Sheriff discusses fatal shooting of knife-wielding man in Wasco

Officer-Involved Shooting

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Gripping body camera footage released this week captured the minutes leading up to the fatal shooting by deputies of a knife-wielding man last year inside a Wasco apartment.

The footage shows deputies faced with multiple considerations — the threat posed by the advancing man, the unknown severity of the injuries to two women inside the apartment, the possible presence of children — before the decision was made to use deadly force.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood on Wednesday spoke about the shooting and the difficult situation the deputies found themselves in.

He said they gave the suspect multiple chances to surrender. They practically begged him to drop the knife.

“This particular shooting falls on the suspect,” Youngblood said.

The video

When deputies enter the apartment in the early hours of May 7, 2020, they encounter an unsettling scene.

A shirtless man stands over two screaming women in a bathroom. There’s blood on the floor. The man turns, holding a knife in his right hand.

The deputies draw their firearms and order the man to drop the knife and get on the ground. The man, later identified as 21-year-old Daniel Gomez, ignores their commands.

He advances on the deputies, shaking his head and telling them, “Shoot me, bro.”

As he continues to slowly approach, he repeatedly tells the deputies to shoot him. They plead with him to put the knife down.

“We don’t need to do this,” one deputy says.

They warn Gomez not to take another step.

“Put the knife down. We can make it through this,” a deputy says.

They tell him to think of his kids. They tell him they need to get help to the injured women.

But Gomez takes another step. And another. He tells deputies he’s “already in too deep.” At one point he makes the sign of the cross.

The deputies back away as Gomez advances. Ultimately, at least one deputy is backed up against a wall.

“I can’t go any further,” the deputy says.

Immediately afterward there is a barrage of gunfire. Gomez is hit and dies at the scene.

Deputies Carmen Holguin, Orlando Ramos and James Jackson were placed on routine administrative leave while the shooting was investigated. On May 27, 2020, a sheriff’s Incident Review Board found the use of force was within department policy.

The findings have been submitted to the District Attorney’s office for review.

Difficult decisions

The deputies who confronted Gomez inside the apartment in the 900 block of 16th Street had an obligation — one which every deputy has — to protect the public, Youngblood said during an interview at sheriff’s headquarters.

He said they didn’t know how badly the women were injured and they needed to get them medical aid. They allowed what Youngblood called an “enormous amount of time” for Gomez to give himself up.

The sheriff noted the law says shootings involving law enforcement must be examined from the officer’s point of view.

“In this particular case, look at how far this suspect moved,” Youngblood said.

“Had they waited for one more step, what would have happened,” he said. “We don’t know the answer to that, thank God.”

The deputies were equipped with Tasers. Youngblood said he can’t answer as to why they didn’t use them.

But Gomez had a deadly weapon in his hand, Youngblood said, and Tasers don’t always work. Sometimes the prongs don’t attach. Sometimes the suspect continues advancing after being stunned.

Shooting at an arm or leg isn’t an option. No law enforcement agency in the country teaches its officers to fire at a suspect’s limbs, he said.

Those who think it’s possible should run around the block then try to shoot a target from 10 or 20 feet away, Youngblood said. With the adrenaline rush, hitting a target with any accuracy is extremely difficult, he said. And if the deputy misses and, as in this case, a child is nearby, that makes a dangerous situation even more perilous.

Furthermore, Youngblood said, a suspect shot in the leg could still pose a threat.

“We don’t have to let someone stab us before we take take action,” he said. “We want to prevent that.”

The footage of the shooting was one of six videos the sheriff’s office released this week of incidents where deputies fired their weapons and either wounded or killed a suspect.

The shootings occurred within a five-month period in 2020 — three happening within a month — and Youngblood said they had been working on getting them released to the public.

A 10-member team is being created to go over body camera footage as soon as a shooting occurs, the sheriff said. They take a while to review because each one typically contains something that can’t legally be released, such as footage of children or victims of sexual assault. Some have to be sent to county counsel for an opinion.

In the future, he hopes to release one video at a time.

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