[Hpn] homeless murder by cop -- El Dorado Co. CA

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Mon, 15 Oct 2001 10:19:55 -0700


Deputy fatally shoots suspect:
Some say 'J.R.' was harmless, but El Dorado's undersheriff says he was
advancing with a knife.

By Carrie Peyton
Bee Staff Writer 
(Published Oct. 15, 2001)

To Wendy Davis, he was a little like a stray cat. She fed him sometimes,
when he hung around her Cameron Park apartment complex. She thought he was
harmless.

To an El Dorado County sheriff's deputy, he was a suspected prowler. The
young man was holding a kitchen knife, the officer reported, ignoring orders
to put it down, stepping closer.

The officer fired twice.

The still-unidentified man died early Sunday on a hallway floor.

El Dorado County Undersheriff Jeff Neves said an initial review of the
shooting shows that the deputy acted appropriately.

"Any time there's a knife-wielding suspect, there's a safety distance of
about 21 feet. ... An individual can cover that ground in a matter of
moments, and you're likely to be a victim of that knife assault," Neves
said.

Davis said she and her boyfriend knew the victim only by the nickname J.R.
She thought he was homeless, barely out of his teens, and that his parents
might have lived nearby once. He'd been coming around for years.

"This is a small complex. We all know each other. We all took turns taking
care of J.R.," she said. "J.R. is just a harmless little guy ... who lost
his direction in life.

"Why couldn't they wound him instead of kill him?"

It doesn't work that way, said Neves. Officers under threat are trained to
stop the threat by firing into the central body. If they aimed for
extremities, it would be too easy to miss, and officers or bystanders could
die, he said.

"An officer has a right to go home healthy at the end of each day of work,"
the undersheriff said.

The officer involved in Sunday's shooting spoke to a police chaplain
afterward and is on leave for at least a few days while the shooting is
investigated.

Following department practices, Neves declined to name the officer for now
but said he has worked for the county for less than six months and had about
eight years' experience in another county.

The El Dorado County Sheriff's Department has averaged one or two
officer-involved shootings for the past several years, and all have been
found to be justified, according to the undersheriff.

Like the others, this one will be investigated by the Sheriff's Department
with the help of Placerville police. Their reports will be forwarded to the
district attorney, who will decide whether the use of the firearm was
warranted.

Sunday's killing unfolded a little after 1:30 a.m., when two callers told
dispatchers they thought someone was prowling around the apartment building
in the 3100 block of Garden Circle.

Two officers responded in separate cars. The first to arrive saw someone on
Country Club Drive, which borders the back of the complex. He stopped his
car and got out to speak to the man, but the man dashed around a corner,
Neves said.

The deputy saw the man run up a flight of stairs and try the doors at the
landing. The second door he tried opened, and the officer ran upstairs and
followed him in.

Inside, the deputy saw that the man was holding an 8- to 10-inch kitchen
knife, and he ordered him to drop it.

The commotion woke a man in the apartment. The occupant wasn't in danger,
said Neves, but he saw what happened next.

The man with the knife "stepped and leaned and started coming toward the
officer," Neves said. "In defense of his life, the officer fired."

The second deputy, who had just reached the complex, heard shots and came
running.

The young man was pronounced dead after paramedics arrived.

It made no sense to David Crawford, who has friends in the complex and had
seen the short, slender youth who he thought looked barely 20.

"I would have walked up and smacked this kid and took the damn knife," he
said.

Investigators have tentatively identified the victim as a 21-year-old
Cameron Park man, but they are awaiting fingerprint tests for confirmation.

Tenants of the apartment where he died knew him by sight, but he wasn't
their guest, Neves said.

Davis said she believed another nearby neighbor had taken in the young man
briefly. He had told her he was planning to leave Cameron Park that Sunday,
to ride with a friend to Lake Tahoe, where a job and a room were waiting for
him. The day before, he had given her a goodbye rose.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Bee's Carrie Peyton can be reached at (916) 321-1086 or
cpeyton@sacbee.com.

Copyright  The Sacramento Bee

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