The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office found two Sacramento-area officers justified in firing their weapons in separate incidents early last year, according to a review of the officer-involved shootings.
One of the officers was identified as Elk Grove policeman Bruce Husung, a 14-year-veteran of the department who was hit in the leg by a car but not injured while approaching a man in a stolen vehicle on Jan. 26.
The man, then 23-year-old Lance Bernaix, survived nine bullet wounds and is in state prison on charges of car theft and assault with a deadly weapon, according to the review.
He is being held in Crescent City’s Pelican Bay State Prison, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation records show.
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The second officer was Sacramento County Sheriff’s Sgt. Patrick Gallagher, who responded to a call of a man stealing goods and using a knife to remove tags Feb. 2 from a Rancho Cordova Walmart on Folsom Boulevard.
Gallagher and his partner, Sgt. Mark Hatzenbuhler, each deployed their Tasers and used pepper spray on 30-year-old Folsom resident Justin Prescott before Gallagher fired his gun two times. Prescott died as a result of his wounds.
The district attorney’s review of the incident found Prescott had stolen items from the Walmart and told a loss prevention employee that he would cut himself in the throat with a knife if the employee did not let him go.
He continued to hold the knife to his throat as the two sheriff’s deputies tried to stop him in an adjacent Safeway parking lot.
“The circumstances here were much more than an individual apparently threatening to commit suicide,” said the shooting review. “Prescott has just committed a crime and was seeking to avoid apprehension.”
Both reviews are dated Nov. 28, 2016.
The Bee was not able to reach family members of either man to get their reaction to the district attorney’s reviews, which occur in all officer-involved shootings in Sacramento County. Officer-involved shootings have been a source of controversy nationwide in recent years. The Sacramento City Council recently adopted a series of police reforms in response to a public outcry over the shooting of Joseph Mann in North Sacramento.
In the district attorney’s review of the first shooting, investigators found that Bernaix took a silver Toyota Corolla from a Elk Grove driveway on Farewell Court about 7:10 a.m. Jan. 26. The car’s owner, Anil Ujagar, had left the car running in his driveway as he went into his home to pick up a backpack, according to the shooting review.
Ujagar heard the car speed off, grabbed a different set of keys and chased after Bernaix, calling 911 to report the theft and provide dispatchers with updates.
Bernaix came to a halt at a dead-end street roughly 2 miles away at Sandstone Sea Way, running through at least two stop signs on the way. He parked the stolen Toyota Corolla against traffic, facing the wrong direction, the review said. Ujagar followed a dispatcher’s commands to stop following Bernaix and parked nearby.
Officer Bruce Husung, a 14-year veteran of the Elk Grove Police Department who was patrolling the area on motorcycle, got the call of the stolen vehicle and drove to the dead-end street.
The review said Husung parked the motorcycle behind the stolen car, slightly to the right roughly 20 feet back. As soon as he got off on the left side of the motorcycle, he saw the Toyota Corolla’s reverse lights come on and the car quickly move toward him, according to the review.
Fearing that Bernaix would run him over, Husung fired his gun into the car as he moved to the right side of the vehicle. The car struck him in the left leg and also hit his motorcycle.
He fired additional rounds when the car accelerated forward into a fence, moving back to the left rear side of the car as he did so. Husung tried to open the driver’s side door and radioed dispatchers that shots had been fired.
Bernaix was sent to Kaiser Hospital South for treatment after the shooting. He pleaded no contest to the felony charges in March and told detectives that he was paranoid at the time of the shooting because he was under the influence of methamphetamine.
“If I was in the officer’s shoes, I would have done the same thing,” Bernaix was quoted as saying in the review of the incident.
Unlike Bernaix, Prescott did not survive the bullets that pierced his his neck, right forearm and right abdomen.
Prescott died at approximately 7:47 p.m., about an hour after a Rancho Cordova Walmart employee noticed he passed the store’s cash registers without paying for items he had taken, according to the district attorney’s review.
A store camera recorded as Prescott took a pocket knife with a 3-inch blade and held it to his throat when the employee confronted him, saying he would hurt himself if he was not let go.
Prescott ran toward the back of a Safeway next to the Walmart. Gallagher and Hatzenbuhler arrived, talked to a Walmart employee about what had happened and drove to the back of the Safeway, where they found Prescott.
The deputies chased him on foot around the west side of the parking lot, each firing their Taser at different times. Hatzenbuhler later tried to pepper-spray Prescott, but the tool did not stop the 30-year-old man.
Prescott then began to say that he was going to kill himself and started to stab himself in the chest with the pocket knife, which he still held despite several commands to drop the weapon.
Prescott ran again, moving to a dark alley behind the Safeway. Fearing that he could not see anything below Prescott’s hand and accidentally moving within 10 feet of him while trying to stop him, Gallagher fired his weapon.
“Sergeant Gallagher believed that he was dangerously too close and he could not step back to contain Prescott,” the shooting review said. “He was concerned what Prescott would do, as Prescott repeatedly refused to comply with any of their directives.”
Two Wii remotes were found on the ground, which investigators later determined Prescott had stolen from the store and dropped as he was running from police. His brother and a friend told deputies that the man had made suicidal comments in the past. Prescott’s girlfriend told authorities that he told her he never wanted to return to jail.
Forensics results showed amphetamine, methamphetamine and morphine were present in Prescott’s blood. Prescott had a blood alcohol level of 0.07 percent.
Both Bernaix and Prescott had run-ins with the law before the 2016 shootings. Prescott pleaded no contest for a theft charge in 2007, a felony robbery in 2008 and more recently, a 2015 battery charge. Bernaix also pleaded no contest to several charges since 2012, including grand theft, felony possession of methamphetamine and vehicle theft.