The District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges in four deadly officer-involved shootings, including one in which a man behind the wheel of a stolen car drove toward a Long Beach police officer during a chase carried largely on live TV, according to documents released Wednesday.
Prosecutors found that Long Beach Police Department Officers Ivan Garcia, Benjamin Hearst, Nicholas Becerra and Elieser Domingo “acted in lawful self-defense and defense of others when they used deadly force against Juan Avila.”
Avila was fatally shot on April 25, 2017, after coming to a dead end on Foster Road in Bellflower, then turning the Honda Accord he was driving toward pursuing patrol cars that had come to a stop, according to prosecutors. He ignored multiple orders by officers to stop the vehicle and drove toward Garcia.
“Avila’s actions demonstrated that he was determined to break through the line of police cars and officers on Foster Road rather than be arrested,” prosecutors wrote in a 13-page report. “Avila attempted to flee down the driver’s side of Garcia’s patrol car, despite the fact that Garcia was in his path. Avila’s actions placed Garcia in reasonable fear for his life, and placed Hearst, Becerra and Domingo in fear for their fellow officer’s life, and they responded with reasonable deadly force. In addition, the officers used reasonable deadly force in order to end a vehicle pursuit that posed a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to the public.”
Officers originally tried to stop Avila at a car wash on Paramount Boulevard in Long Beach after tracking a Lo-Jack signal from the vehicle that had been stolen two hours earlier, according to the report.
A chase that lasted about 38 minutes ensued, during which Avila ran multiple stop lights and stop signs, nearly collided with a motorcyclist and motorist while driving erratically through Long Beach, Paramount, Lakewood and Bellflower. He traveled on several freeways and swerved across multiple lanes of traffic in an effort to evade police, according to the report.
Prosecutors also declined to file charges in three other officer-involved shootings:
— The Nov. 22, 2016, shooting death of Mark Sly. Prosecutors said Sly barricaded himself inside a convenience store in La Mirada, fired a shot that shattered the store’s front window, was fired upon by Sheriff’s Deputy Casey Cheshier and then charged through the front doors of the store while firing more rounds at deputies.
Deputies John Montenegro and Juan Rodriguez responded by firing six times at Sly, who was struck and killed.
“There is compelling evidence in this case, including video of the shootings and an apparent suicide note, that shows that Sly was suicidal and under the influence of methamphetamine and alcohol when he entered the convenience store, armed with a handgun, for the purpose of provoking deputies into shooting him, thereby committing `suicide by cop,”‘ according to the report, which concluded all three deputies acted in “lawful self-defense of themselves and others when Sly fired a handgun at them.”
— The April 30, 2016, fatal shooting of Marion Jose Aquino Habana, following a 9-1-1 call that he was assaulting his girlfriend in the locked bedroom of a Panorama City home.
Habana charged toward Los Angeles Police Department Officer Jesse Murphy while holding a large kitchen knife in each hand, as Murphy and another officer, David Lagesse, simultaneously fired at him, according to the report on the shooting, which was ruled to be “lawful” defense and self-defense.
— The Oct. 8, 2017, shooting death of Albert Garcia by San Fernando Police Department Sgt. Paul Ventimiglia and Officers Benny Simonzad and Jeffrey Pak following a 9-1-1 call of a woman screaming inside an apartment building.
Officers used a ram to break through the door, which had a strap rigged to prevent it from unlocking, and Garcia wielded a butcher knife as he stepped toward the officers, who fired at him, according to the district attorney report. Prosecutors concluded the sergeant and two officers were “reasonable when they used deadly force against Garcia in lawful self- defense” of themselves, the other officers and Garcia’s girlfriend, who had suffered an injury to her neck.
In a related story, relatives of a man accidentally shot to death by a sheriff’s deputy reached a settlement with Los Angeles County for more than $14 million.