An Orange County sheriff’s deputy was justified in fatally shooting a Marine sergeant, accused of acting irrationally and refusing orders, inside his SUV while his daughters were in the back seat, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced Friday.
The investigation determined Deputy Darren Sandberg acted properly when he opened fire on Sgt. Manuel Levi Loggins Jr., 31, on Feb. 7.
The Camp Pendleton-based Marine was shot around 4:45 a.m., shortly after crashing a white GMC Yukon through a gate at San Clemente High School, according to the sheriff's department. His 9- and 14-year-old daughters were in the vehicle.
Sheriff's officials said Loggins ignored orders from Sandberg as he walked off into a dark part of the school's athletic field.
Loggins family attorney Brian Dunn said the sheriff's department's explanation of what happened consisted of "self-serving statements" and explained that Loggins would go to the high school frequently with his daughters so they could pray together.
"He had a busy life as a sergeant in the Marine Corps, and they start early in the morning there," Dunn told City News Service.
"This was a special time he had with the girls. They would be out there when the day was beginning and usually was not too crowded out there. As odd as it sounds, that's how they carved out their time together."
It is possible Loggins did not see the gate, which was sometimes closed and other times open when he visited the high school, Dunn said.
Investigators say the girls told them their father had "a stern look on his face" and had been speeding before he drove his white GMC Yukon through a closed gate at "full speed."
Meanwhile, Deputy Darren Sandberg had pulled into the school parking lot to complete his shift at about 4 a.m. when he saw Loggins’ truck speed through the lot. Investigators say Sandberg reported seeing the white truck, then hearing the screeching of tires and a crashing sound from the area where he saw the truck disappear.
When Sandberg followed the sound, investigators said, he saw Loggins’ truck with a piece of the metal gate lodged beneath it. He turned on his overhead red/blue lights and parked.
Video from Sandberg’s patrol car captured what happened next, according to DA investigators:
Loggins died from a gunshot wound to the torso, according to Forensic Pathologist Joseph Cohen. No drugs were found in his system.
Twenty-seven seconds passed between the radio broadcast that Loggins was returning to his car. Sandberg’s gun was unholstered for 22 seconds before the shooting, the DA said.
Sandberg later told investigators that he was concerned for the girls’ safety.
"I’m look at it if he leaves here with those kids, those kids are gonna get hurt," he told investigators.
"Either end up in a chase, I don’t know if he’s gonna drive them to the brick wall, if he’s … mad at somebody at home and he’s gonna sacrifice himself and his kids, I, I, believe those kids are gonna get hurt."
In his report, Sandberg says he chose to use his gun because a taser was not available and officers determined a baton would not have been successful against the 6-foot-tall, 190-pound Loggins.
"In hindsight, one could conclude that several non-deadly options were available to Deputy Sandberg prior to the shooting," the DA’s report states. "For example, he could have removed the children and/or the keys from the vehicle prior to Loggins’ return.
"Of course, this would have required Deputy Sandberg to anticipate that Loggins would return to the vehicle and blatantly ignore the deputies’ commands prior to re-entering the SUV," the report read.
Loggins' widow, Phoebe, who was pregnant with the couple’s fourth child at the time of the shooting, filed a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit on May 7 against Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and the county, seeking unspecified damages.
The lawsuit also alleges false arrest and imprisonment, because Loggins' daughters were allegedly held for 13 hours without being allowed to leave.
Loggins had no prior criminal history, the DA said.
City News Service contributed to this report.