DA report: County Peace Officers lawfully shot and killed threatening drug dealer
According to James Leonard, Supervising Deputy District Attorney, six Santa Clara County peace officers lawfully shot and killed a drug dealer during an undercover buy operation in Sunnyvale last year. The review by the District Attorney’s office concluded that the undercover officers responded only after being threatened by the suspect during a drug deal gone wrong.
Leonard said, “The agitated felon, sitting in a truck, told the undercover officer that he had a gun, and then abruptly reached for something”. Juan Ruelas was known to have guns and a violent history in dealing with known associates. However, it was later learned that he did not have a weapon. Leonard said “numerous officers – who had been briefed that the dealer had multiple guns and had threatened people with them – thought that he did. The 34-year-old Sunnyvale resident was fatally shot by the officers”.
Leonard, said, “The fact that Ruelas was not armed with a firearm at the time of the shooting does not negate a legal justification for the shooting, as long as officers honestly believed he posed an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury to them or others.”
Final review of the incident by the District Attorney’s Office agrees that during the confrontation between the officers and the suspect, lethal force was justified.
According to the DA’s Office, “The fatality happened during a September 4, 2013 arrest operation organized after Ruelas had sold methamphetamine five times before to an undercover officer”. Undercover Detective Travis Niesen had contacted Ruelas earlier in the day to buy a pound of methamphetamine from Ruelas for $10,000. The plan was to arrest Ruelas after the deal went down. However, with previous information that revealed Ruelas likely had a weapon on him, officers felt threatened by the suspect when he refused to cooperate with them, and when they believed he was reaching for a weapon.
The sting had been arranged near a restaurant parking lot on Mathilda Road in Sunnyvale at around 2 p.m. According to authorities, “the dealer, still sitting in his truck, handed over the drugs”. It was then that an undercover officer gave the coded arrest signal. But it was during the brief encounter that Ruelas told the officer, “I got a gun, don’t do anything stupid.” Hoping the arrest team would hear, the undercover detective said, “Dude, why did you bring a gun?” According to the undercover officer, “Ruelas reached with his left hand toward his waist”. The officer, fearing for his life, armed himself and fired into the truck, hitting the suspect with deadly accuracy.
SCCDA’s Office agreed that fearing that he was about to be shot, the officer justifiably pulled his gun and fired. Reacting to what they thought was now a close-range gunfight, Santa Clara Police Sgt. Greg Hill, Santa Clara Police Detectives Cory Morgan, Justin Mead and Jake Thompson, and Santa Clara County Deputy Sheriff Tyler Fernandes all quickly converged on the van. They also fired their weapons at Ruelas, striking him 29 times. An autopsy showed Ruelas was intoxicated on amphetamine and methamphetamine at the time.
CBS SF Bay Area: Officers Cleared In 2013 Fatal shooting Of Drug Suspect In Sunnyvale