Police officers and sheriff’s deputies from Stanislaus County have been involved in four deadly shootings in 2017.
All of those cases remain under investigation.
However, as 2018 approaches, there are still four unresolved officer-involved deadly incidents from 2016, all involving the Modesto Police Department.
Generally in these types of cases, it's about a year before the Stanislaus County District Attorney's Officer renders a decision – whether or not an officer was justified in a shooting or deadly use of force.
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Why are the 2016 cases, including one that occurred 20 months ago, taking so long?
In two of the cases, Modesto Police Department spokeswoman Heather Graves said only that "every case is unique" and these cases required additional administrative work before they could be sent to the DA's office.
Graves was referring to the shooting deaths of Lonnie Ball and Kim Jackson.
In April 2016, Ball was shot by three Modesto police officers after he showed up at his estranged wife’s home in violation of an emergency protective order. Ball, 39, led officers on a pursuit before returning to his wife’s home, where he got out of his vehicle with a gun in his hand.
The other case occurred in October 2016 when three officers shot the 53-year-old Jackson as she charged them with multiple knives in her hand. Officers had responded to a call at Jackson’s parent’s home for a domestic disturbance.
In officer-involved deadly use-of-force incidents, the agency that has jurisdiction over the area in which it occurred typically conducts the criminal investigation and then sends all the reports on the case to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office to review. The DA then determines if the shooting or use of force was justified or if the officer or officers involved should be criminally charged.
This generally is done within a year of the shooting. For example, a shooting by Ceres officers in January 2016 was deemed justified a year later. And all the officer-involved shootings in Stanislaus County from 2015 were determined to be justified within 11 to 13 months of the shooting.
Another 2016 open case involved two Modesto police officers assigned to the Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency.
Officers set up a drug-buy in June 2016 in the parking lot of the Turlock Poker Room on West Main Street, where the suspects were seated in a Nissan.
When the Modesto officers moved in to arrest the suspects, the driver of the Nissan, Omar Villagomez, backed into one of the undercover officer's cars.
The officers opened fire, hitting and killing Villagomez. His passenger, Juan Sostenes Bulgara, suffered superficial injuries during the crash.
Turlock Police detectives completed their investigation and sent the case to the DA's office. But DA spokesman John Goold says the office will not comment on the shooting while charges are pending against Bulgara because the officers could be called to testify in that case.
In August 2016, state charges against Bulgara were dropped in lieu of federal charges of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Both charges have a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Bulgara’s jury trial is scheduled to begin April 24.
"Making an official decision on the propriety of a shooting while the involved officer is pending testimony on a federal case might be seen as tantamount to our office vouching for a witness, something we try to avoid while the case is pending," he said.
The last deadly use of force case in 2016 was not a shooting. Officers used physical control holds, beanbag guns and a Taser to apprehend a burglary suspect.
Garrett Schmidt, 33, was apparently high on drugs in October 2016 when he broke into a home, naked and covered in blood and feces, while the homeowners hid in a bedroom.
Schmidt suffered a medical emergency while he was being detained and died three days later.
Graves said that case was sent to the DA over the summer and is still under review.
Meanwhile, a wrongful death and civil lawsuit filed in federal court by Schmidt's parents is proceeding, with the next hearing scheduled for January.