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Sonoma County sheriff, city of Santa Rosa release new records on use-of-force cases

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office and the Santa Rosa Police Department separately released files Tuesday detailing internal investigations in a range of cases involving use of deadly force by deputies and officers, including five in which the civilians died.

The Sheriff's Office's disclosure included investigation records in seven cases where suspects were seriously injured or died in encounters with deputies. The Police Department released files relating to a single case in 2016 in which an officer shot a 15-year-old boy in the foot.

No policy violations were found in any of the cases, according to the records. In all the cases, District Attorney Jill Ravitch's office either cleared the involved officers or declined to prosecute.

Included in the Sheriff's Office files were 146 pages of supplemental records from the department's internal investigation into the fatal 2013 shooting of Andy Lopez, a 13-year-old Santa Rosa teen who was fatally shot by then-Deputy Erick Gelhaus.

The Lopez records primarily consist of Sheriff's Office policy and training documents, not specific to the Lopez case, outlining procedures for use of firearms. They also contain dispatch logs from the call during and after the shooting, showing deputies directing traffic and securing the scene, as well as a letter from the FBI stating that it had opened an investigation into the shooting - a routine step in a case where an officer shoots a civilian, according to the bureau.

For Santa Rosa, the disclosure marks the first of at least eight records released by the city and police department under California's new police transparency law. The city had previously withheld those documents, citing a separate, largely unrelated state Supreme Court case that is ongoing.

“This is the first time that we've ever put something out, so we thought it was appropriate and important to be clear and transparent with the public to let them know what's going on,” said Santa Rosa Police Capt. Ray Navarro.

He and Chief Hank Schreeder appear in a video accompanying the documents, all of which were posted on a public webpage, srcity.org/3093/Transparency-Information.

The records released Tuesday by the city included 200 pages of partially redacted incident reports related to an officer's shooting of a suicidal teenager at Coffey Park in 2016.

Police also provided about 370 photographs and several clips from officers' body-worn cameras related to the shooting. The images included screenshots of farewell text messages the teen sent to friends, graphic images of his wounded foot and aerial photographs police took from the sheriff's helicopter.

The records detail how the 15-year-old Maria Carrillo student snuck out of his home late May 23, 2016, and went to Coffey Park, carrying an unloaded pellet gun that resembled a real handgun and lacked an orange tip marking it as a replica. The boy called 911 to report a suspicious person near the park who was holding a gun - himself.

Santa Rosa Officer Brian Fix responded to the call. He activated his body-worn camera after spotting the boy and telling him to “come here.” Released video shows him screaming at the boy. “Get your hands up!” he yells several times. “Don't do it! Step away! Step away from the gun right now!” he continues. “Come towards me! Come towards me! I know what you're going through. Come towards me! Don't do it!”

The video continues, showing Fix firing two shots at the boy, one round hitting him in the foot. The shooting happens within 35 seconds.

In the explainer video, Navarro says Fix followed the law and acted in accordance with department policies. The officer had been on the job for just over a year at the time of the shooting. He remains on the force in Santa Rosa.

The boy's name remains undisclosed because of his age.

The records released by the Sheriff's Office also involved use-of-force cases.

One record detailed a 2018 in-custody death in which 44-year-old Roderic Bernard Cameron died in a Sonoma mobile home park after being repeatedly shocked by sheriff's deputies with Taser weapons. Cameron was smashing lights in the mobile home park and covered in blood when deputies responded to the scene, according to the records. After shocking him repeatedly, deputies handcuffed him and were preparing to place a restraint cord around his waist when they realized he was no longer responding.

Deputies tried to revive Cameron, but he was taken to the hospital and later pronounced dead, according to the records. A summary of the coroner's report on Cameron's death says he died following cardiac arrest - “fatal cardiac dysrhythmia.” The coroner's description of the cause of the cardiac arrest was redacted.

Another record related to the fatal shooting of a woman in April 2015 after she led authorities on a high-speed chase from Windsor to a Sebastopol parking lot on Highway 116.

Once there, the woman, Karen Janks, 46, put her car in reverse and struck three deputies who were attempting to approach her, the files showed. Four deputies, including two who had been hit by the car, fired several rounds at Janks, who died at a hospital later that day.

The deputies hit by the car suffered cuts and bruises. In another case, the Sheriff's Office found that a deputy who shot and injured a man who pointed a shotgun at authorities from the balcony of his Guerneville apartment earlier that month acted appropriately.

Deputy Theodore Van Bebber shot Jeffrey Singleton after he and other deputies responded to a call about a woman and man who were arguing.

A second caller said the Singleton had threatened someone with a knife in the apartment's carport area.

Singleton emerged onto the balcony of his apartment and pointed a shotgun at deputies, and Van Bebber shot him in the left shoulder, according to authorities.

Singleton was taken to a hospital and subsequently arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, the records show.

Deputies later discovered that Singleton's shotgun was not loaded at the time.

In May 2018, Deputy Michael Matelli fired two shots at a man named Ryan Pritel, missing both times, after Pritel shot him with “snake shot” pellets at a Sonoma car wash on Highway 12. Pritel surrendered moments later.

He was arrested and charged with multiple felony counts, and the case was suspended after he was found mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Another case involved Sgt. Brian Parks, who shot and wounded a suicidal man in a Windsor church parking lot in early 2017.

Deputies initially attempted to negotiate with the man, Luis Santiago Olmedo, after finding him talking on his phone and crying in the driver's seat of a car with what appeared to be a black handgun in his lap.

They convinced him to leave the vehicle, but after he reached back inside the Nissan, one deputy shot him with a nonlethal “sponge” round. Parks used his firearm to shoot him one time in the midsection and unleashed a police dog to drag Olmedo away from the handgun, which turned out to be a pellet gun.

Parks previously shot and killed a kidnapping suspect in early 2013. He was cleared of wrongdoing in that case as well.

The final case released by the Sheriff's Office related to the October 2017 shooting of Shawn Hart by deputies Charlie Blount and Jason Little.

According to the records, deputies received a report that Hart had assaulted someone using a stolen white GMC pickup.

Hart rammed the pickup into Blount's patrol car and “displayed criminal indicators which led Deputy Blount to believe he was orienting his position … for a possible assault with a firearm,” according to the records. Blount fired three shots at Hart, striking him twice, and Little fired once and missed.

Hart was arrested and charged with two counts of assault on an officer with a deadly weapon and received a suspended sentence of three years.

In all of the cases released by the Sheriff's Office Tuesday, the suspects were going through mental health crises at the time of the incidents, said Sheriff Mark Essick, highlighting the challenges for law enforcement in dealing with people who are suffering from mental illness.

“I think the common theme here is that all of these have a significant mental health component to them,” he said. “We do everything we can to defuse the situation, calm it down, but sometimes when someone with mental illness is equipped with a firearm, a deadly weapon, it shows how intense it can get very quickly.”

The disclosures came in response to records requests filed earlier this year by The Press Democrat and other media outlets.

A local activist group known as Sonoma Citizens for Transparency in Government filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office last week demanding the release of additional documents related to the Lopez shooting after the Sheriff's Office released a 76-page summary report of its investigation into the shooting in April.

A lawyer for the group did not return a request for comment Tuesday.

Joshua Myers, a deputy county counsel for Sonoma County, said in an email the county has not yet been served with the lawsuit and is “talking with SCTG's attorney to resolve the issues raised by the lawsuit.”

Essick said Tuesday that additional records would be released related to some of the cases, including body-worn camera video for the cases in which video exists.

He said the process for redacting video takes longer than redacting written documents, and the office wanted to release records as soon as they were ready. He also said more records in the Andy Lopez case would be released as soon as redactions were done.

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