Yakima County Prosecutor Jim Hagarty yesterday (Monday) released the findings of an investigation into the April 30 Sunnyside police officer-involved shooting of Jose Carlos Campuzano.
He detailed the findings, sharing Sunnyside police officers were justified in the shooting death of Campuzano.
On April 30, 2011, at approximately 8:29 p.m., a witness heard shots being fired from the North Avenue area of Sunnyside, according to Hagarty.
A later inspection of the area led to the discovery of six shell casings in the 300 block of North Avenue. Hagarty said, "A ballistic test established that the shell casings had been fired from the same handgun the deceased, Campuzano, later fired at the (Sunnyside police officers)."
Following his hearing the shots, the witness observed a black Cadillac Escalade speed up to North Avenue and First Street. The witness observed the vehicle traveling through the stop sign at that intersection without stopping.
The vehicle turned onto First Street, and stopped at the stoplight located at First Street and Yakima Valley Highway. Once the vehicle came to a stop, the witness heard additional gunfire coming from the vehicle.
A later inspection of the area led to the discovery of six shell casings in the dirt shoulder at the intersection of First Street and Yakima Valley Highway. A ballistic test established that the shell casings had also had been fired from the same handgun Campuzano later fired at the officers.
As the vehicle proceeded up First Street, the eyewitness observed the passenger side window down, and the passenger moving around.
The witness then called the Sunnyside Police Department and reported the incident.
Another witness that day heard gunshots north of his location, which was First Street and Yakima Valley Highway. He heard on his vehicle scanner the report of shots fired and the vehicle description. The second witness looked right and observed the vehicle going south on First Street. He began following the vehicle and telephoned the police department, advising dispatchers that he was behind a vehicle matching the description released on the scanner.
As the second witness was following the vehicle, he observed a patrol vehicle coming his way, according to Hagarty.
The witness motioned to the officer by pointing at the vehicle. The officer driving the patrol car then made a u-turn and made contact with the second witness, who advised officers that the vehicle he had indicated was the one involved in the shots fired call.
Sunnyside Officer Christopher Sparks responded to the call.
As he approached the area, a tow truck began flashing his lights and waving at Sparks. The officer made contact with the tow driver, who confirmed that the vehicle was the one involved in the shots fired call.
Sparks told investigators he turned around and pulled in behind the vehicle as it neared Fifth Street and Edison Avenue. As the vehicle began to slow, the officer initiated his overhead lights and siren.
Sparks said he observed the vehicle brake and then start forward several times, and felt that the driver was thinking about running, according to Hagarty.
The officer told investigators the vehicle finally came to a stop on South Sixth Street after turning south from Edison Avenue.
Other officers also responded to Sparks' location to assist.
Based on the report of a firearm being involved, officers decided that a felony stop would be employed.
Officers said the driver was ordered to turn the vehicle off, toss the keys to the ground and show his hands. These orders were in both Spanish and English. The driver eventually complied.
The driver of the suspect vehicle was then ordered out of the vehicle. The driver exited the vehicle, and was ordered to walk backwards towards the officers, according to the prosecutor.
Officers told investigators the driver stopped halfway between the suspect vehicle and the officers' patrol vehicles.
Sunnyside Police Sgt. Oliver Hernandez said he then moved forward and contacted the driver, taking him to the ground as Officer Thomas Orth moved into a position covering Hernandez.
While the officers were dealing with the driver, Sparks reported seeing furtive movement inside the vehicle on the passenger side, according to Hagarty.
"Sparks heard Officer Scott Orate giving commands to the front passenger, later identified as Campuzano, to stop moving and show his hands," Hagarty said.
Orate first took position behind the passenger door of Spark's vehicle. He then moved to the right onto the grass area adjacent to Spark's vehicle, which provided a better view of the two passengers in the vehicle.
Orate told investigators he observed the passengers as male, one in the front and one in the back seat.
The officer said both were ordered to show their hands, and initially had their hands out of the vehicle's windows.
Orate said he observed Campuzano pull his hands back inside the vehicle.
The officer ordered Campuzano to put his hands outside the vehicle, which he did.
Orate said he heard commands being given to the driver to throw out the keys, exit the vehicle and move backwards to the officers. Orate said he observed Campuzano again pull his hands inside the vehicle.
According to Orate he ordered Campuzano to show his hands, in both English and Spanish.
According to the prosecutor Campuzano failed to obey the command. Orate also heard the two passengers arguing in Spanish.
The officer then heard what he believed was the slide of a weapon being racked.
Orate said he advised the other officers that a weapon had been racked.
According to officer accounts, Campuzano's door opened and the suspect stepped out of the vehicle. As he exited, Campuzano turned and faced Orate, and raised his arm in a sweeping motion towards the officer.
"Orate observed a muzzle flash aimed in his direction. The officer believed that he was being shot at, and was in fear for his life, so he returned fire," according to Hagarty.
The officers said they heard several shots being fired from the passenger side of the suspect vehicle in Orate's direction. In response, the other officers began shooting at the subject. Hagarty said the investigation shows all officers stopped firing when the suspect fell to the ground and was no longer a threat.
"Ballistics later confirmed that the suspect's weapon had been fired twice outside the passenger's door," said Hagarty.
After the shooting stopped, Sparks approached and cleared the vehicle. He observed the suspect collapsed near the passenger door and kicked the firearm observed near the suspect's hand away from the suspect.
Hagarty said the rear passenger confirmed that upon exiting the vehicle, Campuzano had fired two rounds at the officer, who then returned fire.
"The officers were responding to a report of shots being fired from a vehicle. Several officers of the Sunnyside Police Department responded to the call, and eventually the identified vehicle was stopped, Hagarty said.
"Based on the reports of a firearm, a high risk felony stop was initiated. Officer Orate placed himself in a position to observe the passengers of the vehicle, while other officers dealt with the driver. Despite commands to show his hands, Campuzano twice took his hands inside the vehicle. The second time, the sound of weapon slide being racked was heard. Within a short period of time after hearing the sound, Campuzano exited the vehicle, raised a firearm and shot twice at Orate," said Hagarty.
The prosecutor said, "The raising of the weapon and the discharge of the weapon towards Orate justified a reasonable belief on the part of Orate and other officers, under the circumstances, that a felony offense was being committed."
Hagarty continued, stating "(The situation) created a reasonable belief that the suspect posed an immediate threat of death and/or physical injury to the officers. I conclude that the officers were justified in the use of deadly force under the circumstances."
The prosecutor based his findings on investigative reports prepared by the Washington State Patrol. The Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney's Office has now completed its review of the reports.