Police: Victim in fatal shooting by officers had spatula, not knife

September 8, 2010 

  • At A Glance

    Modesto police officers have been involved in seven shootings since December 2009:

    • Dec. 30: Police received a report of a man and a woman involved in a disturbance at the home. The woman reported the man was threatening to commit suicide. Two officers arrived at the home and confronted the man, who was armed. One of the officers fired his weapon, hitting the man.
    • Dec. 11: Following a high-speed chase into north Modesto in which the suspect's car crashed, four Modesto police officers open fire after the driver of the suspect car puts it into reverse and tries hitting the officers. The officers kill the driver and wound one of the occupants in the car.
    • Sept. 6: Two officers responding to reports of an intoxicated man wielding a knife shoot and kill him in a southeast Modesto home.
    • May 28: An off-duty officer shoots a suspected prowler who is caught in a struggle with a resident in the back yard of a northeast Modesto home. Joshua Allen Mordoff, 25, of Modesto suffers nonfatal injuries.
    • May 5, 2010: An officer shoots a man during a pursuit that starts in the airport neighborhood and ends near Ceres. The man, Julio Munoz Jr., 22, of Modesto, suffers nonfatal injuries.
    • Dec. 24: An officer shoots Michael Salgardo, 40, multiple times in the lower body near Five Points. Police believe Salgardo, who suffers nonfatal injuries, was under the influence of alcohol as he tried to sell what appeared to be a pellet or BB gun as a real weapon in downtown Modesto.
    • Dec. 16: Police shoot and kill Elizabeth Catherine Kropp, 43, of Modesto after she walks onto an elementary school campus carrying a meat cleaver.
    • Dec. 12: Police shoot and wound an 18-year-old man suspected of running away from an attempted burglary and driving a pickup directly at officers early at Johansen High School. Michael Baker of Modesto suffers a gunshot wound to the chest that is not life-threatening.

Modesto police said Tuesday the 45-year-old man shot and killed by officers called to the scene of a family disturbance was armed only with a metal spatula.

Police said fellow residents of the east Modesto home called 911 just after midnight Sunday to report Francisco Moran was intoxicated, belligerent and had a knife.

A family member believed Moran had taken a butcher knife from a dish rack in the kitchen and put it in his rear waistband, Sgt. Rick Armendariz said.

Three officers entered through the open front door of the house in the 500 block of Mary Todd Lane, heard family members yelling that Moran had a knife and saw an elderly man lying injured on the living room floor after Moran allegedly had pushed him down, Armendariz said.

That man was taken to the hospital with unknown injuries, he said.

The first officer, four-year department veteran Bradley Peterson, used his Taser to no effect after Moran failed to put up his hands and get on the floor, Armendariz said.

Seconds later, Moran reached for the metal handle of what later was discovered to be a spatula and started to lunge at the officers, Armendariz said.

The two other officers — Joseph Lamantia, a two-year veteran, and Robert Laxton, a seven-year veteran — shot at Moran. They were estimated to be 8 to 12 feet from him, Armendariz said.

The two officers are on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, which is standard procedure.

Moran was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy will be conducted today to determine how many times he was shot, the cause of his death and his blood-alcohol level.

"These types of things are difficult for everybody — the family, the officers," Police Chief Mike Harden said Tuesday evening. "The information was that someone in the home was armed with a knife. (The officers) were forced to act based upon the information given to them by the dispatcher and their observation of the scene."

At the home on Mary Todd Lane, a man opened the door to a Bee reporter and photographer Tuesday but hid himself behind an iron security gate. He did not give his name and said his family was not ready to talk to the media.

"We're just trying to deal with (it)," he said.

Armendariz said seven other people were in the house with Moran at the time of the family commotion, which included "screaming and arguing" as officers entered the front door. Some relatives were in the living room at the time of the shooting, but none were in the "imminent line of fire," he said.

"Obviously, this affects not only the family that was there — they were victims," Armendariz said. "It (also) has an impact on the officers. Officers never want to be placed in a position where they have to take someone's life."

Several of those living nearby on Mary Todd Lane said they heard the fight and the gunshots.

Neighbor Jason Bowman said there was loud fighting and screaming in Spanish coming from inside the house late Sunday night, which frightened his wife and other neighbors, who called 911.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.

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