The concerned parties are as diametrically opposed as we have come to expect in an officer-involved police shooting: a family grieving over a lost son, a lone police officer sure he was in a fight for his gun – and discharging his weapon when charged by a man he’d never met.
Details of the night 24-year-old Richard Perez III died at the hands of Richmond Police Officer Wallace Jensen were released in a report on the incident requested by the Richmond City Council.
In it, District Attorney Mark Peterson cites the findings of his investigators and statements from witnesses, to detail the events leading up to Perez’s shooting and subsequent death inside Uncle Sam’s.
The store itself was the initial focus of Wallace Jensen’s night covering Beat 3 in Richmond’s Southern District, the stripped down, no-frills business at 3322 Cutting Blvd. the source of many complaints to police about people loitering and drinking outside.
Peterson’s report states that Jensen, wearing a “standard Richmond Police Department utility uniform,… his handgun in a nylon holster which hung down on his right thigh,” left his canine partner in his running car around the corner on Stege Avenue and approached Uncle Sam’s on foot. Perez’s family members have said Jensen was not carrying his “non-lethal” arms – baton, Taser – that night, choosing to leave them behind, but Peterson’s report stated he was carrying a Taser and a Streamlight flashlight in a “sap” pocket beneath his pants pocket.
Jensen told investigators that as he approached Uncle Sam’s he saw a group of people standing outside and four begin to walk toward Carlson Boulevard as he neared. The officer told investigators he was walking back toward his car when a Middle-Eastern man believed to be an employee of the store came out to report a young man, later identified as Perez was “causing problems” in the store, pointing out Perez to the officer.
According to the report, Perez – known to friends and family as “Pedie” – saw the officer and mumbled something Jensen couldn’t make out. Jensen approached Perez and saw that he was swaying from side to side.
Jensen asked Perez to walk outside and sit on the curb, further asking for identification. Perez, according the report, complied – but said his ID had been taken by another officer during a prior contact the night before. Jensen was contacting a colleague to verify Perez’s story when Perez stood up and started walking away, some witnesses saying he had uttered an epithet and said “I’m done” before walking off in a westerly direction.
Everyone seems to agree Jensen caught up to Perez, grabbed him by the arm, and used a takedown move to bring the smaller man to the ground. Jensen was attempted to gain control of Perez’s arms, in order to control his movements, while simultaneously calling for backup via his radio. Thursday’s report, however, said Jensen’s call for assistance went unheard as he was on the wrong channel during his struggle with Perez.
The report states that Perez was able to regain his footing, Jensen again ordering him back on the ground until the officer used another grappling move to once again take Perez down – at which time the officer said he lost his grip on Perez’s arm and felt the younger man’s right hand on his left forearm. As they struggled, Perez flailing his arms and legs, Jensen said he felt the younger man tugging at his pistol – both of them standing up and facing off – but with Perez’s hand still on his holster.
Investigators said Jensen told them he hit Perez in the chest as he “feared Perez was going to get his gun to kill him.” Jensen said the two separated and that he drew his gun, keeping it in the “Position of Retention” close to his body – when Perez reportedly charged him.
Jensen fired once, estimated that the two men were only a few feet away from each other with Jensen trying to back up and put more distance between them – when Perez reportedly charged him again. The officer told investigators he fired again, holding his pistol with one hand, and that he again attempted to back away – bringing his weapon up with both hands – and ordering Perez to stop.
It was at that point, the report found, that Perez charged the officer a third time, was hit by a single round to the chest and bent over, stumbling back inside Uncle Sam’s and collapsing. As it turned out, there were two recordings of the incident – one captured by the store’s security cameras and the other from a civilian witness.
Despite protestations from the Perez family and some questions posed by members of city government and the public at large, Peterson said “the evidence indicates that Officer Jensen believed that he was faced with the choice of using his weapon against Mr. Perez, or having Mr. Perez use it against him.”
Little could be found to explain why Perez opted to act as he did. A toxicology report determined that at the time of his death his blood alcohol concentration was a hefty .247 – more than three times the presumptive limit for intoxication in California drivers.
Perez, it was determined, had had a few minor scrapes with the law, and may have mentioned that he would someday die at the hands of a police officer, but his family downplayed those events and said the statement was taken out of context.
Peterson’s office declined to charge Officer Jensen in January 2015, and Perez’s family alleged that the investigation into the incident had failed to include the testimony of witnesses whose accounts of events differed from those of police.
The Perez family filed a civil rights lawsuit following the shooting, and settled with the city for $850,000 in February. According to a news release, the city did not admit any liability in the incident and instead agreed to settle to “avoid the costs associated with further litigation and/or a trial.”