With a knife in hand, Chad Irwin knew sheriff’s deputies would shoot him, according to a new Sacramento County District Attorney’s review.
“I know what happens,” Irwin, 40, told deputies last August as he stood across the street from his Brahms Way home, his wife and two daughters inside. “I know what this is. You guys are going to kill me.”
Soon after, Irwin was dead from multiple gunshot wounds.
Sacramento County sheriff’s field-training Officer James Spurgeon and deputy David Conger went to the Citrus Heights cul-de-sac after dispatchers received a hang-up call from the Irwin residence at 8:31 p.m. on Aug. 18.
Irwin and his wife, Allison Irwin, had gotten into an argument after she discovered he was drinking at a bar before he was supposed to pick up one of his daughters from an activity at 8 p.m., according to the DA’s review. After a text message exchange led to an ultimatum asking him to stay away, he returned to the house and expressed suicidal thoughts as their argument continued.
Irwin was gone by the time deputies arrived, about nine minutes after the hang-up call. Allison Irwin told them she was worried about her husband, who had mixed alcohol with prescription pain medication and had made suicidal comments, the report said. She also told them he was carrying a knife.
Irwin was approached by Spurgeon and Conger when he returned home later that night, stopping his car about 70 feet in front of where the officers had parked. Spurgeon and Conger got out of the patrol car and walked toward Irwin, with Spurgeon observing that Irwin appeared agitated and was breathing heavily, the shooting review said.
Spurgeon told Irwin to calm down and that he was not in trouble. Conger flashed a flashlight on Irwin and saw a knife in his hand, which he was holding in an inverted position so that the blade was pointing toward his elbow, the shooting summary said.
Both deputies drew their guns and told Irwin to drop the knife. He refused.
Instead, Irwin held the knife with the blade facing out while “moving his arm in a forward motion” and quickly taking three steps toward the officers, the District Attorney’s Office wrote. The review said eyewitnesses estimated Spurgeon was about 5 to 20 feet away from Irwin at the time of the shooting.
Spurgeon fired 11 rounds at Irwin, striking him seven times. Conger did not fire his weapon, according to the report.
The Sheriff’s Department initially said Irwin returned home at 9:13 p.m., though the District Attorney’s review of the incident does not include times for Irwin’s return to Brahms Court or when Spurgeon fired his weapon.
A summary of the shooting review, which was forwarded to the Sheriff’s Department on June 23, said Spurgeon had good reason to believe Irwin would either kill or seriously injure him or Conger. The DA’s Office determined the shooting was lawful for that reason.
“When Irwin brandished the knife with the blade facing out and advanced toward the deputies from only a short distance away, deputy Spurgeon made a split-second decision to fire his handgun at Irwin to defend himself and deputy Conger,” the summary said.
Irwin’s family filed a complaint against Sacramento County on March 29, alleging that the officer who shot Irwin acted negligently and recklessly, leading to his wrongful death and causing emotional distress to his wife and two daughters.
Roger Dreyer, an attorney representing Irwin’s family, said the deputies were aware that Irwin had made suicidal comments to his wife. The DA’s review said Irwin unsuccessfully tried to access a gun locked in a safe in the couple’s bedroom during his verbal argument with his wife while saying, “I might as well kill myself.”
Irwin later made his way downstairs, grabbed a knife from his car and placed it against his stomach before he drove away.
Dreyer also said the deputies knew Irwin may have been intoxicated and mixing alcohol with prescription drugs. They were told he had a knife in his possession based on the conversation they had with Irwin’s wife earlier that night. A blood alcohol level of 0.15 percent, as well as caffeine, diphenhydramine, citalopram and oxycodone were found in Irwin’s blood, the report said.
“Are they supposed to accommodate some guy that wants to commit suicide?” Dreyer said. “They want to push a guy standing off a ledge? I don’t think so.”
Dreyer said he was disappointed in the district attorney’s review of the shooting and did not agree that the shooting was justified.
“They want to dress it up as a threat to justify their conduct but now we have a wife and two daughters without a father,” he said.
Sacramento County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Nick Goncalves said the department does not comment on ongoing litigation. Sacramento County spokeswoman Kimberly Nava said the same for the county.
Ed Obayashi, a use-of-force expert and legal adviser for several law enforcement agencies across the state, said the shooting was a clear example of a suicide-by-cop incident based on the district attorney’s review.
The deputies were put “between a rock and a hard place” when they attempted to calm Irwin but were unable to stop him from advancing toward them, Obayashi said.
“It’s hard to conceive any other aspect in police work that would prepare an officer for this in their career,” he said. “We’re here to protect the public (and) preserve the peace. It’s not to kill someone who wants to die.”
Suicide-by-cop shootings are not tracked statewide or nationally but are relatively rare, Obayashi said. It is almost impossible to anticipate or prevent such shootings, he added.
“Were they supposed to call the SWAT team? Were they supposed to call the the psychiatric response team? The guy wasn’t even there,” Obayashi said of the deputies waiting for Irwin to return home. “What are they supposed to do? They are going to try to calm him down and defuse the situation.”
Irwin’s father, Kenneth Irwin, said that although he wasn’t at the scene of the shooting, he did not believe his son would attack an officer with a knife. He had worked alongside his son at the family’s cabinet and counter business since Irwin was a teen.
A previous Sacramento Bee story said Irwin had two young daughters and was a regular at a local jiujitsu academy.
“I don’t believe he was a bad enough person to be shot and killed,” his father said. “I think there were other ways of handling it.”