Investigators confirmed Wednesday that a California Highway Patrol officer fired shots at a 22-year-old Sacramento man, possibly wounding him and setting off a series of events that culminated Tuesday night in the suspect’s death.
The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office will determine whether Tuesday’s shooting was justified, and if the officer involved broke the law in its first official evaluation under a new department protocol that requires a hands-on investigation of every officer-involved shooting in the county.
Reinstating stronger oversight by the District Attorney’s Office is an effort to rebuild public trust and restore accountability in use of force scenarios, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi said Wednesday.
“I don’t think (the lack of supervision by the DA’s Office) had any effect on the findings,” Grippi said. “What I do think it might have had an effect on is public trust in the findings. That’s the main goal of this protocol, is to rebuild public trust and a fair and impartial evaluation.”
Investigators from the District Attorney’s Office joined local law enforcement at the scene of Tuesday’s standoff where the man, later identified as Roberto Jose Leon, was found dead inside a North Natomas home.
They hope to compile an official account of what happened Tuesday, determine who was at fault and whether any protocol or laws were violated in the event, the details of which were, at times, conflicting among the three law enforcement agencies involved.
The incident began about 3:40 p.m. Tuesday on Elkhorn Boulevard, where a CHP officer and a driver got into a “physical altercation” at a traffic stop, officials said. The officer called the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department for backup and said the driver was “potentially armed,” according to a release from the Sheriff’s Department.
It was not immediately clear what kind of weapon the officer believed Leon had been carrying.
Leon eventually fled on foot westbound to Dry Creek Road, where he carjacked a 1989 blue and white Ford Bronco, CHP spokesman Officer Todd Van Lindt said.
The CHP officer told Sheriff’s Department investigators that he believed he shot the man before he fled, according to the news release. The officer was hurt in the scuffle and received medical attention on scene, the Sheriff’s Department said.
But initial reports from a CHP spokesman indicated that neither the officer nor the driver of the Bronco was injured, and it was not immediately clear who fired shots.
Sacramento police spokesman Officer Justin Brown said police and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department dispatched SWAT officers to the 6000 block of Bridgecross Drive after a witness reported seeing a man get out of a vehicle that matched the description of the carjacked vehicle and go into a residence.
Witnesses reported the man appeared to be injured and bleeding as he entered the house, Brown said.
Sheriff’s deputies later found the carjacked vehicle unoccupied in the 1800 block of Dawnelle Way.
Brown said officers reached adults in the residence who came outside and cooperated with authorities, leaving only the suspect inside. But the Sheriff’s Department said that when officers received information that the carjacking fugitive was inside a home about 5:15 p.m., the occupants refused to leave.
SWAT team members found the suspect dead in a bedroom about 7 p.m.
Sacramento police said the relationship between the residents of the house and the suspect was not known, but Brown said the incident was never treated as a hostage situation.
The county Coroner’s Office will determine whether Leon died as a result of a gunshot wound.
No shots were fired during the standoff, police said.
The DA’s investigation will be in accordance with the department’s new protocol, which officially started earlier this month.
The office jumped back into overseeing the investigation of officer-involved shootings after a two-year hiatus during which law enforcement agencies determined whether shootings were justified on their own.
Grippi said budget cuts in 2011 forced the office to lay off several investigators, making it impossible to go out on every officer-involved shooting in the county. Remaining investigators were sent to assist law enforcement agencies only in special circumstances.
From June 2011 until January of this year, law enforcement agencies compiled evidence and wrote up reports on incidents of police use of force themselves. This led to a corrosion of the public’s trust in the process, Grippi said.
The DA’s investigators began reviewing all evidence and written reports in officer-involved shooting cases again in July. In January, they began reporting to scenes, observing interviews and acting in a more hands-on capacity.
Three months after all the evidence is collected, the DA will determine whether the force used was proper, and whether any laws were broken in the process, Grippi said.
“As with every case we evaluate, we look to see if there’s a case here that can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” Grippi said.
The DA’s findings will be posted publicly on the agency’s website.
Call The Bee’s Marissa Lang at (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter at @Marissa_Jae.