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Fatal Shooting of Theft Suspect Justified, Police Say : Violence: Officer says the man, suspected of stealing a pack of cigarettes, confronted him with a knife.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A police sergeant with three decades of experience had no choice but to shoot a man suspected of stealing a pack of cigarettes this week, Oxnard Police Department officials said Wednesday.

The suspect, identified Wednesday as 30-year-old Robert Sterling of Oxnard, was shot and killed late Tuesday by Sgt. George Pultz, who said Sterling confronted him with a knife.

Department officials outlined the series of events that led to the death of the suspected shoplifter, the second fatal shooting by an Oxnard police officer in the past 18 months.

Police Cmdr. Joe Munoz said the department received a 911 call about 5:40 p.m. Tuesday from a clerk at the Tinee Giant Market on East Bard Road. The clerk reported that a man had stolen a pack of cigarettes and threatened him with a knife.

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Minutes later, officers responding to the report saw Sterling, who matched the description of the suspect, near the corner of Bard Road and San Simeon Street. Sterling reportedly ran toward a patrol car driven by Officer Mike Day, who maneuvered the vehicle away from the suspect, police said.

As two other officers arrived, Sterling confronted Officer Jim Seitz, who rolled up his window and locked the door before the knife-wielding suspect got to the car, Munoz said.

But Pultz, who had the door of his unit open, shot Sterling twice in the chest when he got too close, Munoz said.

“The suspect . . . approached the open driver’s door armed with a knife in a threatening manner and confronted Sgt. Pultz, who was still seated in his vehicle,” Munoz said. “Sgt. Pultz fired two shots from his service weapon, striking the suspect both times in the upper body,” he added.

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Senior Deputy Coroner Craig Stevens said one bullet grazed the suspect, but the other proved fatal for Sterling, who died several hours later at St. John’s Regional Medical Center.

Officials said they do not know why Sterling charged armed police officers but added that he had prior contact with the Ventura County Mental Health Agency.

Results of blood and urine tests were not made available Wednesday.

In April, 1994, Oxnard Police Officer Patrick Dolan shot and killed a 20-year-old suspected car thief--at that time the department’s sixth fatal shooting by an Oxnard officer since 1989. All the shootings were later ruled justifiable by the Ventura County district attorney’s office, which investigates such cases.

Yet the rate of justifiable homicides by Oxnard police officers since 1989 is four times higher than many major cities when the figures are adjusted for population, according to federal law enforcement records.


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