San Diego

DA: Officer-Involved Shooting of Torrey Pines High School Student Was Justified

The student was armed with a BB gun and left behind a suicide note, police said

The San Diego Police Department's shooting of a 15-year-old student armed with a BB gun in the parking lot of Torrey Pines High School (TPHS) was justified, the District Attorney's office ruled. 

On May 6, just before 3:30 a.m., the teenager at the center of this case called 911 asking for police officers to conduct a welfare check on a minor near TPHS. The minor he was referring to was himself, only he talked in the third person when making that 911 call, SDPD Acting Homicide Lt. Mike Holden said.

"[In] our preliminary investigation, we believe that the subject that was shot is the person who actually called to check the welfare [of the minor]. We believe that he actually called and spoke about himself in the third person," Holden explained. "It was a very general 'check the welfare' call."

"It was a phone call that 'there's a male juvenile in front of the school, it appears someone should check on him,'" Holden added.

The SDPD said the caller stated that the juvenile had no weapons.

Two officers arrived at the parking lot at the front entrance of the school. There, they spotted the teenager standing in the lot.

Holden said that as the officers got out of their patrol car, the teenager pulled a gun out of his waistband "and pointed it directly at one of the officers."

Both officers drew their service weapons while repeatedly ordering the teenager to drop his weapon. Holden said the teen refused to drop the weapon and, instead, "continued to point the handgun at the one officer and then began walking towards the same officer."

Again, the officers told the teen to drop his weapon.

Holden said the officers feared for their safety and fired their guns at the teen, striking him "a number of times."

The teen was critically wounded and taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla where he died a short time later. The officers, a 28-year veteran and 4-year veteran of the police department, were not hurt.

Investigators have now determined that the weapon held by the teen was a semi-automatic BB air pistol.

The teenager killed by police lived in the neighborhood. Since he's a minor, police will not be releasing his name.

Holden said the officers involved in the teenager's shooting were wearing department-issued body-worn cameras, so footage of the shooting exists. Those videos were impounded as evidence in the investigation.

On May 5, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis held a news conference to release videos of three prior shootings in San Diego involving local police officers and deputies.

The DA’s office is responsible for determining whether a crime was committed in an officer or deputy-involved shootings in San Diego County. Video from an officer's body camera may be part of the investigation.

Dumanis said the DA's office was releasing the videos in those prior incidents per the protocol reached with law enforcement agencies. She has held similar news conferences in the past to reveal new details about other law enforcement involved shootings in San Diego.

After the investigation concluded, the DA's office determined the officers do not bear criminal liability for their actions. 

The DA's office added that they will not release body camera footage of the incident because a minor is depicted in the footage and minors are often protected by the court system. 

“This was a terrible tragedy for the boy’s family, friends, classmates, and the community in which he lived," said DA Spokesman Steve Walker in a statement. "His mother has requested the video not be released to avoid additional suffering and anguish for the family and we are respecting her wishes to maintain her family’s privacy. Understandably, she does not want the details of what led up to her son’s shooting to be shared with the public. Release of the video and extensive details of the shooting would also undoubtedly cause further trauma to students and teachers at Torrey Pines High School. Seeing video images of the last moments of a 15-year old boy’s life does not serve a public interest, in this instance.”

Suicide intervention services for all residents of San Diego County are available by calling the Access and Crisis Line at 1-888-724-7240. Spanish speaking counselors are available most hours, and interpretation is accessible in over 140 languages through language interpreting services.

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