Crime

Update: Stanislaus deputy charged in Modesto woman’s shooting death last year in Ripon

The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office filed charges Monday of voluntary manslaughter against Stanislaus County sheriff’s Deputy Justin Wall in the February 2017 shooting of Evin Olsen Yadegar, a Modesto woman.

Yadegar, 46, was shot by Wall in Ripon after a law-enforcement pursuit that began in Salida. Authorities have said she was shot after she did not respond to commands to exit her vehicle and then put it in reverse, driving toward two deputies and a Ripon police officer.

Dashboard camera footage released Monday from a patrol car does show Yadegar backing up a few feet before putting her car in drive and moving forward to go around a Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department patrol vehicle that had blocked her. She was shot by Wall not as she’s backing up, but as she’s moving forward again.

A news release Monday from the DA makes no mention of Yadegar endangering any officers or deputies with her Volkswagen sedan. It says she stopped her car for “several moments” in a neighborhood off Main Street. As authorities were trying to get her to exit her car, “she drove off again,” the DA’s release says. “At that time, Wall fired four shots at Mrs. Yadegar. None of the other officers at the scene fired their weapons.”

Apparently, just one of Wall’s rounds struck Yadegar: She “was pronounced dead when she arrived at the hospital. Mrs. Yadegar had succumbed to a single fatal wound,” the news release says.

DA Tori Verber Salazar said in the release, “The responsibility to enforce the law brings with it an unflinching duty to follow its commands. No one is above the law. When individuals we entrust to uphold the law engage in acts that result in the death of others, it is our duty to investigate those cases thoroughly, fairly and with due regard for the rule of law our office — and our partners in law enforcement — are sworn to uphold.”

Wall was put on administrative leave Monday, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department reported.

Sheriff Adam Christianson issued the following statement: “Today we were notified of the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s decision to charge Deputy Justin Wall with voluntary manslaughter related to an officer involved shooting. This is a tragic event for the Yadegar family, Deputy Wall, the Sheriff’s Office and our community. At this point, it is inappropriate for us to comment further. We are confident that our system of justice will determine the appropriate outcome.”

The San Joaquin DA’s Office said Walls’ arraignment likely will occur July 30 at 1:30 p.m.

Its news release includes the relevant definition of voluntary manslaughter as “the specific intent to kill a person under an honest but unreasonable belief in self-defense also known as an imperfect self-defense. (CALCRIM 571.)“

In shootings not involving peace officers, imperfect self-defense usually is argued as a defense to a murder charge, said Blake Wilson, assistant professor of criminal justice at Stanislaus State. The charge indicates the San Joaquin DA’s Office weighed the circumstances of the shooting heavily and saw no malice aforethought on Wall’s part.

Instead, the charge conveys the deputy believed either himself or others in imminent danger, but the DA sees that belief was unreasonable, Wilson said Monday.

After reading about the case and watching the dashcam footage released by the DA’s Office, the professor said what works against the deputy is that Yadegar was driving away when he shot her. What works in his favor is that she was behind the wheel of a car, which is recognized as a deadly weapon.

“We’re in an era here where there’s intense oversight of these type of unfortunate events,” Wilson said, “and prosecutors are in a tight situation when they make a decision to charge these sorts of cases.”

At his 11th Street restaurant, the Barkin’ Dog Grill, Evin Yadegar’s husband, Hanibal, deferred comment to his Stockton attorney, Stewart Tabak.

Tabak said he and Yadegar had learned of the charges only Monday morning.

The release says: “Mr. Yadegar — on behalf of both he and his young son — respects and values the thorough and diligent investigation which the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office conducted and has now completed. We both value and respect the courageous decision which has been made, and the prosecution of Deputy Wall to which the DA’s office is committed. We firmly believe that it was — and is — the absolute right conclusion to reach and the appropriate thing to do. We are confident that justice will be reached on behalf of Mrs. Yadegar.”

The Feb. 26 incident began when Stanislaus County sheriff’s deputies responded to a call at 2:56 a.m. at the Hampton Inn & Suites in the 4900 block of Sisk Road in Salida. Christianson has said a security guard reported Yadegar had begun an argument and a physical confrontation with him. A deputy arrived at the hotel and saw Yadegar’s vehicle leaving the area.

Days after his wife’s death, Yadegar told The Bee that she never would have hurt anyone and had never been in trouble but had a bipolar disorder and was undergoing a manic episode.

Tabak filed a civil lawsuit against Stanislaus County on Oct. 26 in San Joaquin County on behalf of Hanibal Yadegar and the couple’s son. It alleges the county failed to “adequately train and supervise its sheriff’s deputies,” which resulted in a use of “excessive force.”

In March, the lawsuit was amended with stronger language that said Evin Yadegar’s death was the result of “complete defiance and contradiction of vitally important policies, procedures and accepted training protocol.”

In the complaint, Tabak says the “violent killing” of Yadegar could have been prevented had law enforcement at the traffic-stop scene adhered to POST (peace officer standards and training) regulations. The attorney said Ripon police officers, as well as Stanislaus sheriff’s deputies, failed to follow appropriate steps.

He called Wall’s actions an “execution” of a woman with clear signs of mental health problems who was unarmed and exhibited “no dangerous behavior.”

At a news conference a few days after the shooting, Christianson called Wall a well-trained deputy and a K-9 officer who joined the Sheriff’s Department in 2013 and had no prior deadly force encounters. “His personnel file is full of nothing but attaboys, if you’ll call them that, from peers, supervisors and citizens,” he has said about Wall. “He’s a good deputy sheriff.”

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