A Ceres Police Department sergeant and police officer were justified in fatally shooting Nicholas Pimentel at the end of a police pursuit into south Modesto on Oct. 22. District Attorney Birgit Fladager’s office determined that the shooting of Pimentel, 27, by Officer Ross Bays and Sgt. Darren Venn was in “self-defense and/or in the defense of others and to prevent the escape of a dangerous suspect.”
Pimentel’s family has insisted that the shooting was an act of police brutality and unjustified following the shooting. Those investigating the shooting see it much differently.
“Pimentel had committed a felony, had attempted (at a minimum) to ram a police vehicle, and to cease using his truck as a weapon while he attempted to escape,” concluded the report written by Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager.
The DA’s report starts out detailing how at around 1:02 a.m. Sgt. Venn pulled over an intoxicated Pimentel for speeding in his pickup. Prior to approaching the truck, Venn used his loud speaker to order Pimentel to turn off his engine. Pimentel, instead, hit the accelerator and a pursuit was on. The report said that Pimentel drove in an “extremely dangerous fashion at a high rate of speed” of over 100 mph at times, running red lights, turning off his headlights and nearly colliding with other vehicles. Venn was quoted in the report describing Pimentel’s pickup as “a missile on wheels that was just waiting to hit something.”
The pursuit lasted for over eight minutes and ended on Imperial Avenue and Ustick Road when Sgt. Venn performed a PIT maneuver to cause the truck to spin-out. By then other officers had joined the pursuit with Officer Bays the closest behind Sgt. Venn’s vehicle. The report indicated that Venn started to get out of his patrol car when Pimentel put his truck in reverse and backed the truck directly at Venn who then dove back into his patrol car and braced for impact. Venn later stated he thought he was going to die, however Bays pulled his patrol car into Pimentel’s path resulting in the truck hitting Bays’ patrol car. The two cars collided and came to rest next to/against a parked car.
Pimentel revved the truck engine, spinning the tires and attempting to escape. Pimentel shifted from reverse to drive and back and forth. Sgt. Venn climbed out of his car and was yelling for Pimentel to stop but Pimentel ignored him. Venn told investigators that either he or Bays would have been injured or killed had Pimentel freed his truck in either direction. Bays got out of his patrol car and also began yelling commands for Pimentel to stop and show his hands. The report said that’s when Bays saw a front-seat passenger – Pimentel’s girlfriend – so he moved position to keep his gun off the passenger while watching Pimentel shift gears.
Both officers fired at Pimentel after he continued to move his truck, looked directly at Officer Bays and turn the tires toward him to accelerate.
Bays’ patrol car was moved back from the truck to allow Pimentel to be removed and life-saving measures started.
A postmortem analysis of Pimentel’s blood revealed he had a 0.28 percent Blood Alcohol Content, over three times the legal limit of below 0.08 percent.
The U.C. Supreme Court established the standard to be applied when reviewing an officer’s use of force in the case of Tennessee v. Garner, (1985). The court held that the “use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable.” However, the court held that where 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.
The report closes the case with this pronouncement: “Pimentel fled after he was pulled over and then attempted to ram a police vehicle or, more likely, run/down Sgt. Venn after being PITed. When he continued to resist and used his truck to push other cars out of the way he clearly demonstrated he was a danger to the physical safety of others. He left the officers with no choice. When viewed from the objective officer’s point of view, and with the facts known to the officers at that time, it was imminently reasonable for them to use deadly force.”
Officer Bays also fatally shot and killed 15-year-old Hughson teenager Spencer Carmen Mendez on Aug. 18. The shooting was the end of a high-speed chase that ended in Denair’s rural area after Mendez, armed with a gun, got out of the car. Police were alerted to the Lexus involved in the incident when someone in the car brandished a gun at Smyrna Park and was then involved in a Mitchell Road hit-and-run.