Authorities concluded Thursday that Santa Clara policeÂ acted lawfully when they fatally shot a mentally ill man who turned out to be unarmed.
Officer Colin Stewart shot 24-year-old Jesus Geney-Montes on March 9, afterÂ Geney-Montes stabbed himself in the chest several times and reportedly told police he had a gun and would shoot them. The Santa Clara County District Attorneyâ€™s Office, which investigates police shootings, determined that Stewart was justified in killing Geney-Montes because he feared for his own safety.
In an unusual step, the DA also released Stewartâ€™s body camera footage, which documents the final 11 minutes of the standoff.
â€śSeeing Geney-Montes charging towards him and believing his life was in danger, Officer Stewart chose to defend himself by discharging his weapon,â€ť prosecutor Carolyn PowellÂ wroteÂ in a 53-page report on the incident. â€śUnder the facts, circumstances and applicable law in this matter, Officer Colin Stewartâ€™s use of force was in response to an objectively reasonable belief that he was facing an immediate threat of great bodily injury or death.â€ť
Fulvio Cajina,Â an attorney representing the victimâ€™s family in a wrongful death suit against the city of Santa Clara, says he came away with the opposite conclusion after watching the video.
â€śOur reaction is still the same,â€ť heÂ told San Jose Inside in a phone call Thursday. â€śThis was an unjustified police shooting.â€ť
Cajina says the video provesÂ Geney-Montes was shirtless, unarmed and trying to evade officers, not charge at them, as Powell claims. There were no civilian bystanders at risk, the attorney adds, and there was no reason why officers couldnâ€™t have taken â€śall the time in the worldâ€ť to de-escalate the confrontation.
In the body-cam footage, cops repeatedly tell Geney-Montes theyâ€™re not going to shoot him while aiming their guns atÂ him.
â€śTheyâ€™re not going to shoot you, Jesus,â€ť a cop shouts over a fence separating Geney-Montes from the officers.
Over the next several minutes, he adds:
â€śNobodyâ€™s going to kill you.â€ť
â€śJesus, I want to get you some help, especially for that chest wound, my man.â€ť
â€śTheyâ€™re not going to shoot you. Focus here, Jesus.â€ť
â€śWeâ€™re not going to shoot you, bro.â€ť
At 9:45 in the clip, Geney-Montesâ€”who reportedly had his hand in his shorts pocket for most of the standoffâ€”bolts away from police. Stewart, gunÂ aimed ahead of him, chases him from the opposite side of the fence. The cop then leaps over a wall and continues his pursuit on a dirt trail as Geney-Montes turns for cover around an embankment.
Stewart stops at a closed gate and turns toward Geney-Montes, whoâ€™s on the other side of aÂ chain-linked fence. Geney-Montes turns and Stewart fires four rounds at Geney-Montes, whoÂ then crumpled to the ground.
â€śShit,â€ť Stewart says, lowering his gun as other officers jog up to the scene, where one of them found a bloodied knife in the bushes.
The DA released the clip on YouTube, with a disclaimer: â€śThis video is graphic and viewer discretion is advised. The District Attorneyâ€™s Office tries to balance the values of privacy and transparency. Finding the right balance is important to maintain and build public trust in the criminal justice system. We are releasing this video because it was relevant to our decision.â€ť
To Cajina, the video reinforces the familyâ€™s claim that Geney-Montes was wrongfully killed. Police had several opportunities to avoid a fatal outcome, he says.
The DAâ€™s report notes that Santa Clara police had already been to the familyâ€™s Deborah Drive home four other times that day. Each time, Geney-Montes locked himself in his bedroom, threatened his stepdad and himself, and told cops he had a gun and would shoot them if they broke in. Each time, police determined that no crime had been committed and that it was safer to let the family work things out.
At 5pm, Geney-Montesâ€™ mother called police once more, reporting that her son had knifed himself in the chest and fled from the bedroom window. When police arrived, they found him standing atop an embankment by the familyâ€™s apartment complex.
The restÂ of the encounter isÂ caught on video.Â Below is Powellâ€™s description of events in the DA report, as well as video of the shooting.
â€śGeney-Montes turned toward Ofc Steward and came back at him,â€ťÂ the report states. â€śAt that time, Ofc Stewart was cornered with a cement wall behind him and a locked chain link fence to his left and the defendant coming toward him from the front. Ofc Stewart fired four shots to stop Geney-Montesâ€™ advancement toward him. All four rounds hit Geney-Montes. Despite life-saving measures, Geney-Montes was pronounced dead at the scene.â€ť