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Appeal Deadline Looms for Disciplined Police Officers in Covarrubius Killing

Nine sworn members of the Santa Maria Police Department face a Monday deadline to decide whether to appeal disciplinary actions against them related to the fatal shooting of fellow Officer Albert Covarrubias Jr. in January 2012.

Officer Albert Covarrubias Jr.
Officer Albert Covarrubias Jr.

Police Chief Ralph Martin said Wednesday that the 10-day window for the officers to challenge his disciplinary decisions began last Thursday, when they were all notified, and will expire Monday.

Those subject to departmental sanctions ranged from the level of officer up to the command staff, Martin said, with the discipline ranging from minor punishment to termination.

Martin said he could not disclose how many members of his department face loss of their jobs. Those who do have been suspended and removed from active duty, he said, and those facing lesser sanctions might be required to undergo additional training or face reprimands.

“My whole intent by doing this is to ensure that this type of activity never happens again in the city of Santa Maria ...,” Martin said. “I think my primary goal is to bring some closure to this case. It’s been going on way too long.”

Covarrubius, 29, was shot in the early morning hours of Jan. 28, 2012, as two of his supervisors attempted to arrest him for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old member of the department’s Police Explorers program.

Three rounds from a .45-caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun fired by Officer Matthew Kline struck Covarrubias, according to an 18-page report released by Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley.

A later autopsy determined that Covarrubias died from a shot that struck him in the neck, the report indicated.

The shooting happened as Covarrubias was among a group of officers who were breaking down a DUI checkpoint at McElhany Avenue and Broadway at about 1:20 a.m., when Sgt. Chris Nartatez and Sgt. Mark Norling attempted to take him into custody.

“Sgt. Nartatez and Sgt. Norling walked direclty toward Officer Covarrubias,” according to Dudley’s report. “As they did so, Officer Covarrubias backed away from them. Sgt. Nartatez reached toward Officer Covarrubias. As Sgt. Nartatez grabbed for him, Officer Covarrubias pulled his gun out.”

Police Chief Ralph Martin
Police Chief Ralph Martin

As Nartatez struggled to control Covarrubias, the report states, Covarrubias fired a single shot, which did not hit anyone. In the ensuing struggle, as Nartatez tried to disarm Covarrubias, Kline move in closer to the battling men.

“Sgt. Nartatez was on top of Officer Covarrubias and continued to yell for help,” according to the report. “It appeared to Officer Kline that Sgt. Norling was in the vicinity of where the firearm was being pointed. Officer Kline moved in and fired three rounds.

“Officer Kline, a friend of Officer Covarrubias, saw a life-threatening situation unfold in front of him. Fearing for the safety of others, and believing he needed to act immediately to preserve the sergeants’ lives, he shot and killed Officer Covarrubias.

Covarrubias was declared dead on arrival at Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria.

“I have taken action in an administrative investigation,” Martin said, adding that the officers were sanctioned because they violated the department’s policies and procedures.

On two occasions, including this week, Dudley’s office has concluded that none of the Santa Maria officers committed any crimes in connection with Covarrubias’ shooting.

“Based upon our independent review, we find here is no evidence of underlying criminal violations by any Santa Maria Police Department personnel with respect to this matter,” Dudley said in a statement released this week.

Any appeals of the disciplinary actions would be made to Martin. If he turns them down, the officers could take their case through the Civil Service process, Martin said, and ultimately to Superior Court.

However, unless the matters go to court, or the officers step forward, their names will not be released, Martin said, citing state codes relating to personnel privacy.

“I feel confident that the department understands the action I’m taking,” Martin said.

“I’m very confident this will not happen again,” he added.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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