Crime

Detective describes chase that preceded fatal shooting by Stanislaus sheriff’s deputy

Watch pursuit, shooting that led to Modesto woman’s death

The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office has released dashboard video of the shooting of Evin Olsen Yadegar by Stanislaus County Sheriff's deputy Justin Wall in 2017. Wall faces manslaughter charges.
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The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office has released dashboard video of the shooting of Evin Olsen Yadegar by Stanislaus County Sheriff's deputy Justin Wall in 2017. Wall faces manslaughter charges.

Ripon Police Detective Richard Francis tried to stop Evin Olsen Yadegar by blocking her Volkswagen Jetta with his patrol car at a Highway 99 exit ramp. He remembered looking at the Modesto woman before she drove around his car.

“She just stared directly at me,” Francis testified in court Wednesday.

Yadegar drove away before stopping after a few blocks, where she was shot by Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Wall.

Video footage from Francis’ patrol car dashboard camera shows Yadegar backing up her car a few feet before moving forward to go around a Stanislaus County sheriff’s vehicle that had blocked her. Wall shot Yadegar not as she’s backing up, but as she’s moving forward again.

Wall is accused of voluntary manslaughter in Yadegar’s death. Francis testified Wednesday in a preliminary hearing, held to determine whether there’s enough evidence for the deputy to stand trial.

The deadly shooting occurred in the early hours of Feb. 26, 2017. The incident began when Stanislaus County sheriff’s deputies responded to a call at the Hampton Inn & Suites in the 4900 block of Sisk Road in Salida.

A security guard reported that a woman had begun an argument and a physical confrontation with him. A deputy arrived at the hotel and saw Yadegar’s vehicle leaving the area.

Yadegar
Hanibal and Evin Yadegar Courtesy of Hanibal Yadegar

Francis was directed to go to the Main Street exit ramp. He testified that dispatchers told him the driver might be experiencing a medical emergency, but he didn’t see any signs of that while confronting Yadegar.

A forensic pathologist has testified that Yadegar had bipolar one disorder, which is described as episodes of extreme moods, particularly mania.

Francis blocked the Volkswagen with his patrol car’s front end. He got out of his car, brandished his gun for his own safety and ordered Yadegar to get out of her vehicle. She drove around his car, and the pursuit continued to South Manley Road near Tornell Circle.

‘Felony car stop’

Francis testified that he was “the primary” officer in the pursuit, following Yadegar’s car directly behind her. He told the judge that his intention was to conduct a “felony car stop,” in which he would get out of his car behind his opened driver side door.

He said on the witness stand that his plan was to keep the gun pointed at Yadegar while ordering her out of her car. Francis said the felony car stop is a common procedure when a driver refuses to pull over.

He said he was forced to change his strategy once the sheriff’s vehicle parked in front of Yadegar’s car and sheriff’s officials, including Wall, began approaching the Volkswagen. He could no longer point his gun at Yadegar, because others were in the way.

“I didn’t want to shoot a deputy,” Francis testified.

So, Francis moved around the front end of his patrol car to the passenger side, before holstering his gun and brandishing his Taser. He said he was switching from providing lethal cover to the less-than-lethal position.

Francis testified that there was no discussion with sheriff’s officials about a plan as they were confronting Yadegar. “There was no time,” he said.

Volkswagen moves back

The Volkswagen’s reverse lights came on and Yadegar’s car moved backward.

“I backed up, because I thought she was going to run me over,” Francis said.

JBL Wall Justin Mug.jpg
Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Wall pictured here in a file photo, appeared for his preliminary hearing today at the San Joaquin County Superior Courthouse in Stockton, Calif. Joan Barnett Lee jlee@modbee.com

During cross-examination, Francis said, “I thought she was trying to reverse into me” and cause “severe injury or kill me.”

Francis described for investigators that the car moving backward seemed like a “jolt or hitting the gas,” and he believed the driver was a deadly threat at the time.

In those short moments, Francis didn’t see any indication that gunshots would be fired, he said in court. He said he was surprised when he heard gunfire.

Deputy testifies

Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Deputy Taylor Knight also testified Wednesday. He joined the chase in Salida. At one point, Knight saw Yadegar in her car when she stopped before driving away. He said Yadegar looked straight at him, raised her arms and balled each of her hands in a fist.

Knight testified Wednesday that Yadegar “looked really angry, almost deranged.”

When the pursuit stopped on South Manley Road in Ripon, Knight parked his patrol vehicle on the sidewalk to the right of Francis’ patrol car. He said they didn’t know why Yadegar was evading them or whether they could be harmed.

Knight said there was a bit of confusion in the short moment after Wall fired his gun. In an interview about 12 hours after the shooting, the deputy told investigators that he saw the car move forward and heard the engine rev, and then he heard what sounded like three gunshots.

Knight began his testimony Wednesday afternoon and was expected to continue March 7. San Joaquin Superior Court Judge Xapuri Villapudua said testimony could continue into the following week before she issues her ruling.

Wall is facing the felony charge in San Joaquin County because he shot the woman as the pursuit continued into Ripon.

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Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.
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