Grand Jury Asked to Examine Killing by Deputy in Vista
The county Board of Supervisors on Wednesday unanimously asked for a county grand jury investigation into last week’s shooting death of Vista resident Jeffrey Bray by a reserve deputy sheriff.
“We believe that there are unanswered questions about this shooting which demand answers,” said Leon Williams, chairman of the board, who made the request along with Supervisor John MacDonald, whose 5th District includes Vista.
“We want to find the facts. We’re not assuming anything, and we’re not accusing anyone,” said Williams. “But it’s the kind of situation that ought to be clarified.”
Bray, 21, was killed Friday by a reserve deputy sheriff after deputies mistakenly tailed him as the driver of a suspected stolen vehicle.
Williams said he hoped the investigation could be taken up by the current grand jury, which will end its term June 30. “You can do a lot in five weeks,” he said. “If they don’t complete it, it can be referred to the next grand jury.”
Grand jury foreman Phil Franklin said that he was concerned whether his panel could investigate the matter before it disbands, and that he will ask county legal counsel “if we have enough time to even start anything.”
But Franklin said that, even if the Board of Supervisors hadn’t sought the investigation, the grand jury might have opted to conduct its own investigation anyway.
“I’d like to see what the district attorney’s office has on this case, then bring it to the grand jury to see if we agree with the findings,” Franklin said.
For its part, the Sheriff’s Department said it would cooperate with any investigation.
The request “is certainly within the prerogative of the Board of Supervisors, and the Sheriff’s Department will obviously assist with the grand jury’s investigation in any way it can,” said department spokesman Sgt. Glen Revell.
The department already has acknowledged that the two deputies who confronted Bray in the parking lot of his Vista apartment complex had mistaken his vehicle for another one that was believed to have been stolen.
Bray was killed instantly by a single shot to his head, fired by reserve deputy John S. Wickham, after Bray stopped his red pickup truck, then backed into the deputies’ patrol car that had stopped about 20 feet behind him.
Wickham and the other deputy, William C. Fewell, both shot at Bray, apparently believing Bray was trying to ram their patrol car to evade arrest.
An eyewitness to the shooting, however, told The Times that he had called out to Bray as he drove by him, and that Bray stopped and, unaware of the deputies’ presence behind him, was simply backing up to talk when he unwittingly collided with the patrol car.
The deputies had tailed Bray into his apartment complex thinking his pickup was stolen, even though the license plate number of a different red pickup truck had been radioed to deputies as the suspect vehicle.
The deputies had not used their siren, and the question of when they activated their emergency lights is in dispute.
“It’s a matter of upmost public importance that a death resulting from county law enforcement activities be investigated promptly, thoroughly and objectively,” Williams said.
Added MacDonald: “We need to have the grand jury look at the case, to confirm what the other investigations might conclude. It’s another effort to reinforce the public’s confidence in the system.”
The request, MacDonald said, wasn’t meant to suggest that the supervisors lack confidence in the district attorney’s own review of the case, which will begin after sheriff’s homicide detectives conclude their own, internal investigation.
“Rather, this would be helpful in maintaining the confidence of the people that there’s been a fair and just investigation, not only by the district attorney’s office and the Sheriff’s Department, but by the citizen’s review board.”
MacDonald said he wouldn’t offer his own comments about the shooting because “it’s obvious there’s going to be litigation against the county.”
An attorney for Bray’s wife, Lena--who is pregnant with the couple’s first child--announced Tuesday that he plans to file a wrongful death claim against the county and the Sheriff’s Department.
The lawyer, Gerald Davee, said the shooting was “a needless and tragic event that I just don’t see any explanation for. I can’t believe that any of us in this community can stand by and feel safe if the Sheriff’s Department shoots at someone driving into their apartment complex, without any warning or without any notice.
“What I hope will happen is that they (Sheriff’s Department) will respond and maybe, for the first time on record, say, ‘This is a tragic and unnecessary killing, and we are responsible.’ ”
The Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday stopped short of that, saying any conclusions about the shooting will be made by the district attorney’s office, not by the department.
Revell, however, said, “We express our sympathy to the family of the deceased, and we pledge our resources to discovery of all the facts surrounding this most unfortunate incident.”
The two deputies remained on paid leave Wednesday and were not expected to return to work before next week.
Bray was buried Wednesday in his hometown of Conway, Ark.