That’s what San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies say Kenneth Munoz did on October 26, 2011, just three days shy of his 31st birthday.
It all started just after 7 p.m. that night when someone called to report that Munoz had taken a pickup truck that belonged to an undisclosed business and refused to return it. Turned out Munoz was keeping the truck in his backyard and the owner of said truck wasn’t happy about it. He also told dispatchers that Munoz “wasn’t acting right,” according to a report released last week by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.
So, deputy Larry Scott and reserve deputy Dan Lynch went out to a home at 35279 Avenue B, just a few blocks south of Yucaipa Boulevard, the city’s main drag. They told homicide detectives that they found the truck in question in the home’s backyard. It wasn’t long before they found Munoz in an alley behind the home.
Scott started asking him questions but Munoz wouldn’t respond. Scott told detectives that Munoz seemed to be holding something and had something else underneath his shirt, but he couldn’t make out either object. Scott yelled at Munoz, ordering him to drop whatever he was holding and lay on the ground. Munoz didn’t do either of those things.
He took off running and jumped a fence into a neighbor’s backyard. Lynch fired his Taser at Munoz, but wasn’t sure if he hit him or not. Seeing as Munoz kept running (and didn’t fall to the ground in a convulsing mess) it’s safe to say Lynch didn’t hit his target.
At first, it seemed like Munoz got away. Scott and Lynch radioed in for backup with the play-by-play and more deputies (and a helicopter) were dispatched to help with the search. They’d searched for about a half hour, without success, when a neighbor (who lived across the street from the home Scott and Lynch were originally dispatched to) called 911 to report that a guy dressed like Munoz was running around in the backyard.
Scott crossed the street, found Munoz where the caller said he’d be and tried to get the man to stand still long enough to be arrested. Munoz still wasn’t having it. He took off running again, hopping fences into more backyards.
The sheriff’s helicopter spotted Munoz hiding in a tree in a backyard of a home down the street and when Scott got there, he got Munoz to come down and lay on the ground in a very dark area covered by overgrown trees and bushes. Sgt. Michael O’Brien and deputies Ismael Diaz and Joseph Perea.
Perea knelt down to handcuff Munoz as O’Brien and Diaz stood nearby. But Munoz got to his knees as Perea tried to handcuff him and punched the deputy in the face. In their report, prosecutors wrote that Munoz and Perea struggled on the ground and as they did, Munoz snatched the gun from the deputy’s holster.
Perea screamed that Munoz had the weapon. The two grappled, both trying to gain control of the gun and it went off but no one was hit. O’Brien and Diaz couldn’t open fire right away because Munoz and Perea were still tangled up with each other.
Finally, Perea and Munoz separated, giving O’Brien and Diaz their opening. They both opened fire, dropping Munoz where he stood.
He died a few minutes later, according to coroner’s officials.
(Incidentally, this was the second time in a five-month period that Diaz was involved in an incident resulting in the death of someone deputies were trying to arrest.
After the shots were fired, Perea yelled out, saying he had recovered his gun.
They shot Munoz 12 times, according to coroner’s officials—once in the abdomen, three times in the back, once in the neck, twice in the left arm, twice in the chest and three times in the left shoulder.
Munoz had a criminal record, though not an extensive one. He was accused in September 2010 of DUI and evading police in a vehicle pursuit but those charges were dismissed when he pleaded guilty to reckless driving. He was accused of forging a prescription for drugs back in 2001, but that case was later dismissed. Other than that, he had a handful of traffic violations—mostly for speeding.
When coroner’s officials conducted their autopsy, they found drugs in Munoz’s system, namely amphetamines, methamphetamine, hydrocodone, opiates and hydromorphone.
Sheriff’s homicide detectives interviewed at least five people when they investigated Munoz’s shooting death. Most of them heard the shooting. None of them actually witnessed it. All of the information in the report directly related to the shooting was relayed by the deputies involved in it (which isn’t necessarily uncommon, but it bears mentioning).
Munoz’s family cried foul, calling his death at the hands of deputies unjust. The estate of Kenneth Munoz Jr. has at least one open lawsuit against the County of San Bernardino. Munoz’s family also set up an annual toy drive in his name.
The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office cleared O’Brien and Diaz of any wrongdoing in Munoz’s death, ruling that both acted “in response to an apparent and immediate threat of death or great bodily injury to them and to Deputy Perea.”