Colton Cops Cleared After Pursuit Ends in Shooting Death
By Jesse B. Gill
And it’s that part of us that compels us to watch motorcycle crashes on YouTube or—at the risk of sounding cliché—train wrecks. And because police chases so often end in fantastic tragedy or failure, we love to watch.
On July 31, 2012, the Los Angeles stations didn’t have their choppers flying anywhere near enough to San Bernardino County to catch the police pursuit that began in Colton. If they had, there’s a strong chance they’d have caught another chase that ended badly, this time for 21-year-old Trevor Michael Taylor.
Colton Police Sgt. Steve Davis was running a regular patrol when he spotted a green Honda Civic just before 11:15am, near the intersection of 9th and H streets. Knowing that Civics get stolen quite a bit in California and just about everywhere else, Davis radioed dispatchers to see if the car was stolen.
The Civic came back stolen, the day before from Rancho Cucamonga, according to a report released by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.
Davis called for backup as he continued to trail the car. Two officers—Sgt. Lou Gamache and Officer Todd Smith—fell in behind Davis, following the Civic as it traveled on Auto Plaza Way, over the 215 Freeway into San Bernardino. Davis tried to pull the car over as it reached E Street, heading east. That’s when the pursuit began.
The officers chased the car for 21 minutes, according to the prosecutors’ report. The driver of the Civic pushed the small car as fast as 80 mph down city surface streets. Prosecutors allege the car almost struck an elderly, cane-wielding pedestrian.
Davis tried to use a PIT maneuver four times to stop the Civic, to no avail. He lost control of his patrol car after the fourth try, with Smith taking over the lead role in the chase. As the Civic sped south on San Francisco Street, Smith tried a PIT maneuver, this time with success.
The Civic spun around and the officers boxed it in with their patrol cars. Gamache saw straight into the Civic’s driver’s side window as it aligned with his own and he got a look at the driver for the first time—it was Taylor.
Smith got out of his patrol car and approached the Civic with his gun drawn. He ordered Taylor take his foot off the gas and keep his hands in plain sight. Gamache, still looking at Taylor through his open window, also had his gun trained on the man.
Gamache told investigators that he saw Taylor mouth, “OK,” as he held his hands in the air. Suddenly, Taylor dropped his hands and quickly leaned forward. Gamache thought Taylor was going for a gun. So did Smith.
Both officers fired a barrage of shots at almost the same time, according to prosecutors.
Taylor slumped over in his seat, dead.
A search of the Civic revealed he had no weapon. Instead, officers found a large dog in the car. The animal sustained a gunshot wound to the paw.
As is common for many police departments, Colton elected to have the county sheriff’s department investigate the officer-involved shooting as a homicide, to avoid any possible accusations of conflicts of interest.
Detective Mauricio Hurtado handled the investigation for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.
Hurtado took statements from at least three witnesses, none of whom felt the officers used unnecessary force in shooting Taylor. One witness told Hurtado that she felt the officers gave Taylor every opportunity to surrender without being shot.
An autopsy report showed that Taylor was struck by 13 bullets fired from two different guns. Many of them struck him in the head and chest. Toxicology reports showed he had amphetamine and methamphetamine in his system when he died.
The District Attorney’s Office cleared Gamache and Smith of any wrongdoing, saying both officers acted in self-defense.