Three American Canyon police officers and one police sergeant were "legally justified" in a fatal shooting on March 15, the Napa County District Attorney's Office said Friday.
"After careful review of all the evidence, the District Attorney’s Office has concluded that Sgt. Mike Hunter and Officers Cullen Dodd, Bryan Schultz and Kenneth Van Dyke were legally justified in shooting (Angelo) Moreno in self-defense," Napa District Attorney Gary Lieberstein announced Friday in unveiling the results of the investigation.
Following is the text of Lieberstein's report released Friday:
On March 15, 2013 at about 10 p.m., American Canyon Police
Officer Kenneth Van Dyke was on patrol in the City of American Canyon when he
spotted a pickup truck with no rear license plate at the intersection of
Flosden Road and Via Bellagio.
Van Dyke attempted to initiate a traffic stop but the driver, later identified
as Angelo Moreno, refused to pull over and a pursuit ensued. Officer Cullen Dodd joined the chase in
his patrol car.
Moreno drove the
truck into the dead end construction zone of Newell Road and became stuck on an
embankment. Sgt. Mike Hunter and Officer
Bryan Schultz arrived on scene shortly thereafter. Concerned that Moreno was consuming methamphetamine by
ingesting it, Sgt. Hunter approached the truck and broke the driver side window
when the door could not be opened from outside.
The other three officers positioned themselves around the
cab of the truck. Through the now
broken window, Moreno kicked Officer Van Dyke in the head and then gripped what
appeared to be a semi-automatic handgun and aimed it at Sgt. Hunter.
At that moment, all four law
enforcement officers believed that one of the officers would be shot and
possibly killed. Sgt. Hunter
yelled “gun” and all four officers fired their weapons at Moreno, striking him
multiple times causing his death.
It was subsequently discovered that the “handgun” was actually a
stainless steel multi-purpose tool that had been manipulated into the shape of
a handgun and thereby appeared to be a handgun. (NOTE: A photo of the multi-tool was not immediately available in Friday's press release).
Subsequent testing of Moreno’s blood found the presence of methamphetamine (measured at 1.4 mg/L; 0.2 – 5 mg/L is potentially toxic) and amphetamine (measured at 0.36 mg/L; 0.2 mg/L is potentially toxic).
The American Canyon Police Department invoked the Napa County Law Officer-Involved Fatal Incident Protocol. Under this protocol members of the Napa County Sheriff’s Department assumed responsibility for the investigation of this shooting incident.
A comprehensive report was presented to the Napa County District Attorney’s Office for review. The Napa County District Attorney’s Office reviewed the investigation to determine if there existed any criminal liability on the part of Sgt. Hunter, Officer Dodd, Officer Schultz or Officer Van Dyke.
The role of the Napa County District Attorney’s Office in a law
enforcement employee-involved shooting is to review the investigation to
determine if there exists any criminal liability on the part of the law
enforcement employee; provide assistance to the investigating agency regarding
legal issues; supplement the investigation when necessary; and, when
appropriate, prosecute any persons believed to have violated criminal law.
Once the investigation is complete, the
District Attorney completes a thorough review of the investigation and prepares
a report summarizing the investigation and documenting the legal
conclusions. This review
incorporates forensic testing by several agencies that was necessary prior to
reaching any conclusions.
Accordingly, this report includes a summary of facts surrounding the shooting of Angelo Moreno, statement of the applicable law, legal analysis, specific conclusions, and relevant exhibits. This report relies heavily on the police investigation, interviews, evidence, case law, forensic science, and forensic testing to support its conclusions.
The sole issue to be resolved in this review is whether the shooting of Angelo Moreno was lawful because the force used by Officer Van Dyke, Officer Dodd, Officer Schultz and Sgt. Hunter was reasonably necessary under the circumstances to accomplish a lawful law enforcement purpose; or, alternatively, whether the shooting was unlawful because the force used by the four officers was not reasonably necessary under the circumstances to accomplish a lawful law enforcement purpose.
Any person, including a peace officer, has a right to use reasonable force in self-defense or defense of others. A person can be said to have acted in lawful self-defense if all of the following exist: 1) the person reasonably believed that person or someone else was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury;
2) the person reasonably believed that the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against that danger; and 3) the person used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.
The paramount issue is whether each law enforcement officer acted in
lawful self-defense or defense of another when he shot Moreno. It is reasonable to believe that Sgt.
Hunter perceived that he was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering
serious bodily injury when Moreno had the multi-tool in his hand and fashioned
into the shape of a handgun.
reasonable to believe that immediate use of his gun was necessary to defend
against that danger. Sgt. Hunter
believed he had no other options at that point. That belief was reasonable for several reasons. First, the multi-tool looked like a
compact silver handgun. Second,
the way Moreno held, and appeared to “rack” the multi-tool was similar to how a
semi-automatic handgun is operated.
Third, Sgt. Hunter was directly in the line of fire. Fourth, Sgt. Hunter yelled “gun” prior
to firing his own weapon.
Finally, the other officers who saw the weapon in Moreno’s possession also believed that the multi-tool was a handgun.
The other officers also acted in self-defense or defense of
another. Like Sgt. Hunter, all of
the involved officers believed that Moreno had a gun and that one of the law
enforcement officers was about to be shot. Moreover, all three officers heard Sgt. Hunter yell “gun”
and this was a signal to them that Moreno had a handgun in his possession.
Based on the circumstances of the stop,
Moreno’s refusal to follow commands, Moreno’s constant movement in the truck,
and Moreno’s kicking of Officer Van Dyke, it was reasonable for the officers to
believe that the use of the handgun was imminent and their only reasonable
response was to shoot immediately.
Each officer present shot at Moreno until Moreno stopped moving and was no longer a perceived threat.
It is a well-established community expectation that peace officers must
respond when summoned at a time of crisis and not retreat in the face of
adversity. While in the lawful
performance of their duties, four law enforcement officers became involved in a
highly unpredictable and rapidly evolving situation.
The implementation of deadly force was a reasonable and lawful response under the totality of the circumstances. Therefore, the actions of Officer Van Dyke, Officer Dodd, Officer Schultz and Sgt. Hunter were reasonable under the circumstances they faced, were legally justified, and criminal charges against them are neither warranted nor supported by the evidence.
The review conducted within the scope and jurisdiction of the District Attorney is complete and final. The report and its conclusions have been given to the involved officers and to the Napa County Sheriff’s Department. At this time, the full report is being released to the media and made available to the public.