Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office releases unedited footage of fatal shooting involving deputies

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office released 11 videos Thursday of unedited body-camera footage and five unedited audio clips surrounding the July 29 fatal shooting of a 36-year-old farmworker by a deputy.|

About the shooting

David Pelaez-Chavez, a 36-year-old farmworker, was shot and killed by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Dietrick about 10 a.m. Friday, July 29 after a 45-minute foot chase through rugged terrain near Geyserville.

Deputies had been called to the sparsely populated rural area earlier in the morning to investigate what appeared to be an abandoned car, which turned out to be registered to Pelaez-Chavez.

A short time later, two homeowners called 911 to report someone trying to break into their homes. In one case, authorities said a man identified as Pelaez-Chavez threw a rock through a window of a home but ran away after the homeowner threatened him with a gun.

At least one other homeowner in the neighborhood also pulled a gun, forcing Pelaez-Chavez to flee again.

This time he carjacked a pickup belonging to a workman at one of the homes. The workman tried to stop Pelaez-Chavez and was dragged about 20 feet before letting go. He was not injured.

Pelaez-Chavez then stole an ATV, which he later crashed into a creek.

After deputies came upon the ATV, they began chasing Pelaez-Chavez on foot.

Pelaez-Chavez, who had a prison record stemming from assault and weapons charges more than 10 years ago and had been deported at least once, was barefoot and armed with a large rock and two gardening tools.

According to police accounts, he was standing 10 to 15 feet from Dietrick and Deputy Anthony Powers, who attempted to use his stun gun on him.

Investigators say that when the stun gun appeared ineffective, Dietrick fired three shots.

Dietrick has been with the Sheriff’s Office for five years. In 2016, while working as an officer in the Clearlake Police Department, he shot and killed a 46-year-old burglary suspect named Joseph Louis Melvin.

Authorities at the time said the shooting was justified because Melvin, who was found to be high on methamphetamine and armed with a gun, attacked Dietrick with a foot-long steel flashlight, causing the officer to fear for his life.

The incident was captured on body camera footage.

Both local deputies in the July 29 incident have been placed on paid suspension in keeping with standard policy.

Members of Pelaez-Chavez’s family have criticized the Sheriff’s Office for their lack of transparency in the shooting and questioned why “they were hunting him like an animal.”

On Aug. 14, a Sunday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office released a video produced by a Vacaville public relations firm showing selected excerpts from the body camera footage. That video shows deputies attempting to order Pelaez-Chavez to drop to the ground in Spanish.

His reply, in Spanish, was, “You’re going to kill me.”

The state attorney general’s office has declined to investigate the shooting. The local Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach has said it is cannot review the investigation until it is completed.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office released 11 videos of unedited body-camera footage and five unedited audio clips surrounding the July 29 fatal shooting of a 36-year-old farmworker by a deputy.

David Pelaez-Chavez was shot three times by Deputy Michael Dietrick who along with Deputy Anthony Powers had chased him for 45 minutes over rugged terrain. Pelaez-Chavez, who was barefoot, had fled into the woods after reportedly stealing a truck and damaging property on a farm in the Knights Valley.

On Aug. 14, the Sheriff’s Office released edited footage of the events and was criticized by activists and family members of Pelaez-Chavez for not releasing all the videos.

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Juan Valencia clarified that a technical issue prevented some footage from being viewed online, and full clips need to be downloaded to be seen in their entirety.

The footage from Powers’ and Dietrick’s body cameras lasts about 90 minutes to two hours and shows the pair traversing hilly, rugged terrain until the moment they encounter Pelaez-Chavez.

Powers attempted to communicate with Pelaez-Chavez using broken Spanish and deploys a stun gun to subdue him. Dietrick opens fire almost simultaneously.

Both men move into the body, and Powers asks Dietrick if he has gloves. Dietrick appears to be attempting to place handcuffs on Pelaez-Chavez, who was on his stomach.

Powers asks if Pelaez-Chavez has a pulse and then says, “Hey, let’s not cuff him yet. Let’s (expletive) work on him first.”

“Alright,” Dietrick replies.

They performed CPR on him for about 16 minutes before backup arrived. Pelaez-Chavez’s body is blurred out in the rest of the footage.

Other footage shows the two deputies being interviewed by a third sheriff’s official who was airlifted to the scene.

Dietrick tells the official he fired three to five shots and that Pelaez-Chavez was not armed with a firearm. He said that instead, he had a hammer, a hatchet and a rock.

Powers tells the official he did not fire his gun. He shot his Taser and hit Pelaez-Chavez in his arm and wrist.

A paramedic who examines Pelaez-Chavez tells the official he was shot once in the arm, once in the chest and appears to have been struck in the head.

The audio file contains recordings of phone calls between deputies, dispatchers and people who reported an abandoned vehicle, followed by a break-in at the Knights Valley farm.

It appears the first call to the Sheriff’s Office was a report about an abandoned silver Nissan that had been driven at a high speed onto the property and then left there.

Throughout the pursuit of Pelaez-Chavez, dispatchers are unable to identify him and are not able to provide pursuing deputies any information about his criminal record.

The Nissan was not registered to Pelaez-Chavez. However, after his death, it was determined to be a vehicle he used regularly, according to Sgt. Chris Mahurin with the Santa Rosa Police Department, which is investigating the shooting.

According to the audio recordings, the deputies were aware that Pelaez-Chavez was barefoot and carrying rocks.

There is no indication they believed him to be armed with a firearm, though when they found him, he was holding gardening tools. Deputies and dispatchers also speculated early on that the man they were pursuing could be going through a mental health crisis.

It is difficult to tell from the audio at any point which deputy is speaking.

Before the foot chase, one of the responding deputies discusses with the dispatcher whether the person they’re pursuing could be “51-50,” police code for someone who can be involuntarily committed for being a danger to themselves or others.

One of the callers who interacted with Pelaez-Chavez told dispatchers the farmworker “was asking me to kill him,” as the Sheriff’s Office previously stated.

According to the caller, Pelaez-Chavez had also tried to convey, in poor English, that “he was being hunted or that someone was coming after him. And I said, ‘Who?’ And he wouldn’t tell me. He was barefoot.”

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi

About the shooting

David Pelaez-Chavez, a 36-year-old farmworker, was shot and killed by Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Dietrick about 10 a.m. Friday, July 29 after a 45-minute foot chase through rugged terrain near Geyserville.

Deputies had been called to the sparsely populated rural area earlier in the morning to investigate what appeared to be an abandoned car, which turned out to be registered to Pelaez-Chavez.

A short time later, two homeowners called 911 to report someone trying to break into their homes. In one case, authorities said a man identified as Pelaez-Chavez threw a rock through a window of a home but ran away after the homeowner threatened him with a gun.

At least one other homeowner in the neighborhood also pulled a gun, forcing Pelaez-Chavez to flee again.

This time he carjacked a pickup belonging to a workman at one of the homes. The workman tried to stop Pelaez-Chavez and was dragged about 20 feet before letting go. He was not injured.

Pelaez-Chavez then stole an ATV, which he later crashed into a creek.

After deputies came upon the ATV, they began chasing Pelaez-Chavez on foot.

Pelaez-Chavez, who had a prison record stemming from assault and weapons charges more than 10 years ago and had been deported at least once, was barefoot and armed with a large rock and two gardening tools.

According to police accounts, he was standing 10 to 15 feet from Dietrick and Deputy Anthony Powers, who attempted to use his stun gun on him.

Investigators say that when the stun gun appeared ineffective, Dietrick fired three shots.

Dietrick has been with the Sheriff’s Office for five years. In 2016, while working as an officer in the Clearlake Police Department, he shot and killed a 46-year-old burglary suspect named Joseph Louis Melvin.

Authorities at the time said the shooting was justified because Melvin, who was found to be high on methamphetamine and armed with a gun, attacked Dietrick with a foot-long steel flashlight, causing the officer to fear for his life.

The incident was captured on body camera footage.

Both local deputies in the July 29 incident have been placed on paid suspension in keeping with standard policy.

Members of Pelaez-Chavez’s family have criticized the Sheriff’s Office for their lack of transparency in the shooting and questioned why “they were hunting him like an animal.”

On Aug. 14, a Sunday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office released a video produced by a Vacaville public relations firm showing selected excerpts from the body camera footage. That video shows deputies attempting to order Pelaez-Chavez to drop to the ground in Spanish.

His reply, in Spanish, was, “You’re going to kill me.”

The state attorney general’s office has declined to investigate the shooting. The local Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach has said it is cannot review the investigation until it is completed.

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