CHP officer cleared of wrongdoing in fatal shootout at O.C. homeless encampment
Orange County prosecutors announced they would not file charges against a California Highway Patrol officer who killed a homeless man during a shootout at an encampment in Los Alamitos.
On Oct. 15, 2020, Officer Jonathan Torres fatally shot 71-year-old Armando Sabat after he pointed a revolver at the officer and fired, according to a letter from the O.C. district attorney’s office to CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray.
The shooting occurred at an encampment next to an onramp from Katella Avenue onto the 605 Freeway, said the letter, which was dated Dec. 28 and made public Friday.
“Officer Torres was justified in believing Sabat posed a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to himself and others,” prosecutors said. “Simply stated, Officer Torres did not commit a crime; to the contrary, he carried out his duties as a peace officer in a reasonable and justifiable manner.”
A California Department of Transportation employee found the encampment on Oct. 14 and requested CHP response, but no unhoused people were there when officers arrived, the letter said.
The Caltrans employee visited the encampment the next morning, called out, and Sabat poked his head out of a tent, prosecutors said. The employee told him to leave and said officers would be on site in 15 minutes.
The Los Angeles Police Commission ruled that the fatal police shooting of Alex Flores Jr. was justified, though they disapproved of the tactics used in the lead-up to the shooting.
Torres and another officer, Gary Robinson, were dispatched at 9:11 a.m. and arrived minutes later, the letter said. Caltrans employees pointed the lawmen toward Sabat’s tent.
The officers ordered him to come out several times, prosecutors said. He responded that he was getting dressed.
Around 9:21 a.m., Torres looked inside and found Sabat fully dressed and on his hands and knees, the letter said. When the officer looked inside a second time, Sabat was holding a large revolver.
Sabat then pointed the gun at Torres, and the officer drew his weapon, prosecutors said.
“Officer Torres then heard a pop from the revolver and instantly felt a stinging sensation to the left side of his face,” the letter said. His “left eye went completely shut and he believed he had been shot.”
The officer returned fire while walking backward, prosecutors said. He fired eight shots in total.
Torres later checked his left eye and found what he believed was a combination of mud and a slimy substance, the letter said. Further examination at a hospital did not identify the substance that hit the officer’s eye, which was red and slightly swollen but didn’t appear to be further injured.
Robinson told investigators that he saw Sabat point the revolver at Torres, heard gunshots and saw sparks from Sabat’s gun, prosecutors said.
Robinson did not use his service weapon during the incident and was not injured, the letter said.
Backup units from several police agencies, CHP officers and firefighters were called to the scene, prosecutors said. Officers did not know whether Sabat, who was last seen going back into the tent, was shot.
“As a result, Sabat was treated as a barricaded suspect,” the letter said.
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Firefighters and officers discussed how to safely approach, prosecutors said. Around 12:10 p.m., firefighters used an aerial ladder and high-pressure hose to sweep the tent off Sabat.
He was found four minutes later, lying face down, and declared dead at the scene, the letter said. Sabat suffered multiple gunshot wounds, three of them fatal, a forensic pathologist later found.
Officers found a .44-caliber black powder revolver partly buried under his head, the letter said. One of the revolver’s chambers was empty, and officers found an expended percussion cap. Percussion caps carry a small amount of gunpowder and are used to ignite the charge on black powder guns.
Investigators eventually found more weapons, including a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol, magazines, ammunition and a 10-inch Bowie-style knife, prosecutors said.
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