The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office announced Thursday the fatal January shooting of a man by San Jose police officers was lawful.
Robert Seth Carter, 32, was shot and killed on Jan. 19 after he unsuccessfully attempted to carjack someone on Monroe Street and then T-boned another car while armed in the intersection of Park Avenue and W. Hedding Street.
The officers involved were Thomas Ortiz, Shayla Nail, Aiden Guy and Alex Gutierrez, said the district attorney office’s 41-page public report .
“There is insufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Officers Gutierrez, Ortiz, Nail and Guy did not act in lawful self-defense or defense of others,” the report said. “Consequently, no criminal liability attaches to them.”
Despite not being actively pursued by the police, Carter drove at speeds of up to 70 m.p.h. on freeways and streets across San Jose, from the west to the east and back again, running red lights and stop signs. At one point, he drove against heavy oncoming traffic.
Carter drove into the City of Santa Clara, where he tried to carjack another motorist at gunpoint, police said. Eventually, he returned to San Jose where he ran a red light, T-boning a passing car and causing a major collision at the corner of Park Avenue and Hedding Street.Prosecutors said Carter fired his handgun at approaching patrol cars after he crashed and had crawled out of the burning vehicle, and an officer "heard the bullet whizz past his head."
Carter fled on foot and when confronted by a police car, he again pointed his gun at police, ignoring their commands to drop his weapon.
Carter shot at police and was hit with a volley of bullets from at least four officers, who hit him nine times, according to the report. Officers repeatedly had asked him to drop his weapon and he had not, the district attorney's report concluded.
There were so many officers firing guns, prosecutors said, that they became confused about some of the shots and assumed they were coming at them from Carter, when in fact they were being fired by fellow officers.
“Officer Guy mistakenly believed that the gunshots fired by Officers Nail and Ortiz were being fired by Carter, so he also discharged his weapon,” the DA's report reads.
After Guy's discharge of his weapon, Carter went down, but he still did not drop his gun. At that point, all three officers fired a total of 51 rounds at him in 12 seconds.
Though Carter was down and not moving, the gun was still near his hand, so a K-9 unit was deployed to pull him away from the gun. He was then taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead at 7:53pm, roughly 40 minutes after the confrontation began.
A woman identified as “Jane Doe” talked with investigators from the District Attorney's Office and said she had known Carter for most of his life. She expressed anger that the officers shot at him so many times because “she believed Carter only had one bullet in his gun.” But she did agree that Carter had put himself in a position where “he gave officers no choice but to use deadly force against him.”
Prosecutor Robert Baker, who authored the report, found that there was "abundant" circumstantial evidence that Carter intended for the police to shoot and kill him.
Police recordings from the body-worn camera footage revealed the officers' belief that Carter was giving them his middle finger once he was down. Jane Doe also said he told her that he would rather die than go back to prison.
“Robert Carter was, regrettably, suffering with mental health issues and drug addiction,” reads the DA's report. “These struggles contributed to the violent conduct that put lives of innocent citizens and police officers at risk of death and grievous injury.”
A collection of body-worn camera footage and other video evidence can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQnEUcYXeT0.