Nearly three years after sheriff’s deputies fatally shot a suicidal Camarillo man who ran toward them with weapons, Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko’s office has found the lethal use of force was legally justified.
The DA’s report issued Friday recounted the Oct. 4, 2020 incident, during which a 24-year-old man who claimed to have a loaded gun told a dispatcher he wanted to shoot people. He also told her he was suicidal and wanted deputies to shoot him.
The document provides some new details, including that the man painted a blue replica gun with black makeup to make it appear more realistic.
The investigation was one of several involving the matter and focused solely on whether the two deputies had acted lawfully. As is standard with any peace officer’s deadly use of force, the incident was subject to multiple probes, including the DA’s review.
Early morning 911 call
The shooting unfolded in a matter of minutes after the 24-year-old Camarillo resident, Austin Manzano, called 911 around 1:10 a.m. on Oct. 4, 2020.
The events that followed were made public a month later when the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office released footage from the two deputies’ body-worn cameras, along with a recording of Manzano’s 911 call.
“Yeah, I have a gun, and I’m out here on Ripley Street in Camarillo,” Manzano said as he began his conversation with the dispatcher. “I’m going to start f—in’ shooting some people.”
He was near the intersection of Bradford Avenue and Calle La Sombra in a residential area north of Ponderosa Drive.
Before the first deputy arrived four minutes later, Manzano told the dispatcher he had a loaded SIG Sauer pistol in his hand along with a “big” knife, “like a Bowie knife.”
He described what he was wearing — a brown shirt and khaki shorts — and told the dispatcher he’d been suicidal all day. He said he was going to start hurting people. His responses were mostly polite and direct as the dispatcher continued to ask questions, her voice calm. The dispatcher’s typing can be heard in the background.
As Deputy Robert Medina pulled up around 1:14 a.m., the dispatcher can be heard coaxing Manzano to put down the gun.
Manzano told the dispatcher he could put it down, “but then I wouldn’t be able to have them shoot me.”
As he closed out the conversation, Manzano asked the dispatcher’s name. “I’m sorry about this,” he told her before abandoning the call.
Medina, who had 12 years of service with the sheriff’s office at the time, was told on the radio he would be encountering a suicidal subject with a gun. When he turned onto Bradford Avenue, he saw Manzano in the street holding a handgun, according to the DA’s report.
Less than 90 seconds elapsed before Medina and another deputy opened fire.
Medina had backed up and opened his patrol vehicle door for cover. He got his rifle from the rear cargo area and returned to the crook of the open door. On the body-worn camera audio, he can be heard requesting other responding deputies to use so-called “less lethal” weapons, such as beanbag guns.
“Just put the gun down, dude,” Medina can be heard saying to Manzano. “You got a lot to live for, dude. Just relax.”
About a minute after Medina’s arrival, Senior Deputy Greg Tougas pulled up. Tougas, who then had 31 years service with the agency, intended to get his beanbag shotgun from the rear of his patrol vehicle, according to the DA report.
But before Tougas could grab the beanbag shotgun, he saw Manzano running toward his colleague, aiming the handgun at him and holding the knife.
Both deputies can be heard shouting at Manzano to stop. “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” Medina called out.
Their gunfire followed, knocking Manzano to the street, where the deputies provided medical aid.
Medina, using his patrol rifle, had fired twice. Both rounds struck Manzano in the abdomen, the DA report said. Tougas fired one shot with his service weapon but didn’t hit Manzano.
Manzano was taken to Ventura County Medical Center, where he died on Oct. 17. He had gone through multiple surgeries and survived the injuries but became septic, according to autopsy information in the report.
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The report, which has some redactions, mostly in sections about family interactions that day, said investigators found two handwritten suicide notes in the home on Ripley Street that Manzano shared with his father. One was for his family, the other for a friend.
Detectives also found a tube of black makeup Manzano used to cover the blue replica gun. A photo from the scene shows the grip of the gun blue, but the barrel and other portions that were visible to deputies blackened. Makeup from the grip rubbed off onto Manzano’s right hand, something hospital staff noticed while treating him, the DA report notes.
The knife he carried measured 12 inches total with a fixed 7-inch blade. A toxicology report showed Manzano had a blood alcohol level of 0.089, just over what would be the legal limit for a driver. There were no citizen witnesses to the incident.
The report, written by Senior Deputy DA Melissa Suttner, follows an investigation completed by the sheriff’s office in June 2021. Sheriff’s officials typically review significant use-of-force incidents to make sure a deputy’s actions are within department policy.
Suttner’s report concluded both deputies reasonably believed they were under imminent threat of death or significant injury. Neither used more force than was reasonably necessary, she wrote.
Medina’s fatal shooting of Manzano was found to be justifiable homicide. Tougas’ attempted shooting was classified as justifiable use of deadly force.
If you’re feeling despondent, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, for both English and Spanish speakers, can be reached by calling 988 and can be found on the web at https://988lifeline.org.
Gretchen Wenner is the breaking news and city editor at the Star. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Deputies’ lethal force justified in 2020 Camarillo shooting, DA says