No charges filed against San Jose police officers who fatally shot murder suspect

Photo: Jasson Steffan | WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
By Shaun Borland - Published on December 09, 2020.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office found the actions of three San Jose police officers who fatally shot a murder suspect were legally justified. Deputy District Attorney Robert Baker outlined the DA's decision to withhold charges in a 29-page report depicting the incident on May 3, 2020, just north of the SAP Center.

According to Baker's report, witnesses saw the suspect, 26-year old Armando Salvatierra, stab another man after a verbal altercation. After witnesses saw the attack on Taylor, they called the police and trapped Salvatierra with their cars until police arrived.

Lawrence Taylor, a 51-year old man, tried to escape from Salvatierra but fell in the street where Salvatierra repeatedly stabbed him. The autopsy report indicated Taylor was stabbed more than twelve times.

Per SJPD protocol, Officers James Barnard, Armando Ramos, and Oscar Medina, the three who fired their weapons, were put on desk duty after the shooting. A fourth officer was on the scene, but he only fired non-lethal stun-bags.

Baker's report indicated that the three police officers' actions were justifiable given the circumstances. 

"Armando Salvatierra, after killing an unarmed man in broad daylight, gave responding police officers no choice but to shoot him. He ignored the efforts of bystanders to end his vicious and murderous attack on Taylor," Baker said.

Police waited to fire their weapons until they exhausted non-lethal options. Stun-bags fired by Officer Pete Christian hit Salvatierra four times. The stun-bags did not slow Salvatierra's attempts to approach the officers with a bloody knife. After being hit with stun-bags, he fell to one knee but did not drop his knife or stop his approach toward the officers. The three officers only fired once Salvatierra was within 15-feet of their location.

"Only after non-lethal force proved ineffective, and he was within 15 feet of the officers while armed with a bloody knife, did the police resort to deadly force," Baker's report said.

The officers fired a total of 24 rounds at Salvatierra, according to Mercury News. Twenty-one of the shots were fired in unison after non-lethal attempts and verbal commands failed. The final three shots came from Barnard after Salvatierra fell and was still moving.

"Although three officers firing a total of 24 shots at a single target is significant, the shots were fired in rapid succession in a very short timeframe," Baker's report said. "Based on the circumstances, the officers used no more force than reasonably necessary."

The shooting was the third use of deadly force by San Jose police officers in 2020 following a police shooting two days prior that led to an arrest; the suspect was not hit by police shots, according to Mercury News.

According to Salvatierra's sister, her brother was in a state of homelessness since 2016, when their mother died. Mercury News reports that Salvatierra's autopsy showed evidence he was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the shooting. His sister said Savlatierra had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Salvatierra was on probation after being convicted of felony assault.

After the incident, San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia tweeted that no police officers were injured and that both Lawrence and Salvatierra were reported dead at the scene.

The DA's decision to justify the shooting was based on the evidence from bod ycam footage, which the DA released along with its report. KPIX reports that the San Jose City Council recently approved a measure requiring SJPD to expedite body cam footage of high-profile incidents involving the police. This action is ahead of the pending state legislation regarding body cam footage.

Body cam footage recently led to the indictment of rookie officer Christopher Flores of the San Francisco Police Department after a grand jury found that Flores potentially committed a crime, according to SFist. Flores' body cam fell off during an altercation with the suspect, but his partner's body cam caught much of the incident.

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