An investigation into the shooting death last year of a Sacramento man by a California Highway Patrol officer in Siskiyou County has concluded the man attacked the officer with a knife after a confrontation on a roadway over Interstate 5, Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey said.
The yearlong probe into the June 4, 2016, shooting of Daniel Shaham, 31, was delivered to the Siskiyou County District Attorney’s Office on Thursday for a decision on whether charges are warranted in the case.
Lopey said the investigation includes evidence from witnesses and video from the CHP patrol car.
“There is some video evidence,” he said. “I’m not going to give you any details because the investigation is still underway.”
Lopey said the Sheriff’s Office did not include recommendations in the findings delivered to the district attorney, but he said he believed the officer’s actions that day were “reasonable.”
“I feel that the officer was in a very, very difficult situation,” Lopey said. “It was a dangerous situation, it was rapidly evolving, it was tense. Potentially, there was a threat of imminent, great bodily harm or death ... and the officer’s actions as best as I could determine from the case were reasonable, given the circumstances.”
Shaham’s death is the subject of a wrongful death lawsuit filed in federal court in Sacramento on behalf of his mother, Denise Smart, that names the CHP and Officer Paul Shadwell among the defendants.
The lawsuit claims Shaham was not armed and posed no threat to Shadwell, and that the “use of unnecessary and excessive deadly force” was done “without a legitimate law enforcement purpose.”
Oakland attorney Michael Haddad filed the lawsuit in May, and questioned Monday why the account of Shaham attacking the CHP officer was not described in the sheriff’s first press release about the incident.
He also said that information Shaham’s family received from the sheriff’s investigator was that video from the incident does not conclusively show whether Shaham was armed with a knife.
“We’re just going to have to wait and see,” Haddad said. “It’s totally out of character for Daniel to have acted that way. He was not a threatening sort of person and we’ll see what the evidence shows.”
Haddad said last week that he had received only limited information from authorities about their investigation.
The sheriff said the investigation was not ready for delivery to District Attorney Kirk Andrus for review until last week, and said the amount of time taken to complete it stemmed from a desire to conduct a “thorough, comprehensive investigation that includes all the factual information.” He also said an increase in crime in his area that has kept the county jail full has added to his deputies’ workloads.
Shaham, 31, was a former chemistry major at Sacramento State who lived in Sacramento with his mother. He had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness that can include symptoms of depression, hallucinations and delusions. The lawsuit describes Shaham as “moderate- to high-functioning” and says he was returning from a vacation in Northern California when the shooting occurred.
Lopey, who is in his seventh year as sheriff and previously spent 33 years with the CHP, said the incident occurred on the Louie Road overcrossing that passes over Interstate 5 north of Weed.
The area is extremely isolated, but passers-by spotted Shaham acting “suspiciously” and called 911, Lopey said, adding that witnesses said Shaham was standing outside his car at times.
“He was on the overcrossing and people reported to us that it looked like he may be positioning himself to jump off the overcrossing,” Lopey said.
Shadwell responded to the 911 calls and spoke to Shaham, who got back into his vehicle and agreed to leave the area, Lopey said.
“The highway patrolman had every right to determine if this situation was one that was safe, not only for this individual but for freeway traffic,” the sheriff said.
Shadwell returned to his vehicle, but instead of leaving as agreed Shaham remained in his car, Lopey said. Shadwell exited his patrol car and returned to talk to Shaham, the sheriff said. At that point, a confrontation occurred while Shaham was still in his car and refused to follow the officer’s orders, and it continued when Shaham exited the car and attacked Shadwell with a knife in his hand, the sheriff said.
Shadwell shot Shaham during the incident, Lopey said, and a death certificate indicates Shaham sustained “multiple gunshot wounds.”
Shadwell was not injured, “but I know that the officer’s really bothered by what happened,” Lopey said.
The sheriff noted that law enforcement is seeing more problem activity as a result of ballot measures and court fights that led to the release of more prison inmates in recent years.
“Peace officers, in my opinion, I think the job out there is much more dangerous,” Lopey said. “And we also have some significant problems dealing with mentally ill persons and people with drugs and the homeless (more) than we really have seen during my career.”
Shaham had no criminal record, according to his attorney.
The CHP would not comment on the case last week, but Lopey said Shadwell was placed on leave pending a review of the shooting and since has returned to duty.
The district attorney has said he hopes to act quickly to review the investigative findings and decide whether any charges should be filed.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit is pending, with a hearing set for September on whether portions of it should be dismissed.