SAN DIEGO – District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has cleared two San Diego police officers of any criminal responsibility in the death of an 87-year-old San Ysidro man who died in September 2008, a month after being shot with bean bags and a Taser.
Dumanis said Officer Carlos Ronquillo and Officer John Cochran were justified in deploying the nonlethal weapons on Aug. 16, 2008 because they were protecting themselves from Guadalupe Zavala. Zavala, who was agitated and hostile, refused to drop a broken shard of glass as officers approached him inside his Sycamore Road home.
An autopsy showed that Zavala sustained blunt force injuries to his chest and abdomen from the four bean bags, one of which penetrated his body. Although Zavala had other health problems, including a malignant tumor and severe lung disease, pathologist Marvin S. Platt determined that his death was caused by complications following the bean-bag injuries. The manner of death was listed as homicide.
“When Mr. Zavala ignored all commands and approached them in a threatening manner with a broken shard of glass, the officers were legally justified in discharging the bean bags and Taser at Mr. Zavala in an effort to protect themselves and one another,” Dumanis wrote in a letter to Police Chief William Lansdowne.
Officers had been called to Zavala's home after he threatened to hit a caretaker with a piece of metal when the woman wouldn't let him go outside to smoke.
Zavala had been discharged from a hospital two days earlier, where he had been taken after becoming agitated and incoherent. Doctors diagnosed him with pneumonia, dementia and stage-three chronic kidney disease.
Dumanis said Zavala was armed with a stick and shards of glass when police arrived. He had broken out the windows at the front of the house.
Officers repeatedly told him in English and Spanish to drop the weapons, but Zavala held a piece of glass in each hand as officers opened the front door of his house.
He dropped one piece of glass, but kept the shard in his right hand and continued walking to the officers.
According to Dumanis' letter, Ronquillo told investigators he was scared and feared that Zavala wanted to die and was going to try to hurt him or one of the other officers. Ronquillo said he shot the first bean bag and then ordered Zavala again to drop the glass before he fired the second, third and fourth bean bags.
When Zavala didn't go down after being hit with the bean bags, Cochran fired his Taser, with one prong striking the man in the hand.
That's so brave oh boys in blue. So brave.