet to be released to the public.

A law that went into effect in 2019, Assembly Bill 748, requires law enforcement agencies to release video and audio records of critical incidents that involve use of force by police that results in death or serious injuries, or when officers fire a firearm at a person.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office will be responsible for releasing the footage, Mahurin added. The law requires the release within 45 days unless the agency believes releasing the materials “would substantially interfere with the investigation.”

Press Democrat Staff Writers Colin Atagi and Alana Minkler contributed to this story.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.