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Laguna Beach police were justified in shooting woman armed with BB gun, D.A.’s office says

Laguna Beach police were justified in shooting woman armed with BB gun, D.A.’s office says
Laguna Beach police investigate the scene of an officer-involved shooting Feb. 11 in which a Huntington Beach woman was critically wounded. (File Photo)

Two Laguna Beach police officers will not face criminal charges in connection with the February shooting of a woman who authorities said pointed a BB gun at officers, the Orange County district attorney’s office announced.

The office stated in a letter to the Police Department on Monday that its investigation found Officers Thomas McGuire and James Michaud were justified when they shot Valerie Giocondo of Huntington Beach on Feb. 11 in the 100 block of St. Ann’s Drive. Officers said she pointed a BB pistol at them that they mistook for a semiautomatic weapon.

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Giocondo, who was 36 at the time, was in critical condition after the shooting and required surgery, but ultimately survived.

Authorities had not identified her by name before the D.A.’s investigation was complete, and contact information for her was not immediately available Tuesday.

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Before the shooting, police said, they had received reports of a suicidal woman in a vehicle with what looked like a gun.

Before going to Laguna Beach, Giocondo was involved in an argument with a woman in Huntington Beach before taking a BB gun from the woman’s house and leaving in a Lexus SUV, Deputy District Attorney Amy Swanson said in the letter to Laguna Beach Police Chief Laura Farinella.

The woman told investigators that she “was concerned Giocondo would wave the BB gun around and have the police kill her,” the D.A.’s office said.

McGuire was dispatched to the area of St. Ann’s and Gaviota drives and approached Giocondo, who was standing near the front of the vehicle and holding a wine bottle, the letter said.

Giocondo reportedly refused to put down the bottle and remove her hand from her sweatshirt pocket, which McGuire described in his police report as being “capable of concealing the previously mentioned gun.”

“Based on the report of Giocondo being armed with a gun, her being suicidal and her furtive movement of placing her hand in her pocket, I immediately feared for my safety, which caused me to draw my department-issued handgun and point it at Giocondo,” McGuire wrote.

McGuire requested that Michaud bring a “40mm less-than-lethal launcher.”

As Michaud approached from the opposite, passenger side of the vehicle, the D.A.’s office said, Giocondo drew the BB pistol from her pocket and pointed it at McGuire, prompting Michaud to fire a rubber bullet at Giocondo’s torso.

Giocondo flinched slightly, then pointed the BB gun through the car window at Michaud, the letter said.

“When I looked toward Giocondo, I immediately pointed my firearm at her and saw what I believed was a black semiautomatic handgun,” McGuire wrote in his report.

McGuire reacted by firing eight shots at Giocondo, striking her multiple times and causing her to drop the bottle and the BB gun.

Giocondo was handcuffed and given first aid as additional officers arrived, the D.A.’s office said.

As officers rendered aid, Giocondo told them several times that she was sorry and it was “not [their] fault,” the letter said.

Giocondo was taken to Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, where she was treated for a wound to the right side of her neck, two wounds to her right shoulder, one wound to the chest above the clavicle and one wound to the right side of her face.

Investigators from the D.A.’s office conducted 10 interviews, including McGuire, Michaud and Giocondo, and contacted 12 additional witnesses, the letter said. They also reviewed police reports, crime lab and firearm examination reports, patrol car videos, medical records and photos related to Giocondo’s injuries, and prior incident reports related to Giocondo.

The case is the only officer-involved shooting in Laguna Beach this year. The city averages one such incident per year, the Police Department said.

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