Riverside County Sheriff’s Dept. Opens Up About Fatal Moreno Valley Police Shooting

By Jesse B. Gill

Posted July 28, 2012 in Web Only
Police shootings are pretty common in Southern California but what’s uncommon is the way Riverside County sheriff’s officials are handling a recent shooting involving a deputy in Moreno Valley, being uncharacteristically up front with the details.

When a peace officer shoots someone (fatally or otherwise), law enforcement

agencies normally wrap up the details as tight as possible, using the “this-incident-is-still-under-investigation” excuse. And that’s not to say that all police shootings are sinister in nature, the majority of them aren’t. But detectives don’t normally want the details of their investigations floating around when they’re trying to close a case.

Nevertheless, sheriff’s officials this week put out a news release, breaking down

the events of the July 1 shooting that left 31-year-old Riverside resident Jesus

Castillo dead.

Deputies responded about 4:10 p.m. that day to Moreno Valley Community Park

at the corner of Fredrick Street and Cottonwood Avenue. Someone called dispatchers to report a man—later identified as Castillo—who was “harassing” children near the park’s restrooms, according to the news release.

The first officer at the scene—Deputy Fred Martinez—approached Castillo, trying to figure out what crime had been committed, if any. Before he could, Castillo attacked Martinez, unprovoked, forcing the deputy to fight for his life.

According to the sheriff’s department’s version of the story, Castillo punched Martinez several times in the face before throwing him to the ground. He then got behind the deputy, choking him and wrapping his legs around him.

That’s when Castillo made a move to snatch the handgun from Martinez’s holster, sheriff’s officials said, and that’s the moment when the deputy began to fear for his life.

Martinez cried out to bystanders at the park, pleading for help, to no avail.

Somehow, Martinez managed to break free of Castillo’s chokehold, pushed the man away and regained control of his gun, according to the news release. He believed Castillo would continue the attack. Out of breath, with no help in sight, Martinez shot Castillo.

Paramedics arrived and rushed Castillo to an unspecified nearby hospital, where he later died.

The details of the shooting—at least the way they’re presented by the Sheriff’s Department—aren’t all that attention-grabbing. The interesting thing is the amount of detail the department shared about an incident they say is still under investigation.

Law enforcement agencies have a litany of tools at their disposal to withhold details about open investigations. While we like to assume that the practice is always sneaky and malicious, there’s usually a fairly practical explanation for it.

Just like anyone else, police officers, detectives and investigators aren’t looking for way to make their jobs more difficult, which is exactly what would happen if they made a habit of spilling the beans in regard to the cases they work. The fewer people who know the details of any given investigation, the better—it makes it easier for detectives to keep track of who knows what, when. And that knowledge can sometimes lead directly to an arrest.

And when a shooting involves a peace officer, there’s an extra layer of protection for the officers in question and the agencies they work for. The Police Officer’s Bill of Rights is a document that’s meant to protect officers from scrutiny that’s deemed unreasonable. The problem lies in the blanket protection the Bill of Rights offers to officers, even when the investigations they face are very reasonable indeed.

But the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department circumvented all of that when they issued a statement detailing the July 1 shooting. And why? Sgt. Lisa McConnell gave me a rather innocuous (but not untrue) explanation by way of a short statement.

“It’s important for us to be as transparent as possible,” she says. “That’s what we’re trying to do here.”

And like many police shootings, there are people who say sheriff’s officials’ account of the incident doesn’t match up to what actually happened. Some people say Martinez wasn’t bugging kids at all and Castillo cooked up a way to shoot him in the back.

Castillo’s family has held vigils, mourning the loss of a man who, according to court records, had an extensive criminal history including a previous assault on a police officer and outstanding arrest warrants stemming from allegations that he had driven drunk, more than once.

I asked McConnell if the unusual sharing of facts about the shooting was at all related to the civil unrest following two fatal police shootings in Anaheim and if Riverside sheriff’s officials were perhaps trying to stay in front of this story to prevent something similar from happening here.

McConnell scoffed, which may indeed be the correct response to my question.

“They’re completely unrelated,” she says.

Unrelated or not, concerned Moreno Valley residents at least have a full statement, detail what sheriff’s officials say happened to Castillo. The people of Anaheim haven’t received as much and it’s likely they wont until the outside agencies the city’s police officials have asked to get involved with the investigation release their findings..

Like with all police shootings, the District Attorney will determine whether or not Riverside sheriff’s officials’ account of the incident is indeed truthful. And while some people may not be happy with the way the department says the shooting went down, it’s important to note that the Sheriff’s Department’s statement locks them in with a story right away and from here on out, they’re going to have to stick to it as outside eyes from the DA’s office pry into the case.

Whether you believe the story or not, sheriff’s officials’ transparency—or at least the attempt at transparency—when it comes to this case is a good thing. At the very least, it’s an attempt to keep an uneasy community in the loop as to why one of its uniformed officers shot another man to death. And if the statements are untruthful, there’s a better-than-strong chance that the DA’s office will find that out.

So now the waiting game begins as the DA’s Office work through the investigation from their end.

But Martinez won’t have to wait to get back to work. He was placed back on full duty on July 6, just five days after the fatal shooting.

Check “The Watch Dog” by Jesse B. Gill every Friday for the latest (and greatest) behind-the-scenes crime coverage in the Inland Empire.

One Comment


    if the officer screamed for help from by standers where was the person who made the call why didn t they even help the helper sort of speak these type of shootings should be over seen by an outside agency with no ties to riv county

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