Policeman Exonerated in Shooting of Boy, 14
A San Diego police officer was legally justified in shooting the teen-age passenger in a stolen car because the officer “had a right to stand his ground” and not retreat from the fleeing vehicle, the San Diego County district attorney has ruled.
In a report written by the district attorney’s office and released by police Monday, the prosecutors said that, when Osefel Bey, the driver of the car, attempted to flee in the stolen car, “it was reasonable for Officer Daniel Vega to conclude” that he was going to be hit.
Vega, a four-year police veteran, fired four rounds, and one bullet wounded 14-year-old Leonard Tippins in the base of the skull.
‘No Duty to Retreat’
“Officer Vega had no duty to retreat from Bey’s backing car,” the report said. “An officer threatened with an attack that justifies self-defense need not retreat. He may stand his ground and defend himself with reasonable force.
“Had Officer Vega held his fire and continued retreating, Bey might have followed him and hit him with the Colt,” the report continued. “Officer Vega was not required to submit to this risk. He had a right to stand his ground and use whatever force was necessary to eliminate it.”
Along with the report detailing the April 19 shooting in Southeast San Diego, police released two other reports from the district attorney’s office.
Those reports covered San Diego police shootings earlier this year. In both cases, officers involved in the shootings were also absolved of any criminal wrongdoing.
The Vega shooting drew an outcry from many in the Southeast community, particularly because the victim was so young and the crime of auto theft did not appear to many to justify shooting.
Near Fatality Scene
The incident also occurred near the site of a fatal shooting about the same time, in which an officer entered a man’s home and, during a drug arrest, shot him six times.
That case, involving the killing of Stanley Buchanan by Officer Timothy Fay, is still under review by the district attorney’s office. Police spokesman Bill Robinson said Monday that the district attorney’s office has told police that the Fay report will probably not be issued until next month.
One of the groups to sharply criticize the shootings of both Buchanan and Tippins was the Urban League of San Diego. Leah Goodwin-Carter, an Urban League spokeswoman, said Monday that she will review the report today and that her organization will respond.
“We were concerned about the deadly force used in that incident,” she said. “And we continue to be concerned about the amount of deadly force used.”
According to the district attorney, Vega cornered the stolen car in a parking lot near the 4900 block of Logan Avenue. The car was driven by the 15-year-old Bey. Tippins was sitting in the front passenger seat.
Drew Service Revolver
Vega drew his service revolver and began approaching the vehicle when “it suddenly started up and began backing up directly toward him,” the report said. Vega stepped back, but the Colt, traveling 12 to 15 miles an hour, eventually forced him back “until his buttocks struck the left rear of the patrol car.”
To avoid being crushed, Vega moved to his left and backwards again, the report said, fired four shots, and the Colt smashed into the patrol car.
“Had I waited one or two more seconds, it would have hit me,” Vega later told a sergeant about the stolen car. “I didn’t know if it was going to follow me. Fearing for my life, I fired three or four rounds.”
Case in Juvenile Court
Vega was not injured by the car, and Bey was not hit by any of the bullets. Bey was charged with auto theft and assault on a peace officer, and the case is pending in Juvenile Court. Tippins, who was shot once, was not charged with any crimes.
The report said officials were unable to contact Tippins or his family, either at the hospital or later at home when he was released, and were unable to determine his current medical condition. The day after the shooting, a detective tried to interview the youth at Mercy Hospital.
“Tippins nodded his head and said ‘uh, huh,’ ” the report said. “He then closed his eyes and did not respond to further comments.”
Witnesses gave conflicting accounts of the shooting. One witness said the officer was not in danger, and that he “came across the street and started shooting.” Another said no warnings were given to Bey before Vega opened fire.
However, Officer Paul Wayne told investigators that both he and Vega yelled for the Colt to stop before it hit the police car. Wayne did not fire his weapon.
Other Shootings Justified
In the other police-shooting cases, the district attorney ruled that the officers’ actions were justified and in self-defense.
Officer James Kremer was legally exonerated in the Feb. 21 death of Wayde Pratt. According to the report, Pratt grabbed a piece of wood, held it over his shoulder “like a baseball bat” and ran at Kremer. The officer fired one shot, hit Pratt in the chest and killed him instantly.
In the third case, Officer Alphonso Dobynes wounded Vincent Taylor on May 4. While arresting the drug suspect, the officer “lost sight of Taylor’s hands” and then thought that the man was reaching for a gun in his waistband. Taylor, who was unarmed, was shot in the left side.