Crime

Man shot dead by Sanger cops wasn’t a ‘lethal threat,’ sheriff’s sergeant testifies

Video, audio of Sanger man's last minutes before he's shot by police

WARNING: Graphic content. A witness captured on video the moment a suicidal Sanger man was shot and killed by police in June 2012. You also hear the 911 call Charles Salinas made in the minutes before his death.
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WARNING: Graphic content. A witness captured on video the moment a suicidal Sanger man was shot and killed by police in June 2012. You also hear the 911 call Charles Salinas made in the minutes before his death.

The lone law enforcement officer who didn’t shoot Charles Salinas in June 2012 testified Wednesday in a federal civil rights, excessive force trial that the suicidal Marine Corps veteran never posed a “lethal threat” when three Sanger police officers fatally shot Salinas with assault rifles.

Fresno County sheriff’s Sgt. Joshua McCahill also told the jury that Salinas never made him fear for his life during the June 15, 2012, encounter in the city of Sanger.

On the fourth day of testimony, McCahill’s testimony contradicted that of Sanger police Sgt. Jason Boust and officers Preston Little and Angela Yambupah. Boust, Little and Yambupah have already testified that they feared for their lives and those of their fellow officers when they fired 22 times at Salinas, striking him 11 times, from 10-15 feet away.

The trial in U.S. District Court in Fresno gives a rare glimpse into an officer-involved shooting because the officers didn’t know they had been videotaped by a bystander when they gave their account of the shooting to Fresno County sheriff’s investigators.

Salinas’ sister, Esperanza Booke, has sued Sanger and the three officers in U.S. District Court in Fresno for violation of Salinas’ civil rights, saying the use of deadly force against an unarmed and mentally distraught man was unjustified, excessive and a callous disregard for human life.

Attorney Robert Hamparyan contends Sanger police tried to cover up the shooting because the officers were allowed to stay together in a room at police headquarters for more than four hours and talked to a lawyer and police Chief Silver Rodriguez before meeting with Fresno County sheriff’s detectives.

Booke’s lawyer, Robert Hamparyan, also contends Sanger police tried to cover up the shooting because Boust, Little and Yambupah were allowed to stay together in a room at police headquarters for more than four hours and talked to a lawyer and police Chief Silver Rodriguez before meeting with Fresno County sheriff’s detectives.

Typically, officers involved in shootings are separated to keep them from talking to each other so the investigation is fair and impartial, Hamparyan told the jury.

Boust gave his account to investigators 5 1/2 hours after Salinas was killed. Little gave his account the next day. Yambupah gave her account 11 days later.

McCahill testified he gave his account three hours after the shooting.

Both sides agree that a drunken Salinas called 911 at 2:59 p.m. and told police dispatch that he had a gun and two knives and wanted police to kill him.

“When they get here, tell them to shoot me,” Salinas told the dispatcher.

But Salinas also promised dispatch that he would not hurt the officers but would provoke them to shoot him.

Please don’t make us do this.

Fresno County sheriff’s Sgt. Joshua McCahill told Charles Salinas

Responding to the 911 call, McCahill testified Wednesday that he heard dispatch say Salinas was armed. But when he arrived at the scene Salinas was sitting unarmed in a flower bed, talking to Sanger police officer Robert Pulkownik, who held a less-lethal shotgun that shoots bean bags.

McCahill drew his handgun, he said, to provide Pulkownik with cover. At that moment, he testified, he was worried that Salinas would reach into a bush for a weapon.

Salinas never held a weapon or threatened officers, McCahill told the jury, but he was not complying with orders to come out of the flower bed, lay on the ground and surrender.

While sitting in the flower bed, McCahill recalled that Salinas “flipped us off” and put his hands up, about shoulder high, with his palms out. He also said Salinas told them that he was having a bad day and he wanted to die.

McCahill said Salinas appeared agitated – not aggressive – while moving his hands up and down frantically. When Salinas reached for a bush, McCahill said he got worried, telling Salinas: “Don’t do that. We don’t want to shoot you.”

After a few minutes, Salinas stood up in the flower bed, McCahill said. By then, Boust, Little and Yambupah had arrived at the scene. The five officers then formed a skirmish line in front of Salinas, McCahill said.

McCahill said Salinas pointed at the rifle-armed officers and told them he didn’t want them to shoot him. McCahill said Salinas asked him to shoot him.

McCahill said Salinas had his hands above his waist and never showed a weapon as he stood in the flower bed. McCahill said he felt glad that a police dog was en route to defuse the situation.

Salinas still posed a threat, McCahill told the jury, because he could have had a weapon hidden in his back waistband. “But he was not a lethal threat,” McCahill said, because he had nothing in his hands to give police reason to shoot him.

Like Yambupah, McCahill said he saw a black, plastic object on Salinas’ left hip. Yambupah testified that she thought the object was shiny and could be a gun. But McCahill testified that the object was an empty holster. (After the shooting, it was determined to be a cell phone and its holster.)

Because Salinas continued to move his hands up and down, McCahill testified that he implored Salinas to give up. “Please don’t make us do this,” he recalled telling Salinas.

By then, Salinas had moved to the edge of the flower bed, which was about 2 feet high.

At that point, McCahill said he wasn’t in fear for his life but was still apprehensive, since he didn’t know whether Salinas had a weapon.

But McCahill told the jury that he felt fearful the moment Salinas made a sudden move to his left side before jumping or lunging off the flower bed. McCahill testified that he yelled “Bag, bag, bag,” an order for Pulkownik to shoot the less-lethal shotgun.

But instead of waiting for the bean-bag shotgun to take effect, the other officers fired simultaneously with their AR-15 rifles, McCahill testified.

During his testimony, McCahill was shown a video of the shooting in slow motion. After viewing it, he said it didn’t match his testimony of Salinas making a sudden move to his left side or of him jumping or lunging toward the officers. But he told the jury “that was my perception at the time.”

Boust and Little testified that Salinas, with his arms pumping, ran or sprinted toward them as he was being shot. But McCahill said that didn’t happen; Salinas fell forward and landed face down on the pavement. He said the officers kept shooting at Salinas while he was on the ground. He recalled one bullet striking Salinas’ head.

After the shooting, he recalled rolling Salinas’ body over so he could be handcuffed.

He later talked to sheriff’s detectives and Rodriguez at the crime scene.

McCahill testified he never fired his gun because it was a “nonlethal situation.”

But he said, “It’s a personal decision of each officer whether to use lethal force,” based on the totality of the circumstance and what they knew at the time.

Pablo Lopez: 559-441-6434, @beecourts

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