12/01/2000

Three officers cleared in robbery suspect shooting
[SANTA ROSA, CA]

PoliceOne Staff Report
(SANTA ROSA, Calif.) -- Prosecutors have announced that three officers were justified in shooting a robbery suspect in May who died from the wounds. After the incident officers found that the gun the suspect had been pointing at them was a painted plastic toy.

Deputy District Attorney Craig Brooks announced the decision Wednesday, stating that officers were justified in shooting convenience story robbery suspect Todd Eugene Dieterle, 37, because they believed that Dieterle was about to shoot one of them.

Brooks displayed a photo of the water pistol Dieterle was carrying alongside a close-up of a .40-caliber Smith and Wesson belonging to one of the officers to illustrate the similarity between the real and fake weapons.

The officers "had a matter of split seconds in order to decide if an officer or a civilian was going to be shot," Brooks told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Mike Dunbaugh, Santa Rosa police chief, has said he is organizing an independent review of the case by independent civilians and members of his own citizen advisory board, a move that the news paper called "unprecedented."

Dieterle complied when officers, guns drawn, ordered him to lie on the ground. But Dieterle then reached for his gun and pointed at one of the officers, which drew the return fire. Chief Dunbaugh said that Dieterle may have committed "suicide by cop" by reaching for the toy gun Brooks declined to speculate.

One radio dispatch reported that the robbed store owner thought the gun could be fake. Moments later, however two men who followed Dieterle said they believed the gun to be real, and all 13 witnesses who saw the "weapon" believed it was real enough to prompt return fire, the newspaper reported.

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