When Santa Maria police officers fatally opened fire on Javier Gaona last June after he demanded that they shoot him, two of the officers involved had a “reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm,” according to a 25-page report issued by the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office, which concluded the killing was “a justifiable homicide.”
Gaona, then high on methamphetamine, had charged police officers with an eight-inch kitchen knife when they shot him 14 times. He had cleared 25 feet in his charge and had 15 feet to go before reaching the nearest officer. The shooting took place less than an hour after officers were dispatched to the 1200 block of South Broadway in Santa Maria, where Gaona, dressed in black and carrying two bags, was behaving strangely. When officers approached him, Gaona held a knife to his own throat and demanded the officers shoot him. Officers first sought to negotiate with Gaona. When that failed, he appeared poised to flee toward a nearby parking lot; they opened fire with bean bag shotguns and multiple rounds from a less-lethal 44 mm launcher. Although Gaona stumbled and fell, he retained possession of the knife. When he got up, he ran toward the officers with the knife outstretched.
Two weeks ago, the Gaona family had filed a lawsuit against the Santa Maria Police Department, contending the shooting was unnecessary and unjustified. Attorney William Schmidt, representing the Gaona family, said less-lethal launchers can be deployed only in the face of an immediate threat. “He was just standing there when they opened up and shot him,” Schmidt said. “He was not an immediate threat.” He added that the officers launched the nonlethal assault “less than 60 seconds after” Gaona declared negotiations were over. Schmidt said the findings were what he expected and that the case would continue.