When did deputy decide to fire gun at Modesto woman in fatal standoff? Expert weighs in

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.

Deputy Justin Wall told investigators that he acted to provide “lethal cover” for deputies and an officer standing behind a car that reversed toward them at the end of a pursuit last year.

Wall’s reaction time and whether he decided to open fire as the car backed up or later, when it moved forward, were at the forefront of testimony in a hearing to decide whether he will stand trial in the death of Evin Olsen Yadegar, 46, of Modesto.

Wall is accused of voluntary manslaughter in Yadegar’s death. Testimony in his preliminary hearing was scheduled to continue Tuesday morning. The hearing could end this week with a ruling from San Joaquin Superior Court Judge Xapuri Villapudua.

A forensic video analysis expert testified last week that Wall likely decided to stop firing his gun after the first or second of four shots he fired at Yadegar during the pursuit in Ripon.

The expert, Craig Fries, said Friday that he watched dashcam video footage of the incident about 100 times.

A spike strip had flattened the tires on Yadegar’s Volkswagen Jetta, and the car was moving about 20 to 30 mph moments before it stopped on South Manley Road near Tornell Circle in Ripon. Wall parked his sheriff’s sport utility vehicle in front of Yadegar’s car.

Wall and other deputies approached Yadegar’s car and ordered her to get out; she did not.

Video footage from a Ripon police patrol car dashboard camera shows Yadegar backing up her car a few feet before moving forward and going around Wall’s Chevrolet Tahoe. Wall then shot Yadegar as she was moving the car forward again. Yadegar’s car continued down Tornell Circle, before it crashed into the front of a house.

Fries, the CEO of Grass Valley-based Precision Simulations, was hired by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office to examine the dashboard camera video. On the witness stand, Fries said the prosecutors asked him to see if there was any malice, or intent by Wall to kill Yadegar.

Hanibal and Evin Yadegar Courtesy of Hanibal Yadegar

Fries read a 30-page transcript of Wall’s statement to investigators about 10 hours after the deadly shooting.

Wall told investigators that it was his responsibility to provide “lethal cover” as another deputy with a canine approached Yadegar’s stopped car. Wall was aware of other deputies and a Ripon police officer standing behind Yadegar’s car, and Wall was concerned for their safety, since they had no cover, Fries testified.

From Wall’s position near the Volkswagen’s front end, he couldn’t see the car’s reverse lights or brake lights. He told investigators that he did see the Volkswagen “lurch” backward.

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

Fries testified that Wall insisted he fired his gun to stop Yadegar from injuring the officer and deputies behind her car. Wall denied firing his gun to stop the car from escaping or to protect civilians who could have been in Yadegar’s path as the car moved forward.

Wall told the investigators that he fired his gun as fast as he could react to what he perceived, according to Fries. The deputy also told investigators that he considered using a less-than-lethal Taser in the few moments before pulling out his gun and firing the weapon.

Fries said he compared the timing of Wall’s reactions to statistical results of law enforcement officials firing guns in shooting simulations. Those are conducted in controlled lab conditions, different than the real, rapidly evolving situations in police shootings Fries has analyzed.

“It’s a dynamic event; there’s a lot of things going on ... It’s not expected the car is going to move,” said Fries.

In Wall’s case, the DA’s Office didn’t ask Fries to provide any further analysis or testimony after he submitted his report to prosecutors in April 2017. He also wasn’t asked by prosecutors to reconstruct the shooting, which also is his expertise.

Wall’s defense attorney, Judith Odbert, called Fries to testify about his findings.

Shooting reaction time

A rapidly evolving event, such as a police shooting, affects reaction time, Fries said in court. Wall fired four shots in 0.9 of a second, Fries said, and the deputy fired the first shot 3.07 seconds after the car began moving in reverse.

Wall couldn’t see the brake lights turn on as the car stopped moving backward. Fries testified that Wall brandished his gun within 2 seconds of the car moving in reverse.

If Wall had fired his gun in response to Yadegar’s car moving forward, he would’ve fired the first shot 1 second after the car started moving forward, Fries testified. He said that reaction time by Wall in a dynamic situation would’ve been 50 percent faster than the average reaction in a simplified shooting simulation in a lab.

Firing a gun 1 second in response to some type of stimulus, such as a car moving forward, would be “exceptionally fast,” Fries said on the witness stand.

Fries testified that Wall likely decided to stop firing his gun after the first or second shot. The forensic video expert said that after deciding to stop shooting, it typically takes two to three shots to stop firing a gun under simplified lab conditions.

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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.