Crime - Sacto 911

Citrus Heights officer who shot suspect said he felt a gun in his pocket, department says

Nickolas Russo.
Nickolas Russo.

The Citrus Heights Police officer who shot at a man as he fled believed the man was carrying a handgun in his jacket pocket, the Citrus Heights Police Department announced Wednesday morning, three days after the shooting occurred.

The announcement was one of many new details provided in a news release from the department regarding the early morning officer-involved shooting Sunday that left one man, identified as Nickolas Russo, 24, hospitalized with gunshot wounds.

On Tuesday, Russo’s mother, Crystal Lima, said she didn’t understand why her son had been shot. “I know my son; he’s not a violent person. For whatever reason, whatever was going on, he was scared.”

An initial news release from the department did not say Russo had brandished a weapon at the officer, or that the officer knew he had a weapon at all.

“I don’t understand why it took four days for all of this to come forward. Why was none of this mentioned before?” Lima said.

While the first news release mentioned that a gun was found in Russo’s possession, it was not clear that Russo was carrying it on him or was seen allegedly reaching toward it during the run-in with the officer. The police department also said Wednesday it would be seeking charges against Russo of being under the influence of a controlled substance and possession of methamphetamine with the intent to sell, information that was not originally disclosed.

There was little indication that Russo posed an immediate threat to the officer.

Lima saw her son for the first time Wednesday afternoon and Russo, unable to speak because of tubes down his throat, wrote on a piece of paper that “this ain’t right, mama, this ain’t right,” Lima said.

The department had not yet interviewed the officer involved in the shooting prior to the publishing of the initial news release, and that’s why it contained few details, said Lt. David Gutierrez. The officer was identifed as Sergeant Shaun Gualco, a 9-year veteran with the department.

The incident started at about 2:45 a.m. at the parking lot of the Ranch Motel, which the department says is known as a hotspot for criminal activity. Gualco noticed Russo sitting in the driver’s seat of a car and a female standing near an open passenger door of the same car.

When Gualco went to contact the pair, he saw evidence that suggested the sale of illegal drugs in the car, the department said in the news release. Gualco also noticed signs that suggested Russo might have been under the influence of drugs.

Gualco decided to search Russo, the department said, and felt what he “recognized to be a handgun in Russo’s jacket pocket. At that moment, Russo resisted the officer’s efforts and fled on foot.”

Gualco fired a gun at Russo during the chase after seeing him reach into the same pocket where he thought a gun was located. Fearing that Russo would shoot at him, the officer shot at Russo to stop him, the department said.

Neighbors said the pursuit ended at the Rosie’s Country Kitchen parking lot, a restaurant neighboring the motel. A gun was found on Russo’s body after the shooting, Gutierrez said.

The woman who was with Russo, and who knew him, was not arrested in the incident, he added.

“We determined that she had not committed any crimes,” he said. “She was cooperative with the investigation.”

Samuel McKinley was having an early morning cigarette on Sunday in the backyard of his Citrus Heights home when he heard a series of gunshots, he said. An entryway into his cul-de-sac off of Auburn Boulevard and two brick walls separate the backyard of his home from the parking lot where a wounded Russo was found.

He said he heard no yelling or commands to stop before Gualco fired the gun, but he did hear yelling after the shots.

“I ran upstairs to see what was going on,” McKinley said Tuesday. “(The officer) was pointing his gun down. He kept yelling at him; he called him by his name.”

A similar scene was also described by Mario Tagle, 48, who lives in a home at the back of the restaurant’s parking lot. He was awakened to the sound of gunfire early Sunday.

“The cop was on the sidewalk, aiming at him,” Tagle said.

A swarm of police cars came to the empty parking lot within 30 seconds of the shooting. Russo was quickly loaded into an ambulance, Tagle said.

A man who identified himself as the owner of the Ranch Motel, the only hotel on the 6200 block of Auburn Boulevard, where police say the incident started, declined to speak to The Sacramento Bee on Tuesday. Three surveillance cameras pointed into the motel’s parking lot.

Gutierrez said while surveillance camera video of the incident may exist, that video was part of the department’s evidence and would not be made public.

Across the street from the restaurant, Sabi Sandhu, a clerk at Super Stop Liquor, said he found a basketball-size hole in the window above the store’s door when he arrived to work Sunday morning. Glass covered the entryway to the store as police officers conducted chemical testing on the store’s glass windows and took photographs of the scene, he said.

Lima said the first shot hit Russo above his elbow and exited through his wrist, shattering his wrist. The second shot hit him behind the knee and lodged in his leg. The third shot hit his abdominal area, causing surgeons to have to remove part of his colon. He also “snapped” his ankle as he fell, Lima said.

The Citrus Heights Police Department shot and killed people at a higher per-capita rate than any other police force of significant size in the state from 2013 through 2016, a Sacramento Bee investigation found earlier this year. The department does not equip their officers with body cameras or in-car cameras.

Citrus Heights Police had a busy week, with three wanted suspects making it onto this list. Take a look at this week's four most wanted fugitives in the Sacramento area.

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets

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