DA finds police use of force in fatal San Pablo shooting legally justified

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Image of an officer's gun drawn from body cam footage provided by the San Pablo Police Department.

Four San Pablo police officers were legally justified in their use of force in a fatal traffic stop shooting on Dec. 15, 2021, according to findings of an investigation by the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, which cited witness statements suggesting 45-year-old Sergio Escalera-Valdez may have intended to be killed by police.

Escalera-Valdez was fatally shot after police and investigators say he failed to comply with repeated demands to drop a gun, which was later identified as a BB handgun. While engaged in a brief standoff with police during a traffic stop on Market Avenue, Escalera-Valdez reportedly racked the slide of the weapon, turned to face the officers and “brought the weapon up” before he was fatally shot by police, according to the DA.

The incident unfolded at about 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 15, 2021, when police were called by a clerk at Evergreen Produce Market on Market Avenue on a report that Escalera-Valdez was in the parking lot of the store possibly armed with a gun and taking the magazine out and putting it back in. The clerk then informed dispatch that Escalera-Valdez had recklessly driven out of the parking lot. Responding police located Escalera-Valdez in a red pickup truck on Market Avenue and initiated a traffic stop.

According to the DA’s Office, Escalera-Valdez was seen making unusual movements in the truck and, with weapons drawn, police ordered him to show his hands multiple times, but he responded “no” and placed his hands outside the window of the truck. His hands appeared to be bloody, prosecutors said.

Valdez then exited the vehicle with his back to the officers holding what appeared to be a firearm, which he reportedly appeared to load before he turned around and faced the officers.

“After repeated commands to drop the weapon, Valdez brought the weapon up,” prosecutors said. “The officers, believing, they were in imminent danger of Valdez firing his gun at them, fired their weapons at him. After Valdez was no longer a threat, officers kicked away the gun.”

Valdez endured seven gunshot wounds, with a fatal wound to the chest, according to an autopsy. Toxicology results found Valdez tested positive for “methamphetamine, amphetamine, and THC (marijuana),” and his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit to drive, according to the DA’s Office.

Relatives of Escalera-Valdez told investigators he had been depressed for several months due to financial troubles and had told family members he had planned to kill himself.

The afternoon of his death, an Evergreen Market employee interacted with Escalera-Valdez in the parking lot of the store. During the interaction, Escalera-Valdez attempted to give the employee money, but the employee declined. Escalera-Valdez then began to cry, and despite the employee’s offer to help, Escalera-Valdez said there was no way to solve his problem. 

Escalera-Valdez also told the employee that he wasn’t going to kill himself, but would “let the cops do it for me,” the DA’s Office said.

“In its legal analysis, the District Attorney’s Office concluded that the officers’ actions in stopping Valdez in his vehicle and attempting to detain him were lawful – given the information officers received from the 911 call,” prosecutors said in a statement. “Furthermore, the officers involved in the shooting were justified in their lethal use of force due to their reasonable belief that they needed to defend themselves against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury. As such, no further action will be taken in this case.”

The DA’s Office has publicly released its report on the case here.