DA Clears Officer in San Jose State Shooting

Family and friends of a man shot dead by San Jose State University police have spoken out against a decision not to charge the officer.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office determined in a 46-page report Friday that Sgt. Michael Santos acted in self-defense when he shot and killed 38-year-old Antonio Guzman Lopez in early 2014.

The incident was caught on video by police body cameras. The DA released stills of the footage, though the family and authorities disagree on the context of what they depict.

Police say Santos and Officer Frits Van Der Hoek responded to a report of a man armed with a knife the morning of Feb. 21 last year.

"I was just over by the print shop and there's, like, a bum over there with some sort of knife, like, stabbing the air and doing a bunch of crazy stuff," a student told a 9-1-1 dispatcher just before 11am, according to the DA's report.

Santos was the first to arrive on scene, at East San Salvador and South Eighth streets, and he was trailed in a separate patrol car by Van Der Hoek.

Lopez, according to the official summary, was walking near the university campus with a foot-long sawblade used for cutting drywall, “acting as though he was mentally unstable or intoxicated." When the two officers parked, Lopez slumped onto his knees. Santos left his patrol car with gun drawn. Van Der Hoek approached from behind, as shown by stills from his body camera.

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As Van Der Hoek approached the curb, Lopez stood up, prompting the officer to retreat onto the street while positioning himself in front of the suspect. Police say they ordered Lopez to drop the weapon, but he didn't respond to repeated commands to drop to the ground. They said Lopez appeared "catatonic," his face frozen in "a thousand-yard stare."

Police intended to detain him because he had feloniously brandished a knife-like weapon on campus, the report continued. Facing Lopez, Van Der Hoek aimed his stun gun and shouted "Taser, Taser, Taser!" before discharging it while the suspect walked toward him. But the electrical barb didn't pierce his clothing.

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Moments later, police say, Lopez charged at Van Der Hoek, who shouted for Santos to shoot. Santos shot Lopez twice in the back.

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An autopsy later revealed that Lopez had methamphetamine in his bloodstream at the time of his death and that he had a criminal history of resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer and domestic violence.

But Laurie Valdez, the partner of Lopez and mother of his child, challenges the assertion that he was a threat to police that morning. She says the footage supports her case. That last image, she says, shows him trying to get away, not charge an officer. Further, she told reporters, he was unresponsive to police commands because of a language barrier. She held a press conference last week to decry the DA’s decision.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen showed Valdez and Richard Konda, head of the Asian Law Alliance, the video footage the day before the report was released last week.

“I didn’t see him (Lopez) make any aggressive move toward any person,” Konda told CBS.

Valdez filed a federal lawsuit against SJSU in January, demanding unspecified damages for her partner’s death and calling the shooting “unnecessary and excessive." The suit also argues that police violated her partner's Fourth Amendment and 14th Amendment rights.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

12 Comments

  1. Konda is such an idiot. Konda should take on the job since he seems to no so much. Even the pictures with that guy so close to the officer is aggressive to me. Once the officer commands him to comply and he does not is aggressive. Because it is not Submissive KONDA. So if he not submitting to the authority then he is hostile and aggressive. The DA showing the head of the Asian Alliance is all good two shoes and PC but Why. Who is Konda? Does he have any training on anything except talking out of two mouths.

    • Sorry Laurie, Know one wants a guy acting crazy running though the city. The officer needs to stop this threat before he cuts someone up like chicken. He runs down the street and stabs someone then everyone will be saying why did that officer not stop him. Shooting him stopped him. And his long criminal history of resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer and domestic violence, shows the cop did a great job under extreme circumstances. What everyone should be saying is thank you officer for keeping our community safe. I hope you are OK. The officer now has to deal with the emotions and mental issues of killing someone in line of duty and then put up with stupid comments, like Konda.

      • I gotta agree with W R Smoke on this one: “He runs down the street and stabs someone then everyone will be saying why did that officer not stop him. Shooting him stopped him.” You have a meth head with a history of violence wandering around with a lethal weapon. One kid was alarmed enough to call 9-1-1. Meth heads can be paranoid. So, instead of some severely injured or dead passers-by, or an injured or dead officer, we have one dead meth head with a documented history of violence against women and cops.

  2. This is a sad story on all sides. On reddit it turned into a cops vs friends of the deceased slugfest. I ended up calling everyone out on it and demanded we all calm our downvoting and listen to the others side. Heh, someone gilded my submission.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/SanJose/comments/374jvq/dear_rsanjose_does_this_seem_off_to_you/

    Turns out one of my friends knew the deceased, and from what I can gather he was acting very out of character. Meth does this to people, it is basically powdered evil. I feel bad for the cops too. Every cop I know wants to wake up in the morning to help people, not shoot them. I hope the two officers are doing OK.

    There was no language barrier. I think it’s universal that anytime there’s a police officer with a drawn gun, anywhere in the world, people know that’s a message for, “Stop whatever it is you’re doing, empty your hands and place them above your head, drop to your knees or stomach”

  3. Look, it took well over a year for that fool DA to say no to charges?! What kind of a boob can’t watch a clear video of the entire event and not make a decision in a reasonable time? That investigation should have been over within the hours it took for the film to be viewed. How spineless are our “leaders” now!

    • Lets be glad you are not the one doing the investigation. You look at a video and make up your mind… Seems like the DA made the right call with all the facts and just not a video.

    • Well, I’m sure that they had to do all the PC stuff to try to keep Cordell and Jayadev off their backs, which would involve running it up the chains of command at SJSU police, SJSU administration, SJPD, County Sheriff, CA AG, their own office, and probably D.A.Wagstaffe in San Mateo County. At the end of the day, it was a righteous shoot; but you’ll never convince his live in girlfriend and their son. So, some gutless lawyer will settle the case and throw money at this meth-head’s relatives, instead of taking it to trial and getting the defense verdict it deserves.

  4. Sorry about that!
    These officers showed a lot of respect to this guy.

    One, he was confronted, ordered to drop a a very real weapon, several times.

    Two, he charged an armed officer with a drawn taser followed by a second command to drop the weapon.
    Any normal person in any language should get the point at that time.

    Three, firing the taser should have stopped him that’s the problem with non lethal weapons.
    Pepper spray if they had it might have been a better chose, blinding him but he would still be dangerous if he was swinging that blade around. Meth and or PCP rendering people to feel no pain, that’s why we take it right?

    After all that fails.

    Four, second officer fires only two shots, after first officers taser fails to stop Mr. Lopez, more restraint on the part
    of the police. I was taught in training to empty the gun into the threat, other wise some attorney is going to pick your story apart in court.

    “You only shot him twice? I thought you said he was dangerous” Why didn’t you empty the gun?
    We hear of police doing this all the time, suspect shot 47 times.
    Really! How many time did you hit him officer?

    This is a problem relating to police being required to carry under powered weapons, 9 MM’s and 38’s verse hitting someone on the other side with something more powerful.
    It’s legal department policy that dictate police tactics today.

    These guys did what they could, I can just imagine the out cry if this guy grabbed some bystander and cut his throat
    in front of 2 armed officers or the officers shot up the whole area trying to stop this guy.

    There is no such thing as a good shooting, It’s like friendly fire.
    Having to shoot someone is never the outcome you want but it maybe the only one you get.
    I’ll just say well done.

    Now please tell me why a good citizen of the United States of America, hopped up on meth couldn’t under stand drop the weapon?………………………

  5. “Now please tell me why a good citizen of the United States of America, hopped up on meth couldn’t under stand drop the weapon?” He probably is here illegally, surely not a citizen. Yet another reason to learn the language of the country you are living in.

  6. Just blocks from this incident, two San Jose Police Officers were not so fortunate when confronted by such an individual in much the same circumstances. Just before noon on a typical cool breezy Garden City January day, what began as a call of a man acting “bizarrely” in the middle of the intersection of 5th and E. Santa Clara Streets turned into the bloodiest day in San Jose Police history; a day I and many others will never forget. Dale Randy Connors, a local transient and drunk well known to those who worked downtown because of his often violent and confrontational demeanor, attacked and killed officer Gene Simpson after wrestling his service revolver away and shooting him point blank in the face. Hearing the call for help over the radio, Officer Gordon Silva was the first to arrive on scene and he too was immediately attacked by the 34 year-old Connors who also found his mark; Officer Silva was shot three times and died of his wounds later that evening. 26 seconds after Gene called a “Code 30”, Dale Randy Connors died in a hail of bullets, one of them through the heart by responding officers. I attended both Gene and Gordon’s funeral as a reserve officer for SJPD. Before I retired in 1998, I would attend many more funerals for officers killed in the line-of-duty, but that funeral was my first as an officer and it still effects me to this day, just as 911 still haunts me a retired firefighter. I can still hear the roar of over 180 police bikes some two miles in the distance get louder and louder as they approached the First Baptist Church off Almaden Expressway and Ironwood Drive. I can still remember the sobbing widows and their stunned children pass by the thousands of officers who attended on that terrible day in 1989. So, to those who doubt the justification of this officer using deadly force I say this, “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”

  7. Precisely why these folks should never be let off campus. They aren’t police officers with city training. They need to get back on campus and protect the kids who are being raped and race baited. These guys have guns, for what?

    • So your theory Jon would be that they should have let this guy run down street and stab someone.. Yes that will be nice for the family of the victim… These are California POST certified Officers. They have same training as CHP or SJPD… HELLLO