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Costa Mesa officers who shot at armed, barricaded suspect in 2019 cleared by D.A.’s office

Prosecutors found CMPD officers were not criminally culpable for firing at Steven Taylor Fernandez on Dec. 31, 2019.
(File Photo)

Two Costa Mesa police officers who shot at a suspect during an hours-long standoff in 2019 have been cleared following an investigation by the Orange County district attorney’s office, which determined their actions were reasonable and necessary.

Prosecutors Monday released findings from a report that declared Costa Mesa Police Department officers Trevor Jones and Erick Fricke were not criminally culpable for firing at then-26-year-old Steven Taylor Fernandez on Dec. 31, 2019, after the San Diego man shot at multiple witnesses and barricaded himself inside a Costa Mesa residence.

Fernandez was sentenced in March to serve 21 years in prison for attempted murder, assault and discharging a firearm, among other charges.

A friend of Fernandez’s called police that afternoon to warn them Fernandez was “armed with two loaded firearms and wanted to commit “suicide by cop,” after having confessed relationship problems, the report indicated. Jones responded to a location provided by the caller and was immediately confronted by gunfire.

After being shot at four times, Jones fired a single round from his Sig Sauer 9-milimeter pistol and lost sight of the suspect, prosecutors explained. Fernandez reportedly ran and hid in several locations throughout the neighborhood over the next 20 minutes, firing shots near officers and bystanders.

Fernandez forced his way into the garage of a Knox Street home as police zeroed in on the property. Fricke, a SWAT team sniper, positioned himself on the roof of a nearby home that offered a view of a window into the garage.

From about 50 feet away, Fricke and a second officer reported seeing Fernandez pointing a gun at his own head. Shortly after 6:30 p.m., according to the report, the second officer saw him aim the gun through the window at him and Fricke.

Fricke fired one round from his Colt M4 5.56-milimeter rifle and struck Fernandez in the head. The nonfatal blow fractured his nasal and mandible area, damaging his teeth and jaw, prosecutors said.

Steven Taylor Fernandez, 26, of San Diego was shot and wounded by police during the New Year’s Eve incident and is charged with 13 counts overall.

Investigators from the D.A.’s Special Assignment Unit interviewed witnesses and those involved, reviewed police recordings and reports from the county’s crime lab and analyzed crime scene photographs and medical records.

Although Fernandez later indicated with nonverbal gestures he didn’t recall pointing his gun out the garage window at police, investigators determined Fricke and Jones were justified using their firearms in a life-threatening situation.

“Fricke fired at Fernandez in self-defense and in defense of others, and his conduct was reasonable and necessary to defend against this threat,” investigators said of the injuring shot. “It is our legal opinion that there is no evidence of criminal culpability on the part of Officer Jones or Officer Fricke.”

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