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More details emerge in Woodland officer shootings

Protest2W

Monique Apodaca of Woodland, right, is among about 20 protesters holding signs and chanting as they march on East Street in Woodland on Tuesday night, continuing to raise awareness of the fatal shooting by police Monday morning of a Woodland man. A steady stream of motorists honked their approval. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

By
From page A1 | August 20, 2014 |

Authorities on Tuesday released the identities of two men who were struck — one of them fatally — by police gunfire in Woodland on Monday, as well as the name of one of the officers who discharged his weapon.

Jeffrey Allen Towe, 53, of Woodland, died of multiple gunshot wounds to his chest that were fired by Officer Darryl Moore, a 13-year veteran of the Woodland Police Department who remains on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into whether his actions were justified. Officials said Towe had charged at Moore while wielding a knife.

Heath Austin Nunes, 38, of Lincoln, was identified as the man who was shot and seriously wounded by a California Highway Patrol officer while allegedly reaching for a gun in his car along Interstate 5 in Woodland. Authorities said he was in stable but critical condition as of Tuesday at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

CHP officials had not released the name of the officer who shot Nunes as of late this morning.

The names were released Tuesday amid a second consecutive night of protests in Woodland by activists who linked the incidents to recent unrest over the Aug. 9 shooting of an unarmed teen by police in Ferguson, Mo. The protesters marched along East Street and chanted as they demanded an end to lethal police force.

Troubled past

In addition to naming the officer who discharged his weapon, Woodland police also released a photograph of the knife Towe allegedly had in his hand when officers, investigating reports of a disturbance, confronted him at about 6 a.m. Monday at the College Manor Apartments, 411 Elliot St.

Woodland police spokesman Lt. Anthony Cucchi in a news release described the knife as a “military-style” weapon, which in the photo was placed next to a ruler to show it was just over a foot long, with a 7-inch blade.

Towe was “acting erratically” at the scene and ignored officers’ attempts to negotiate his surrender, Cucchi said. After about 20 minutes, “Towe charged at Officer Moore and threatened to kill him. Officer Moore fired three shots.”

Although an ambulance was already on scene due to the nature of the incident, Towe died from his injuries while en route to a hospital, police said. It marked Woodland’s second fatal officer-involved shooting in less than three months.

Cucchi said Moore, a field training officer and firearms instructor who also is trained in crisis intervention with mentally ill subjects, “had no choice” but to use deadly force.

But the officers’ handling of the incident has drawn criticism from activists as well as Towe’s family, who told The Sacramento Bee that Towe is an Army veteran who has long suffered from mental illness and in recent days expressed fear over having knives in his possession.

According to The Bee, Towe fatally shot his mother to death in 1990 while cleaning a revolver in the family’s Elk Grove home, an incident for which he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was placed in a mental-health facility, though his family said he never fully recovered.

Sacramento Superior Court records also show Towe had a 1986 misdemeanor assault conviction for which he received three years’ probation.

Just over 17 hours after the Woodland police shooting, a CHP officer shot and injured Nunes, who, according to that agency’s account, was parked along I-5 in Woodland and showed signs of intoxication to an officer who made contact with him at about 11:30 p.m. Monday.

Nunes allegedly resisted orders to exit his vehicle and, while being physically removed from the car by two officers, was seen by a third officer reaching for a handgun inside the car, the CHP reported. Fearing for his life and those of his partners, the officer shot him in the abdomen.

A call to the phone number listed to Nunes was met with a recording saying the line had been disconnected.

Actions justified?

A total of seven officers — two from the Woodland Police Department and five from the CHP — have been placed on leave pending the shooting investigations, both of which are being conducted by outside law-enforcement agencies.

While some question the officers’ use of force in Monday’s incidents, one law-enforcement expert says when it comes to facing a threat of great bodily injury or death, deadly force is not only legally allowed, it’s appropriate.

“There’s a time and a place for every level of force,” with less-lethal tools not always available or sufficient to stop a threat in rapid-fire situations, said John McGinness, a former Sacramento County sheriff.

He added that police in Ferguson erred by delaying the release of information about the fatal encounter, which “creates a situation where people are going to fill in the gaps — it’s human nature.”

And while in ideal settings an officer can diffuse a situation involving a mentally ill subject, “when you get to the point of critical mass, if the person is bent on using violence the background doesn’t matter,” McGinness said. “It’s too late, really. The threat needs to be neutralized.”

Others have differing points of view.

Stewart Katz, a Sacramento civil-rights attorney who has taken on many a law-enforcement agency in court, said there has been a “staggering” number of people killed by police in situations he believes could have ended much differently.

“There’s this mentality that’s sprung up (among police) that, ‘I’m going home to my family tonight, and I’m going to err on the side of deadly force,’ ” Katz said. “I think it pushes these things to a greater level than they need to be.”

Katz also noted he’s observed a “disappointing lack of patience” in officers’ dealings with the mentally ill that he says needs to change in order to restore the public’s confidence in law enforcement.

“There needs to be a focus on de-escalation and bringing things to a peaceful conclusion, rather than pushing things to a scenario where deadly force is used,” he said.

While officers in Yolo County do receive training in crisis intervention, the county’s Board of Supervisors took a further step in that direction earlier this month with its approval of Community-Based Crisis Response, a $2.1 million plan that will house mental-health clinicians at the county’s law-enforcement agencies, or make them available by phone, to accompany officers to mental-health crises.

Funding for the program — which is expected to be in place by this fall — comes from a grant made possible by SB 82, the Mental Health Wellness Act of 2013.

— Reach Lauren Keene at lkeene@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene

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