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NC officers cleared in fatal shooting of 911 caller

Officers Courtney Suggs and David Guerra have been on paid administrative leave since Sept. 6, when Ruben Galindo was shot after calling 911


By Jane Wester, Lavendrick Smith and Michael Gordon
The Charlotee Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Two Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers will not be charged after killing a Charlotte man in September who carried an unloaded gun but had his hands raised when he was shot, Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray announced Friday.

Courtney Suggs and David Guerra have been on paid administrative leave since Sept. 6, when 29-year-old Ruben Galindo called 911 and was shot by officers responding to his call.

On the night of the shooting, Galindo told dispatchers he was trying to turn himself in for an upcoming court date involving an earlier arrest for pointing a gun at someone. In the 911 call released to the Observer, Galindo tells the dispatcher he has a gun on him, but repeats the phrase “I have no bullets” in Spanish.

In Murray’s report, he ruled Galindo failed to follow officers’ commands to put his weapon down. He also said Galindo was impaired during the encounter. (A toxicology report released Tuesday showed Galindo had a blood-alcohol level of .23 but no drugs in his system.)

“While it is entirely possible that Galindo’s intent was to surrender to police and give them the firearm, other alternatives that could have been lethal to the officers, neighbors in the community or other occupants of the residence were just as likely based on the information available to Officer Guerra in the seconds he had to evaluate the situation,” Murray said. “This officer-involved shooting was indisputably tragic, but it was not unlawful.”

Suggs has been working for the department since December 2014 and Guerra was hired in April 2013.

The police officers’ attorneys welcomed the decision, and said it was supported by fact, including Galindo’s refusal to put down the gun, his apparent drunkenness and that he had his upcoming court date.

“Had he simply surrendered the weapon as asked by 911 callers in Spanish he would be alive today,” Michael Greene said. “These officers were given a difficult situation and dealt with it to secure their own safety, the safety of other officers on the scene and the safety of other residents in the apartment complex.”

Guerra’s attorney, George Laughrun, dismissed the notion that police should have taken Galindo at his word and believed that the gun was empty and that he wanted to turn it over to police before his court date.

“That’s like believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. It does not make any sense,” Laughrun said. “You can always Monday morning quarterback and say ‘What if? What if? What if?’ ”

Laughrun and Greene are former law partners of Murray.

Not all the reactions to Murray’s findings were as favorable. Phil Stinson, a police-shooting expert at Bowling Green State University, said he agreed with Murray’s legal analysis but said the officers erred in shooting Galindo.

“It’s unfortunate that a police shooting can be found to be legally justified yet unnecessary and inappropriate,” Stinson, a former law enforcement officer, said Friday. “In my view, this case should have gone to a grand jury.”

Last month, after repeated viewings of the shooting video, Stinson said, “I question whether a murder has been committed.”

Mel Tucker, a former N.C. police chief, FBI agent and retired police trainer on the use of force, said Galindo did not have enough time to respond to police commands.

“If I was looking at this case, I can tell you that this shooting was unnecessary,” Tucker said in October. “They just barely gave him enough time (to react), boom, before they shot him.”

Police said Galindo raised the gun while facing officers, a claim local activists have disputed. The video, however, showed Galindo with his arms above his head when officers shot him. The gun and clip recovered at the scene were both empty.

Based in part on a landmark case in Charlotte, police are legally justified in using deadly force if they have a “reasonable” fear of imminent death or serious injury to themselves, other officers or the general public, according to the court system.

Suggs told interviewers after the shooting he feared the encounter might be an ambush attempt, according to Murray’s report.

In comments after the Galindo shooting, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said the legal standard is not hard to meet when a resident carries a gun into a confrontation with police.

“I’m not going to give anyone the authority to take my life legally. Ever!” he said during a community meeting with the city’s Latino community.

As Putney spoke, Galindo’s widow, Azucena Zamorano, sat directly in front holding a poster-size portrait of her husband.

“Police are not trained to control a situation like that, but to kill,” she said through a translator. “I don’t understand why he was shot.”

On Friday, a Charlotte activist said the family does not accept Murray’s decisions and will pursue other legal options.

“This is not the end of the road,” said Hector Vaca, the Charlotte president of the nonprofit Action NC. “Regardless of what the police say, it’s obvious Ruben Galindo was unjustly killed. His hands were in the air, and they killed him anyway.”

©2017 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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