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Nevada County DA’s report: No criminal charges in Gabriel Strickland shooting (DOCUMENT)

Nearly 10 months to the day from Gabriel Strickland’s fatal shooting during a confrontation with law enforcement, the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office has found the officers’ actions were “clearly reasonable and legally justifiable under the circumstances.”

“No criminal charges will be filed against any of the peace officers as a result,” Assistant District Attorney Chris Walsh wrote in the memo released Friday.

Gabriel Strickland: Officer Involved Shooting Review by The Union on Scribd

The seven-page report details the events surrounding Strickland’s death on Jan. 1, after Nevada County sheriff’s deputies and Grass Valley police officers responded to a report of an armed man walking down Squirrel Creek Road.

Strickland, 25, was shot after he pointed what was believed to be a shotgun at officers. Strickland was hit multiple times and died after he was taken to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. Deputies Brandon Tripp and Taylor King, and Grass Valley Police Officer Brian Hooper, were placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting, but subsequently all returned to duty within weeks.

In the memo released Friday, Walsh noted the extensive investigation included witness interviews, body camera footage, written reports, and a visit to the scene. He emphasized that his office was not charged with examining compliance with policies and procedures, or ways to improve police training.

“Our review is really very limited as to whether or not the officers involved are guilty of a crime,” Walsh said. “That’s really what we’re looking at. We do a very thorough investigation of the surrounding circumstances for the purpose of transparency, so the public can find out all the facts about what is involved. Our conclusion is focused on, did (the officers) commit a crime?”

According to Walsh, in order to convict an officer of a crime it would be necessary to prove there was no legal justification for the shooting.

“Just as there are defenses to a crime, like self-defence, with law enforcement the review is a little more involved, because of the nature of their position,” he said. “What it boils down to, in all these situations, is how would a reasonable person react in that situation?”

In the minutes before Strickland’s shooting, he tells the officers the gun is fake, but they can be heard responding they don’t know if that’s true and to put the gun down, Walsh said, adding, “It looks real.”

“They don’t have to wait for a person to fire a gun at them,” he said. “They don’t have to risk their lives to prove it’s a real gun. They gave Gabriel Strickland the opportunity to put down the gun, he’s not putting down the gun. Once he then … lowers the gun and points it at officers, if they believe the gun is real, they are justified in shooting.”

Agencies react to report

Both Sheriff Shannan Moon and Grass Valley Police Chief Alex Gammelgard thanked the District Attorney’s Office for its thorough review of Strickland’s death.

“These types of incidents — and this incident in particular — are difficult and devastating for the community, the family and the officers involved,” Gammelgard said. “Our thoughts continue to be with the family. We’re happy that this milestone has been reached, and the officers now have closure on this particular portion of the review of the incident and the finding that their actions were legally justified.”

Moon noted this was the first incident of this nature for her as sheriff, making it particularly important to have an outside agency conduct the investigation.

“Any use of force by law enforcement, and certainly deadly force, is a matter of critical concern,” Moon said in a prepared statement. “I am grateful that our deputies responded without hesitation to the call and worked in collaboration with the officers from the Grass Valley Police Department. Their jobs are extremely difficult, and while we are pleased to see the use of force was deemed justified by our district attorney, it by no means diminishes the significant loss that the Strickland family has undergone.”

The report released some new details on Strickland’s death, noting that Tripp, King and Hooper fired a combined 13 shots in a matter of seconds. Strickland’s autopsy determined the cause of death to be multiple gunshot wounds, but listed methamphetamine intoxication as a significant contributing factor.

Even though the officers’ actions were deemed reasonable and justified, Walsh said Strickland’s death was “regrettable.”

“There are larger issues, there are bigger questions raised from this kind of situation,” he said. “We don’t want to see anyone shot and killed unless it’s absolutely necessary. (And) we hope we can find better ways to avoid this happening in the future. We need to do more, as a community and in law enforcement, to address underlying mental health and drug issues, that will hopefully prevent things like this from occurring in the future.”

Walsh noted the Sheriff’s Office has instituted new protocols, with a mental health crisis unit that will respond to these kinds of situations. The Grass Valley Police Department on Friday announced a similar effort, but one that will focus on homeless individuals with a propensity for violence and/or who are the victim of crimes.

Gammelgard noted that the police department is continuing its own review of its officers’ actions that day, using an outside investigator.

That report “will review policy rather than the legal principles the DA looked at,” he said, adding, “Sometimes the DA’s report won’t answer all the questions from a policy perspective.”

That internal review will become public record once it is complete, Gammelgard said.

Also pending is a potential civil lawsuit filed on behalf of Strickland’s estate and his family by attorneys Patrick Dwyer and Mark Merin. The wrongful death action should be filed in federal district court within the next two weeks, Dwyer said.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email lizk@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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