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Shifting explanation of fatal shooting by San Jose police draws criticism

Richard Jacquez was already suspected of killing one man, had another potential victim beside him in the passenger seat of his car and was presumed to be heavily armed when he noticed he was being tailed by San Jose police.

He tried to speed away, turned onto a cul-de-sac, jumped out of the moving vehicle and ran away as officers gave chase and yelled for him to stop.

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Jacquez, 40, was steps from the front door of a house when an officer opened fire, killing him.

Hours after Monday night's confrontation, department spokesman Sgt. Enrique Garcia told reporters that Jacquez had reached for his waistband.

The official story soon changed.

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FOR THE RECORD:

San Jose police: An article in Section A on Aug. 22 about a police shooting in San Jose said police are looking for two suspects in a related fatal shooting days earlier. Police are looking for one gunman. —
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Now, officials say Jacquez wasn't armed and didn't reach for his waistband. The officer shot at him first when his back was turned and again when he spun around. In explaining why the officer opened fire, Garcia said he feared for the safety of those inside the home Jacquez was running toward. Officers also believed he was going to kill the woman riding with him because she knew about the slaying Jacquez was tied to.

The shooting has generated debate in San Jose and sparked questions both about the police tactics used and why the official narrative changed so significantly.

LaDoris Cordell, a retired judge and former San Jose independent police auditor, filed a complaint with the department this week.

"Whenever a law enforcement agency issues a statement about a shooting, that is a thought-out, deliberate statement. It's not off-the-cuff, 'We know this happened,'" Cordell said. "They have to do this 180[-degree turn] because, of course, the autopsy is going to show he was shot in the back. Clearly what we were told by police was a lie."

Cordell said filing the complaint with the police auditor ensures civilian oversight of the internal use of force investigation. The department has a year to investigate the shooting and hand down any potential discipline. The office of the independent police auditor, which Cordell led for five years, reviews internal investigations conducted by police.

Cordell, who retired last month, said she has faith that the department can do a fair investigation, and doesn't believe Garcia deliberately misled the public. But she thinks someone deliberately misled him.

"I'm very concerned," Cordell said. "It's very, very disconcerting."

Since the shooting, San Jose police have launched separate investigations into the use of force by the officer, who is on administrative leave, and into who fed the bad information up the chain of command and to Garcia.

"There was no lie … this was miscommunication, period," Garcia said Friday.

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But experts say the changed narrative raises questions.

"The fact they retreated from that position does lead one to wonder if the officer was telling the truth in the first instance. That goes to the officer's general credibility," said Merrick Bobb, a police reform consultant who served as the civilian overseer of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department for more than 20 years. "I think one might ask if less-than-lethal alternatives could have been used in this situation."

But, he cautioned, it would be difficult to justify allowing a suspected killer believed to be armed to run into a private citizen's home, where there could be more potential victims.

The San Jose shooting comes amid nationwide protests and debate over authorities' use of force against unarmed suspects. The Jacquez case differs from many others in one key respect, Bobb said.

"It's not like a situation where you're coming up on a person you don't know, haven't dealt with before, have no intelligence about and just assume from a furtive gesture the guy is armed," he said. "Here, there's a greater risk and I think it's justifiable to be using force. Whether it's lethal force is a strategic, tactical matter."

In ascribing the shooting to concern about the public's safety, experts said San Jose police appear to be invoking a 1985 U.S. Supreme Court decision that officers may shoot a fleeing suspect if the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect poses an imminent threat to the officer or others.

"But what does 'imminent' mean? Am I pointing a gun at you? I'm likely to shoot someone else or am I breaking into a home?" said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina. "It's cumulative: the more information you have about the violent nature of a person and the proximity to that violence — something that just happened as opposed to a month ago."

Police are still looking for two other suspects in the Aug. 13 slaying of Christopher Wrenn. Officers shot and killed Matthew Castillo, the third alleged gunman, a day before Jacquez's death. Police said Castillo was holding a gun.

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