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November 29, 2012
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Officer-involved shooting ruled suicide (Updated)

A high-speed chase and gun battle between Grass Valley Police officers and a suspect ended in the man’s death by his own hand, Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell announced Thursday.

It had been more than six months since Rod Dankers’ death just off Highway 174, southeast of Grass Valley on a service road under the Bear River Bridge. But Newell just received the final forensics report from the California Department of Justice crime lab this week, he said.

“I was very hesitant to announce that it was suicide. I needed absolute confirmation,” Newell said. “Dankers’ death was determined to be a suicide by the forensic pathologist and the Nevada County Coroner. After review of the eyewitness accounts of events leading to the shooting, Department of Justice forensic examinations, autopsy reports and witness interviews, the District Attorney’s Office has determined that the involved officers used appropriate and justifiable force in their contact with the deceased.”

Newell explained that officer-involved shootings typically require three investigations — one by the law enforcement agency on the criminal incident from which the shooting arises, another by an outside law enforcement agency on the facts surrounding the officer’s discharge of his weapon and a third investigation within the agency on the administrative issues surrounding a discharge of a weapon in the course of duty.

In this case, investigators from the D.A.’s Office and Nevada County Sheriff’s Office did a joint investigation “to keep the integrity of the investigation,” Newell said, adding he informed the Grass Valley Police Department of the results of his investigation Wednesday.

“No criminal charges will be considered by the District Attorney’s Office, and the case will be closed,” he said.

“I’m very proud of the officers’ actions,” said Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster. “They were very heroic. To be involved in a gun battle with someone is not something that we face on a daily basis … To be able to walk away from that uninjured is exceptional. In this circumstance, this person engaged officers with the intent to kill them … but the officers used sound judgement and good tactics and were able to go home that night.

“At the same time, I’m saddened at the loss of Dankers’ life, all over illegal drugs,” Foster added.

The May 17 incident began when Dankers, 65, met a man at his residence to complete a transaction for the sale of 25 pounds of marijuana, according to text messages on the two men’s cell phones, Newell said in a prepared statement. The other man was not identified by Newell.

The pot transaction allegedly spiraled out of control after Dankers and the buyer got into a disagreement over the price of the marijuana. A physical altercation ensued with Dankers allegedly striking the would-be buyer several times with a metal pipe.

The altercation ended when the other man fled, Newell said.

Dankers fired a single round at the fleeing vehicle that entered the driver’s window, struck the cab and exited through the passenger-side window, Newell said, adding that there was corroborating physical evidence of that shot.

Dankers then pursued the other man toward Grass Valley and into the downtown area. After witnesses called 911, the other man was contacted and reported the assault and gunshot, Newell said. Two Grass Valley Police officers coming on duty overheard the radio information, saw Dankers’ truck and tried to stop him with lights and siren.

When Dankers failed to yield, a pursuit ensued up Brunswick Road onto Highway 174, reaching speeds in excess of 80 mph, often into oncoming traffic. During the pursuit, the officers could see Dankers holding a semiautomatic pistol in his right hand across his chest, Newell said.

The pursuit ended when Dankers left the highway and veered onto a service road leading under the Bear River Bridge, where his truck came to an abrupt stop.

According to Newell’s report, Dankers drove into the turnout until his vehicle was high-centered and stopped by the steel barriers at the trailhead. As his vehicle came to a rest, Dankers exited his vehicle with a weapon in each hand — a 9-mm and a .380-caliber semi-automatic pistol — and turned toward the officers. As they got out of their police unit, both officers directed him to drop his weapon, but Dankers refused and continued to raise and point his gun toward the officer closest to him.

The officer continued toward Dankers, giving commands to stop. As Dankers continued to aim his weapon toward the officer, shots were exchanged, Newell said.

Dankers continued to flee on foot, engaging the officers in a short, running gun battle. Dankers ultimately succumbed to a single self-inflicted gunshot to the head, Newell said.

The entire incident happened “very quickly,” he said, adding that the first call came in at 6:55 p.m., and the officer reported that shots had been fired at 7:09 p.m.

Evidence at the scene, Newell said, showed both officers discharged their duty weapons multiple times, and Dankers fired multiple rounds from the guns he was carrying.

The officers “saw him go down,” Newell said. “I don’t think they were aware he shot himself.”

Dankers sustained two gunshot wounds to the torso and two more to his right hand, Newell said, adding, “the pathologist said those would not have been life-threatening injuries. He could have survived those with medical attention.”

The autopsy indicated the single shot to the head was not survivable, however, Newell said. Dankers was found with one pistol clutched in his hand and the other nearby. DOJ forensics of the bullet fragments and DNA, coupled with the autopsy findings, confirmed the weapon held by the suspect was the one that fired the fatal shot.

“The gun that he was shot with had his DNA on the handle and in the barrel,” Newell said. “Forensics indicate a very close muzzle shot.”

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email or call (530) 477-4229.

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The Union Updated Nov 30, 2012 10:57AM Published Dec 5, 2012 07:41AM Copyright 2012 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.