San Diego

WARNING GRAPHIC: Officer Who Shot Chain-Wielding Man to Death Acted in Self Defense: DA

The San Diego Police Department officer who shot and killed a man armed with a heavy chain last summer has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan released a memo Wednesday indicating the officer acted in self-defense.

Video from the officer’s body-worn camera was also released by the district attorney.

Officer Cory Pitts was dispatched to the 4000 block of Boston Avenue in the Southcrest neighborhood August 8 to check on reports that a man with a machete attacked another man.

When he arrived on scene, Officer Pitts was greeted by a shirtless man who was swinging a thick 3-to-4-foot chain. The man, later identified as 48-year-old Vaughn Denham, is seen on the officer’s body-worn camera video smashing the chain onto the hood of the officer’s patrol car.

During the minute and a half confrontation, the officer ordered Denham to drop the chain and get on the ground several times. The officer is heard repeatedly warning that he’ll shoot if Denham doesn’t comply.

The video shoes Denham continuing to walk toward the officer, chain in hand. At one point the officer fired his taser but missed.

The officer walked backwards for more than a block with Denham walking toward him. When Denham appears to close the gap between them, the video shows the officer firing two shots.

NBC 7 showed the video to retired San Diego Police SWAT commander Ray Shay to get his take on Officer Pitts’ actions.

“It’s classic suicide by cop,” Shay said.

Shay said from what he could see on the video, the officer did everything right.

“Now, keep in mind there’s a big threat there, muscular man, long chain, and he keeps trying to close the gap. This officer showed great restraint backing up for that long. I mean he walked back a block and a half. That officer did a great job.”

Shay, who also served as a lethal force instructor at the police academy, said the officer had no choice but to shoot.

The District Attorney’s written statement indicates a toxicology report showed Denham had methamphetamines and other drugs in his system.

Officer Pitts is now back on patrol, even though he’s still under investigation by the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau. Investigators now must determine whether his actions were in line with the department’s policies and procedures.

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