DA clears officers involved in shooting

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

DA clears officers involved in shootingThe Kern County District Attorney concluded, in a report released Dec. 1, that the actions of Ridgecrest Police Det. Bill Groves and the other six officers involved in the shooting of Oscar Junior were justified.

“I am not surprised at the findings, but I am relieved and comforted to hear this because it will provide some closure to the officers,” said Police Chief Jed McLaughlin.

“But everyone needs to remember this is still a tragedy. It’s a tragedy for the officers involved, but also for the family. We feel for Junior’s family and what he put them through and hope that those involved can be healed.”

On June 8 RPD received a call reporting that a suspect, later identified as 45-year-old Oscar Junior, had brandished a gun and pistol whipped a female living on the 500 block of South Sunset Street.

Officers Donald Huard and Patrick Harlow, already in the vicinity, responded promptly to the call. When they arrived in the neighborhood they saw Junior, apparently armed with a handgun, and running from Sunset to Haloid Avenue.

According to the district attorney’s report, officers ordered Junior to stop and drop the gun. Junior refused, and allegedly jumped the fence of a nearby property and climbed onto the roof of the home.

By then several other officers were on scene, and had surrounded the property.

While Junior was on the roof, officers allegedly repeated numerous times the order to drop the gun and come down from the roof. While yelling back at officers, he apparently began sweeping his gun-wielding arm from left to right toward the officers surrounding the property.

“As the officers continued to plead with Junior to drop his gun, he suddenly racked the slide, raised the gun and again pointed it in their direction,” reads a report prepared by Assistant District Attorney Scott Spielman.

“Six officers, in fear for their lives and the lives of the others present, began firing in near unison at Mr. Junior, utilizing patrol rifles or pistols. When Junior fell down on the roof and rolled out of their view, the officers stopped firing.”

After the officers ceased firing at Junior, Det. Groves climbed onto the roof, followed by Officer Hallmark. Groves reportedly found Junior lying on the roof with his firearm less than two feet away from him.

“Det. Groves order Mr. Junior to ‘show me your hands.’ Junior reached out to grab the gun and Det. Groves, in immediate fear for his safety, fired twice. When Junior pulled his hand back away from the gun, Det. Groves stopped firing. Det. Groves then ran up to Mr. Junior and kicked the gun away. With the threat removed, Officer Hallmark handcuffed Junior.”

Officers requested medical aid. However, Junior was pronounced dead at the scene. During the autopsy, it was determined Junior died as the result of multiple gunshot wounds. A toxicology test revealed Junior had a blood-alcohol level of .081. He also tested positive for the presence of amphetamine and methamphetamine.

The report further cites legal analysis of similar precedent relating to use of force.

“When the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force,” reads a cited finding from the 1985 case of Tennessee v. Garner.

“Thus, if the suspect threatens the officer with a weapon or there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be necessary to prevent escape, and if where feasible, some warning has been given.”

Spielman states in his report that Junior’s actions, including his final sudden movement toward his firearm, gave the appearance of danger and supports Groves’ reaction to the appearance of danger under the circumstances.

“Thankfully, this is not a typical occurrence in Ridgecrest,” said McLaughlin, commenting on the rarity of an officer-involved shooting in the area.

However, the department faced a similar incident in 2013 when Sergio Munoz was fatally shot in Kramer Junction after going on a shooting spree in Ridgecrest then leading officers on a high-speed chase down Highway 395.

“I learned a lot, having gone through this before, so it kind of prepared me for what our officers needed.” He said that those involved were immediately sequestered so that they had a chance to unwind, then were offered counseling services.

“We also want to thank our community for the overwhelming support they showed us after the incident,” said McLaughlin. “We had more food here at the station than we have at Christmas. And so many people called and wrote letters and sent messages. It was really amazing. We are very fortunate in our community.”

Story First Published: 2017-12-08