Felon fatally shot during violent struggle for firearm

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A felon with multiple gun convictions was fiercely struggling with an officer who was trying to wrestle away the suspect’s handgun. During their violent encounter, another officer shot and killed the Santa Cruz County man during a car stop Saturday on the side of Highway 85, San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia said Tuesday.

The suspect, described only as a 29-year-old Aptos resident, fended off an attempt by Sgt. Lee Tassio to subdue him with a Taser then lunged for Tassio’s firearm, Garcia said. The chief said Tassio, an 18-year police veteran, fired a single fatal shot to protect the other officer struggling with the suspect inside the Lexus SUV’s passenger-side compartment, reported The Mercury News.

“The suspect continued attempting to raise the pistol,” Garcia said. “It’s an absolute tragedy. My heart goes to his father, who was there … but this individual was not going to give up. This individual was armed, once again, with a firearm with an extended magazine, with a round in the chamber.”

“I’ve been doing this job for nearly three decades now, and I will tell you that I’m just glad we’re here not talking about an officer getting killed,” he added.

Police confirmed that the suspect, who has not been formally identified, was carrying a loaded Glock 26 9mm pistol.

The officers had been tracking the suspect since an Oct. 24 traffic stop near the Westfield Valley Fair shopping center. During the detention, by the SJPD Violent Crimes Enforcement Team, the suspect handed over his license to officers then backed his car into a police vehicle and fled, Garcia said. The officers decided against a vehicle pursuit and instead opened an investigation and began conducting surveillance on the man.

That led to the encounter that unfolded around 3:10 p.m. Saturday after police officers with VCET stopped the Lexus SUV the suspect was riding in as a passenger.

An officer ordered the suspect to get out of the vehicle, yet he did not comply. Instead, the felon remained in the front-passenger seat and fussed with his cellphone.

At one point, the suspect’s father, who was driving the SUV, reached across his son and opened the passenger door. That’s when the officer, aware of the suspect’s conviction history for illegally possessing weapons, tried to pull the suspect out.

“The suspect pulled a gun from his waistband and raised it in the direction of the officer. That officer grabbed the suspect’s right hand and felt the gun as it was being raised toward him and a struggle began,” Garcia said. “The officer pinned the suspect’s arm pushing it away from him to prevent him from being shot.”

Around that time, Tassio came over to help the officer, and unsuccessfully deployed his Taser.

“The suspect was also trying to grab the second officer’s gun as they struggled in the car,” Garcia said. “The second officer fired one shot, striking the suspect.”

Garcia said the fight was captured on the officers’ body-worn cameras. No immediate plans to disclose that footage were announced.

As a result, the suspect was pronounced dead at the scene. His father had been removed from the vehicle before the shot was fired and was not injured.

According to police, the suspect was convicted of being a felon in possession of a handgun and ammunition in 2015, and was sentenced to two years in prison before being granted early release. In September 2017, he was again convicted on similar charges and sentenced to 32 months in prison. He served half of the sentence and was freed.

Moreover, Garcia said the suspect also had past criminal convictions for arson, burglary, auto theft, grand theft, and was a registered arsonist, according to The Mercury News.

“I understand with regards to criminal-justice reform and I understand how our system isn’t perfect. But I think we can all agree that individuals, particularly those who have been convicted felons, that are driving around possessing loaded firearms in our city is not a good thing,” he said. “As we talk about gun control, and there are a lot of different issues, but let’s start with enforcing those laws and holding those people accountable to the fullest extent that we can.”

Consequently, the SJPD homicide unit and Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office opened an investigation into the shooting — routine procedure after an officer-involved shooting in the county.

The police Internal Affairs Unit, the City Attorney’s Office, and the city’s Independent Police Auditor will monitor the probe.

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