Santa Maria police officers were justified in fatally shooting a man armed with knives and threatening them and his family in January 2018, according to an analysis of the circumstances by the office of Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley.
The incident ended with the death of Santa Maria resident Alejandro Valdez, 27, at an apartment building in the 400 block of East Mill Street, but it involved efforts to get the man to surrender.
“When Alejandro Valdez advanced on officers armed with two large knives, he created a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury in the minds of officers (Trevor) Hutton, (Amner) Rubio, (Vincent) Spencer and (Andres) Lopez,” the report said.
The District Attorney’s Office concluded that “the officers each acted reasonably in their use of deadly force, therefore the shooting of Alejanadro Valdez is justifiable homicide.”
The analysis also determined that the officers’ use of deadly force would be considered “reasonable and justified” under a new law to take effect Jan. 1 that says force should be used only when necessary.
On Jan. 7, 2018, Olimpia Leon called 911, but her son, Alejandro Valdez, also known as Alex, took the phone and told the dispatcher that he had knives and “I’m ready to die tonight,” according to the report.
After 30 minutes on the phone with the 911 operator attemping to get the man to surrender peacefully, Valdez stopped talking, but the line remained open, letting the dispatcher hear shouting and a commotion.
In another call, his brother, Jose Sixto, told 911 dispatchers that Valdez was holding him, his mother and a younger brother hostage while being armed with knives and threatening to kill him.
Sixto begged police to “please hurry,” calling the situation a “big emergency” in a phone call spanning 24 minutes and ending with “Oh (expletive).”
Nine officers and a sergeant arrived to take up positions at the front and rear of the apartment located on the second story with access via a stairway, where the bottom floor landing sits in a cinderblock-enclosed courtyard.
A crisis entry team was staged in case officers needed to breach the door to save lives inside the home, with members gathering in the couryard with the plan of moving out of the area if Valdez left the apartment on his own. In that case, they figured officers at the front of the residence would engage the subject.
Valdez fled the residence, running down the stairs while armed with a pair of knives with 8-inch blades. Three officers at the front of the building yelled at Valdez to drop the knives, but he ran away toward the courtyard.
“Before any officers could get clear and exit the cinderblock courtyard, Valdez rounded the corner and moved very rapidly toward the officers with two large knives raised,” the analysis stated.
He failed to comply with orders to drop the weapons, leading one officer to deploy a less-lethal weapon — shooting a 40-millimeter foam baton launcher that struck Valdez in the thigh but ailed to have any effect.
He continued to ignore officers’ orders and came within “lunging distance” of multiple officers, leading them to fire their weapons after fearing for their safety.
“Each of the four officers who used lethal force that night reasonably discharged their service firearm multiple times in order to stop Valdez from inflicting death or great bodily injury on themselves or their fellow officers,” the analysis stated.
An autopsy performed by Dr. Manny Montez, a forensic pathologist, determined that multiple gunshot wounds caused the death but also noted the man had “acute alcohol intoxication.” Testing determined that Valdez had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.149, according to the District Attorrney’s Office review.
The autopsy also revealed that Valdez had 19 gunshot wounds to his head, torso, neck and extremities along with four graze wounds on his jaw, chest and abdomen.
The 11-page analysis was based upon reports, video and audio recordings, photographs and interviews conducted by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.