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Police officer won’t be charged for killing bystander in Santa Barbara County shooting

A man in a suit and tie speaks into a microphone
Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, above, said his office has recommended changes in the Guadalupe Police Department “to help increase public trust and keep our communities safe.”
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
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A Santa Barbara County police officer won’t face criminal charges for accidentally killing a bystander while shooting at a suspect last year, the California Department of Justice said Tuesday.

Juan Olvera-Preciado, 59, died at the scene on the night of Aug. 21, 2021, in the small coastal city of Guadalupe.

A bullet ricocheted off the ground and traveled about 174 feet before hitting Olvera-Preciado in the head as he sat in a parked car, said a report by the Department of Justice, which is required by state law to investigate law enforcement shootings that kill unarmed civilians.

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Police had stopped a man suspected of setting a small fire who had two active warrants for his arrest, authorities said.

During a brief chase, police said, the man refused orders to stop, then took his hand out of the pocket of his hooded sweatshirt holding what police believed to be a gun. Only a small, black butane torch was found at the scene, authorities said.

Officer Miguel Jaimes fired three shots, which missed the suspect, who fell to the ground and was arrested.

One bullet ricocheted off the ground and went through the slightly ajar car door before striking Olvera-Preciado as he sat in his vehicle in a driveway, the report said.

California law enforcement was more than twice as likely to use force against people they perceived as Black during vehicle and pedestrian stops in 2021, as compared to people believed to be white.

Jan. 3, 2023

The Department of Justice report said it was “pitch black” at the intersection where the shots were fired, and officers couldn’t see the driveway from their positions.

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The report said Jaimes acted in “lawful self-defense” and wasn’t criminally liable for the bystander’s death.

“Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution,” the report concluded.

“My heart goes out to Mr. Olvera-Preciado’s family, friends and all those who knew him,” Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said in a statement. “His death was tragic, and there is nothing that can make up for the loss of a loved one.”

Bonta said his office has recommended changes in the Guadalupe Police Department “to help increase public trust and keep our communities safe.” Those recommendations include requiring officers to use de-escalation and crisis intervention techniques when possible as alternatives to using force and developing guidance on policies regarding “situational awareness” to reduce the risk of harming bystanders.

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