Bodycam video shows fatal OIS of man advancing at LEO with heavy chain

Police say the suspect allegedly attacked a man with a machete before the shooting


Lyndsay Winkley
The San Diego Union-Tribune

SAN DIEGO — The District Attorney’s Office said Wednesday that a San Diego police officer’s actions were legally justified when he fatally shot a man who “aggressively” swung a heavy chain while advancing toward the officer in August.

Officer Corey Pitts fired twice at Vaughn Harrison Denham, 48, who had allegedly attacked a man with a machete before the shooting, police said.

The encounter happened on Aug. 8 after someone reported Denham had seriously injured a man near the Southcrest Recreation Center. The victim told officers he was attacked after he spotted Denham breaking a car window with a chain and asked him to leave. The man said he dodged several swings from the chain before Denham armed himself with a machete and attacked.

The victim was cut in the head and forearm.

Pitts, the first officer to arrive, found Denham on South 40th Street. Body-worn camera footage shows Denham running up to Pitts’ patrol vehicle and smacking it with the length of chain. The officer attempted to shoot Denham with a Taser, but told investigators later that the barbs got tangled in the chain Denham was swinging.

Pitts then drew his gun and ordered Denham to get on the ground. Instead, Denham walked toward Pitts, swinging the chain several times, the footage shows.

For more than a minute, Pitts walked backwards and continued giving commands to Denham to drop the weapon and get on the ground or he would be shot. Pitts told investigators he believed if Denham got close enough he would hit the officer’s gun out of his hand and then use it against him.

Moments before other officers arrived, and as Denham kept moving toward the officer, Pitts fired.

Denham was taken to a hospital where he died. An autopsy revealed he had PCP, marijuana and methamphetamine in his system.

Several witnesses recorded the interaction and Pitts captured the incident with his body-worn camera.

“Based on these circumstances, Pitts fired at Denham in his own defense,” the District Attorney’s Office wrote in its investigation. “He therefore bears no state criminal liability for his actions.”

Under California law, peace officers may use deadly force to protect themselves from the threat of death or great bodily injury and to use reasonable force in making an arrest.

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©2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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