Deputies Found Justified in Death of Man Following Foot Chase
By Jesse B. Gill
That was the day the 38-year-old Las Vegas man ran from sheriff’s deputies and U.S. Marshals. The deputies chasing him through the grounds of a Bloomington school had just about run out of gas. If Garcia were a little more physically conditioned, he might have escaped.
But had he not made a run for it, he might not have died once they arrested him. At least that’s the conclusion the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office came to.
It all started that day about 8 p.m. on the 10 Freeway in Bloomington, when Deputy U.S. Marshal Martin Escobar (assigned to the Southwest Regional Fugitive Task Force) and San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Farris Short tried to pull over a car for an as-yet unspecified vehicle code violation.
Three men rode in the car, Escobar told detectives who investigated Garcia’s death. The marshal could see one man sitting in the back seat moving around as the patrol car’s lights, siren and loudspeaker ordered the car to pull over.
At first the driver of the car “failed to yield,” according to investigators’ reports, but it eventually stopped. Escobar and Dep. Short approached the vehicle, now fully into “felony T-stop” mode—Escobar approached from the passenger side, Short, the driver’s side.
As they came up on the car, its doors flung open.
Garcia and another man hopped out of the backseat. Escobar and Short, guns drawn now, ordered the men to hit the pavement. The men refused, Escobar told investigators. Garcia partially raised his hands and the other man kept his hands behind his back.
Again, Escobar ordered them down. Again they refused.
Then both men ran from the scene.
They made their way south from the freeway, jumping a fence into Bloomington Middle School on Orange Street. Escobar and Short followed the other man (eventually arresting him), hoping backup would arrive and pursue Garcia.
By now, a sheriff’s helicopter was overhead and Deps. Russel Goines and Thomas Jolin heard the call go out about the foot chase. Goines and Jolin raced to Bloomington Middle School and saw Garcia running through the school grounds. They used their patrol car’s loudspeaker to order Garcia to stop, which he—you guessed it—ignored completely.
Goines and Jolin then chased Garcia on foot. Garcia tried to lose the deputies by jumping fences—at least six of them, all between 6 and 10 feet tall. He would grab each fence by the top bar, hoist himself up unto his stomach and flip his legs over, landing on the opposite side, Goines told investigators.
With the deputies hot on his tail, Garcia climbed onto the roof of a portable classroom. He leapt from roof to roof until he dropped down to ground level again and stopped in the space between the portable classrooms. There, he placed his hands on his knees and told the pursuing deputies that he wasn’t feeling so great.
As he bent over, Garcia couldn’t show Goines his hands. And since Goines heard dispatchers put out word that Garcia was armed, the deputy began to get nervous.
Goines fired his Taser right between Garcia’s shoulder blades, to no effect. The deputy grabbed Garcia, aided by Jolin, who climbed down from the classroom rooftops. Garcia kicked and struggled, all the while wedged between classrooms with little room to maneuver. Jolin delivered a swift kick to Garcia’s left rib area before both deputies cuffed the man and dragged him out into the open.
Now bleeding from his shaved head, Garcia kept complaining that he needed water. Goines called for medical aid and when the deputies tried to walk Garcia to the area where paramedics would arrive, the handcuffed man kept dropping to his knees, then falling. Goines and Jolin had to carry the man to the paramedics.
By the time they got there, Garcia was unconscious. Paramedics rushed him to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, where he died an hour later.
Every time someone dies either in the hands of law enforcement officers or while in their custody, the District Attorney’s Office (of the corresponding county) conducts its own investigation into whether or not the death in question resulted in criminal activity on the part of the officers.
Many law enforcement agencies ask other agencies to investigate officer-involved deaths. For example, the Redlands Police Department, despite having a pretty low number of officer-involved deaths, would ask the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department to investigate if there ever were one. The same goes for any investigation into any of its officers for any reason.
RPD isn’t obligated to do that, but chooses to do that to avoid any semblance of a conflict of interest.
The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department, on the other hand, does not do this. The department investigates all of its own shootings, deaths and scandals. This is not to imply a conflict of interest (at least not in this case) on the part of the sheriff’s department. Many departments also choose to investigate these types of incidents on their own.
Reportedly, Garcia was no angel. When deputies searched the vehicle he was riding in, they found an Uzi (not even close to being legal in California) and a loaded 9mm pistol with a round in the chamber and the hammer pulled back, according to investigators’ reports.
Garcia’s own mother told sheriff’s investigators that her son was a “previous member of the Compton Locos, the report stated.
Of course, there’s Garcia’s criminal record. He was convicted in 1992 and 1994 of carrying a loaded firearm (both misdemeanor convictions) and he was also convicted in 2002 of driving a vehicle without owner consent (a felony).
At the time of Garcia’s autopsy, he had detectable levels of amphetamine, methamphetamine and PCP in his bloodstream, according to coroner’s reports.
But what killed him? Jolin told investigators that Garcia never complained of any pain, even after the deputy kicked him in the ribs.
Dr. Mark A. Fajardo conducted Garcia’s autopsy and found some abdominal trauma that caused a tiny rupture in the man’s superior mesenteric artery, causing him to bleed internally. The cause of death was listed as blunt force trauma.
Fajardo told investigators that the injury was rare, but Garcia should have survived it. And he would have, if he hadn’t been exerting himself the way he did during the foot chase.
The doctor said Garcia’s exertion accelerated the internal bleeding process and that the man did not die of blood loss, he died of hemorrhagic shock (brought on by the aforementioned blunt force trauma).
It could have been the way Garcia hoisted himself over those fences at Bloomington Middle School. The artery rupture could have been caused by Jolin’s kick to his ribs. Fajardo told investigators that if he was asked to testify, he wouldn’t be able to say exactly what caused the rupture.
Regardless, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office found Goines and Jolin justified in the way they handled Garcia’s arrest, despite the fact that it ended with him leaving this mortal coil.
“The fact that the officers used a degree of force to subdue Mr. Garcia is without question,” prosecutor Dennis Christy wrote in a report detailing the facts found in the investigation of Garcia’s death.
And though the report does not state that Jolin was or was not the cause of Garcia’s death, the document states that the deputy was justified in delivering it.
“Given the totality of the facts and circumstances of this pursuit, the distraction kick as described by Deputy Jolin was a reasonable and necessary use of force to gain control of a combative and potentially armed man in an extremely confined space,” Christy wrote.
As such, prosecutors could not find grounds to charge either deputy with a crime.
E-mail Jesse B. Gill at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jessebgillcrime.