Questions remain in shooting
November 18, 2012
Today marks six months since a Grass Valley Police officer shot and killed Rod Dankers after a high-speed chase down Highway 174 that ended on a service road next to the Bear River bridge.
But Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell — whose office was charged with investigating the officer-involved shooting incident — still has not released his report.
That is because he is still waiting for information from the state Department of Justice, Newell said.
"Our office has finished its investigation into the matter, but before we can issue our final report, we need evidence that was shipped to the DOJ," Newell said, citing ballistics and DNA evidence in particular.
Newell said he understands the evidence has been analyzed and is waiting for a supervisor's sign-off.
"Then I will review it again, and issue my statement," Newell said.
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The Nevada County Sheriff's Office has said the incident began with a pot deal gone bad, and alleged Dankers was involved in growing marijuana for profit. But a longtime friend of Dankers — who asked not to be identified — said the marijuana is beside the point.
"I have no idea if it's true that there was gunfire exchanged, that Rod had a gun … But fleeing from the police does not merit being shot," he said.
"As to why he veered off the road — he knew that (path) was a dead end. So the issue is, did he get out of the truck with a gun in his hand, or empty-handed? If he had a gun, was it at his side or pointed at an officer? That could be easily corroborated.
"But if he got out of the truck empty-handed, or with the gun by his side, you don't shoot in those cases. What happened in those last two minutes? That should be the essence of the investigation."
High-speed chase ends in fatal shooting
The night of May 17, Dankers, 65, had agreed to meet another man in order to sell him marijuana, said Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal.
The pot transaction allegedly spiraled out of control after Dankers and the buyer met on La Barr Meadows Road, but 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. At some point, Dankers also fired several rounds from a gun, Royal said. The victim fled in his vehicle toward Grass Valley and apparently circled the police department at East Main and South Auburn streets in an attempt to gain attention, Royal said.
City police officers quickly responded and located Dankers' truck at East Main and East Bennett streets and attempted a traffic stop.
When he failed to yield to emergency lights and siren, a pursuit ensued up Brunswick Road onto Highway 174. The California Highway Patrol, along with Nevada County and Placer County sheriff's offices, also responded. The pursuit, lasting approximately 10 minutes and reaching speeds in excess of 80 mph, 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.
The details of the ensuing confrontation have not yet been released, but a Grass Valley Police officer reportedly shot and killed Dankers.
Dankers' autopsy did reveal that he died of a gunshot wound, but the number of times he was shot was unclear, said Nevada County Chief Deputy Coroner Paul Schmidt. Dankers had been shot between three and five times, Schmidt said.
The day after the shooting, members of the Nevada County Sheriff's Narcotics Task Force served a search warrant on Dankers' residence in south county, reportedly finding 98 marijuana plants in an indoor grow and 87 plants outdoors.
Not about the pot
But Dankers' friend insists his death was not about marijuana, adding that he had never been a serious grower, and only turned to pot sales because of the economic recession.
In the last couple of months before his death, his friend said, "It was not pleasant financially." Dankers had concerns about scraping together the mortgage, paying the utilities, putting food on the table, the friend said.
Yes, Sheriff's deputies did find plants at Dankers' house — but his friend insists those 180 plants actually belonged to someone else, who was in the process of moving. Half of those were just "strewn around" outside and were not being taken care of, he said, adding, "Clearly this was not some big operation."
Dankers made less than $10,000 from selling pot in a year and a half, his friend said.
"The most plants he ever had was 20," he said. "Selling pot was just about filling some (financial) gaps. He wasn't even doing that well at it. That's what is so tragic. If he had been deeply embroiled (in growing), there would have been an element of predictability, but that wasn't the level (at which he was operating)."
The friend, who had known Dankers for 35 years, said he does not believe it will ever be known what Dankers was arguing about with the other man, whom he identified as a "very big player" in the marijuana brokering business.
But Dankers' friend does not believe they met that day to make a deal because he didn't have anything to sell. And many of Dankers' friends found it hard to believe that he had gotten into a physical altercation in the first place, he said.
"Rod, he just had a heart," he said. "He was the kind of person who would open up his wallet and give you his last $20 … Truly, Rod embodied the true philosophy of the '60s, of love.
"He held on to that. It sounds corny and euphemistic, but it's not. That's who he was. That's why, when we heard about the altercation, (we were in disbelief). Rod was not the kind to throw the first punch."
In the ensuing media coverage of the fatal shooting, he said, very little attention has been paid to the kind of person Dankers was: A jazz musician and a composer with a great musical sense, and a great dad.
"And he was an avid reader," he said. "His idea of seventh heaven was reading a book with his trusty dog by his side."
At Dankers' memorial service, another friend read a tribute that called him a man of unusual intelligence with a flair for the absurd, concluding, "Though his absence leaves a void that will never be filled, it was a privilege to be his friend."
State lab impacted by budget cuts
Six months is not out of the norm when waiting for test results to come back from the state Department of Justice, Newell said.
The DOJ crime lab will examine just three pieces of evidence at a time and might examine more if requested, he said.
According to Newell, cases going to trial involving important felonies tend to move to the top of the priority list. So in a case like that of Dankers, where no criminal charges have been filed, it can take many, many months, Newell said.
"They're so impacted," he said. "It's caused an extended time period. There are no charges pending, so they were under no pressure other than us badgering them.
"It is frustrating, but with the resources they have available, they do a good job for us. We see a huge lag time unless we have an active hearing or a need in court. I think that's how they triage."
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4229.
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