Crime - Sacto 911

DA: Two shootings by Sacramento police officers last year were legally justifiable

Three Sacramento police officers involved in two shootings last year will not face criminal charges for their actions, according to the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office.

Prosecutors determined the shootings, which occurred July 17 and Aug. 2, were legally justifiable, according to letters from the DA’s Office to police Chief Sam Somers Jr.

The letters mark the final step in the investigative review process for officer-involved shootings. They are the first two shootings to be reviewed by prosecutors since District Attorney Jan Scully abandoned the practice in the summer of 2011, blaming budget cuts, only to resume limited reviews last summer.

The prosecutorial reviews focus solely on criminal liability on the part of law enforcement officers, and not whether the shootings violated any department policy or procedures (that is typically determined by a law enforcement agency’s internal affairs review). The DA’s reviews are based on investigative reports by law enforcement, and not on parallel, independent reviews that DA investigators conducted before the two-year hiatus.

The DA’s Office recently provided the letters to The Sacramento Bee at the newspaper’s request.

In the July shooting, homicide Detective Pat Higgins and Sgt. Rudy Chan fired at a potential homicide suspect during a chaotic encounter off Elder Creek Road. Elijah Rodgers, now 20, was treated at a hospital and later charged with murder in connection with the June 23 death of Alvin Valentine, a 19-year-old Kennedy High graduate.

Higgins and Chan were among detectives who went to the area July 17 to question Rodgers, a validated gang member, about the homicide. When detectives, who were in plainclothes and driving unmarked cars, identified themselves and tried to stop Rodgers, he ran and “repeatedly reached in his waist band,” according to Supervising Deputy District Attorney Tan Thinh’s letter. A handgun fell from Rodgers’ body. During a physical struggle with detectives, Rodgers continued to ignore commands and grab at his waistband, the letter states. Higgins and Chan fired, striking Rodgers once.

Officers found rock cocaine and a glass smoking pipe on Rodgers, and marijuana in a driveway where the struggle took place, Thinh’s letter stated. At the hospital, Rodgers told detectives he did not remember what happened that day. He said the gun might have come from someone he smoked with, or from someone who traded it for cocaine.

The letter also references a jailhouse interview in which Rodgers told The Sacramento Bee that he couldn’t remember the struggle with the detectives because he was high on cocaine, marijuana and possibly an Ecstasy pill.

In connection with the day’s events, Rodgers was charged with resisting arrest, unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon and possessing cocaine base. He is scheduled to return to court April 2 in that case, and April 16 for trial proceedings in his murder case.

In the August shooting, Sacramento police officers headed to the area near Eleanor Avenue and Arcade Boulevard, where known gang members commonly gathered. They found a group of about 30 residents outside one home, some of whom ran when they saw the police arrive. Officer Joshua Kirtlan chased one individual, later identified as Alex Phonhlamuongdy, to a chain link fence that the suspect climbed, according to the letter signed by Deputy District Attorney Ron Linthicum.

The Sacramento Bee is naming Phonhlamuongdy, who was 17 at the time, because he has since been charged as an adult in Sacramento Superior Court in connection with the night’s events.

Kirtlan saw the teen drop a shotgun over the fence, and, once he had cleared the fence himself, put his hands on the shotgun, according to Linthicum’s letter. Kirtlan fired, striking Phonhlamuongdy in a leg.

Another officer reported hearing the sound of a metal object falling to the ground, a sound he attributed to a falling gun, Linthicum wrote. A witness reported seeing someone throw an object over the fence and also heard a “heavy, metal-type object” land on the ground.

After the shooting, officers found five additional, loaded guns hidden in the area where people ran from the police. One of them was a MAC-11, or “Uzi type weapon,” according to Linthicum’s letter. Phonhlamuongdy’s shotgun – which had a sawed-off barrel, making it illegal – was found to be stolen.

In October, Phonhlamuongdy pleaded guilty to a felony charge of carrying a loaded firearm in public while engaged in gang activity and misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and being an active gang member, according to Sacramento Superior Court records available online. He was given one sentence of one year in jail and another sentence of three years in jail.