Police shooting of suspect in Hemet now under investigation by the state – San Bernardino Sun

A week after law enforcement officers in Hemet fatally shot a man who they say was an armed drug dealer, the state Attorney General’s Office announced it is investigating the confrontation under a law that requires the state to probe police shootings of unarmed civilians that resulted in serious injury or death.

The initial investigation, however, appeared to show that the man was carrying a gun shortly before the shooting, Riverside Police Chief Larry Gonzalez said.

Around 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 18, according to a Riverside County Sheriff’s Department news release, members of a gang task force that included sheriff’s deputies and officers from the Riverside and Hemet police departments were watching a man who they believed was selling illegal fentanyl, a powerful painkiller that authorities have blamed for hundreds of overdose deaths in Southern California.

In a briefing on Wednesday, Jan. 26, Gonzalez walked members of the Community Police Review Commission through what happened next at the Travelodge at 2625 W. Florida Ave.

“The suspect ran around the corner of the motel, ran in and out of cars, and when he came out through a couple of cars at the end the foot pursuit is when the officer-involved shooting occurred,” Gonzalez told the civilian board that examines police uses of force and complaints against officers in Riverside.

Officers tried to stop the suspect with less-than-lethal force, but it was ineffective, he said.

“After reviewing some of the camera footage on the initial investigation by (Riverside County District Attorney investigators), they were very clear that the suspect was armed with a handgun, but (there was) not very clear evidence yet to show that the handgun was actually in his hand when the shooting occurred. So following the letter of the law … we made the notification to the Department of Justice,” Gonzalez said.

The chief said four officers fired: two sheriff’s deputies and one officer each from Riverside and Hemet.

A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, in an unsigned email, said the Sheriff’s Department told the AG’s Office on Monday that “the incident could potentially fall under AB 1506,” the Assembly bill signed into law in 2020. “Preliminary investigation indicates that the definition for possession of a deadly weapon may not have been met,” therefore requiring the AG’s Office to investigate the shooting.

The definition of “possession” appears to have nuance.

For reference, the spokesperson continued, “possession usually requires that the weapon is available for use.”

A 2021 bulletin from the DOJ to law enforcement agencies said that a suspect must have control of the weapon to meet the definition of possession. For instance, “Where a civilian attempts to take control of an officer’s firearm, the civilian is not in possession unless the officer loses control of the firearm,” the bulletin said.

The District Attorney’s Office, as is standard practice in the county, is leading a review of the use of force. The dead man’s name was still being withheld by law enforcement on Wednesday.

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