San Diego officer’s photo of shooting memorial was ‘offensive,’ department finds

San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit speaks at a news conference
San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit said, “This behavior is not acceptable,” and apologized to the family of the man who was shot.
(Kristian Carreon / For the San Diego Union-Tribune)

A San Diego Police Department internal investigation has concluded that an officer posted online an “offensive” photo of a memorial for a man the officer and a partner fatally shot in late June.

The photo, which was posted on Instagram, showed the memorial for 25-year-old Leonardo Ibarra, with a series of emojis, including faces laughing and crying out tears, over the image, according to a document obtained by the Union-Tribune.

The photo also included the word, “#Eastside.” While it is unclear what exactly the word referenced, Ibarra’s family said he once associated with a gang that has ties to the east side of San Diego, where he grew up.

The investigation found that the officer posted the photo to his personal Instagram account, violating department policies and procedures, according to a letter Ibarra’s aunt received from the police department this month in response to a complaint about the photo.


“You stated an officer posted an offensive photograph on his personal social media account, which brought the San Diego Police Department into disrepute and impaired the operation and efficiency of the department,” a lieutenant wrote in the letter that summarized the allegations and findings. “The investigation determined the allegation was sustained.”

A screenshot of the image surfaced online in late September at a time when relations between San Diego police and the community were fragile, following a series of shootings by officers on the force and protests around the country against police violence and racial injustice prompted by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Police spokesman Lt. Shawn Takeuchi said all policy and procedure violations result in discipline but would not say what discipline Officer Jonathon Lucas faced.

Ibarra’s family said Lucas should be fired. Attempts to contact Lucas were unsuccessful.

During the start of the investigation, Lucas was suspended without pay and forced to turn over his department-issued gun and badge. As of last week, Lucas was back at work, assigned to desk duties, with his police powers still revoked, Takeuchi said.

Ibarra was fatally shot by Lucas and Officer Tevar Zaki on Sixth Avenue in downtown San Diego on June 27. Police said the patrol officers recognized Ibarra as a robbery suspect when he walked out of a building. They told him to stop, but Ibarra started running, then pulled out a gun and pointed it at one of the officers, police said.

The shooting drew intense scrutiny in the immediate aftermath. The department released video footage of the incident from four sources: a security camera, a street-light camera, and the body-worn cameras from both of the officers involved.

Veronica Hurtado, Ibarra’s aunt and godmother, said she believes Lucas should be fired. She said Lucas’ actions mocked Ibarra, disregarded a grieving family and instilled a sense of fear in the Ibarra family.

“We’re supposed to feel secure calling police, not feel afraid of what they’re going to do,” she said.


During a news conference a day after the Union-Tribune published a story online about the photo, police Chief David Nisleit said the image “shocked and disturbed” him.

“I want to send a clear message that this behavior is not acceptable in the San Diego Police Department and does not reflect the values of the men and women of this department,” Nisleit said.

He also apologized to Ibarra’s family.

“This unnecessary act only opens wounds during an already painful time,” the chief said, referring to the photo.

Lucas had been with the department for about four years at the time of the shooting.