An apparently suicidal man armed with a knife was shot and killed by police in Santa Maria on Wednesday after he advanced toward officers with the weapon, according to the Santa Maria Police Department.
Officers had been negotiating with the man for about 30 minutes prior to the shooting, which occurred at about 9:30 a.m. near the intersection of South Broadway and Enos Drive, said Police Chief Ralph Martin.
Police had shot some 15 “less-than-lethal” rounds — bean bags and 40-mm projectiles — in an attempt to subdue the man, Martin said.
“He did go down,” Martin said. “I’m told that he got back up. He charged at the officers with the knife in his hand, and three officers used their handguns and shot the person.”
The man was taken to Marian Regional Medical Center, and police said Wednesday afternoon that he had died.
Police originally were dispatched to the front of FoodsCo at 1465 S. Broadway at about 8:45 a.m. to a report of a man in the street, armed with knife and screaming obscenities, Martin said.
“He was holding a knife to his throat, asking that we kill him, which we would not do,” Martin said.
An FBI-trained negotiator was brought in and attempted to get the man to surrender, Martin said, “but at some point he just quit negotiating with us.”
The officers needed to be close to negotiate, Martin said, putting them at greater risk.
“It’s a clear use of force, but I believe at this point we did everything we could to use less than lethal force, and unfortunately it did not work in this case,” Martin said. “So I’m just hoping the person survives.”
The incident occurred at an intersection with two busy shopping centers, Martin said, adding that police didn’t want the man to flee and put members of the public in danger.
While bystanders noted a heavy barrage of gunfire, Martin said the vast majority involved less-than-lethal rounds, some of which were akin to a tennis ball.
“If he got back up after that, then clearly we had somebody who was intent on harming himself or our officers,” Martin said.
Bullet-proof vests do not stop knives, the police chief added.
Martin said the man is known to police, but he would not disclose the name pending notification of relatives.
The three officers involved in the shooting will be placed on administrative leave for at least five days, Martin said, and will receive psychological counseling.
All three fired their handguns after the less than lethal weapons failed to stop the man.
The incident was captured by high-definition dash cameras, Martin said, which will be reviewed as part of the investigation.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department will head up the investigation, which also will be reviewed by the county District Attorney’s Office, Martin said.
Wednesday’s incident marked the third officer-involved shooting in four years for Santa Maria police, with one in 2013 and another in 2015. The previous two shooting occurred during domestic-violence incidents.
After the shooting, a crowd gathered at the scene became hostile, and backup units from the Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol were called in.
Streets in the area were shut down while authorities investigated, and Broadway between Stowell and Battles roads was expected to remain closed for at least six hours.
Spectators gathered to watch the standoff and shooting with some in the crowd hostile toward law enforcement while others offered support. By afternoon, several people had posted videos of the shooting on social media sites.
Richard Chavier — “I’m just a child of God” — showed up at the northeast corner of the intersection to form a circle while holding hands and praying.
His prayed for peace for the man’s family, police and the community, asking for forgiveness and not anger.
“I work down the street and I saw the police helicopter and I thought I’d come and say a prayer,” he said after leading the crowd in prayer. “And that’s all it is — a prayer of peace because these are peace officers and sometimes we forget, we forget we’re not perfect.”
Nipomo resident Tina Sanchez heard about the incident while at the Department of Motor Vehicles office several blocks away, and decided to visit the site to show her support for law enforcement after hearing people were shouting criticism at the Police Department.
Upon arrival, she heard people saying the shooting occurred because the man was Mexican.
“I’m saying, ‘It’s not about Mexicans. It’s not about blacks or whites or Asians or whatever it is. It has nothing to do with that,” Sanchez said, adding, “it’s about right and wrong.”
She added that the critics weren’t thinking of the officers involved in the shooting.
“They woke up this morning, they didn’t think about having to shoot someone today. What about them and what they have to deal with going forward, knowing that they just shot somebody.”
Rosie Torres, who moved to Santa Maria from Oxnard 18 months ago, held a bouquet of six red roses to place at the shooting scene once the police tape was removed.
She wondered why officers didn’t use a stun gun or other method to subdue the man.
“He was a man that was hurting. We could see it,” Torres said. “It was visible that he was hurting. He must have had a bad day, bad time in his life, but that’s still no reason to kill him.”
Torres said she grew up watching “Cops” and recalled officers wrestling with subjects to disarm them.
“Why didn’t they do that to him? Why didn’t they talk him out of it?” she said.
A businessman who declined to give his name said the suspect, who was ranting, held the knife to his neck and made stabbing motions to his abdomen.
“I felt sad for the guy,” he said. “I don’t know that it was completely necessary for them to shoot him.”
He said the crowd of spectators reacted with anger.
At least one rally was planned Wednesday afternoon in front of the Santa Maria Police Station to show support for law enforcement members, with approximately seven people holding signs as passing drivers honked their horns or gave a thumbs up sign.
DonnaRae Link, whose sister-in-law is a police officer and mother was a crime scene analyst, attended the rally with her daughter and son, Savanna and Nicholas.
“They sacrifice their lives every day for us,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to have to make the choices they make.”
Debbie Warren has left the area shortly before the shooting, but saw video with spectators shouting profanity and taunting police.
“I was really bothered by it. I was upset. I was disgusted and I just felt that we needed to do something quickly to support law enforcement that they deserve our respect and our support,” she added
Noozhawk North County Editor Janene Scully reported from the scene.
— Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.