San Diego

‘Preliminary Information' in ME's Report on Fatal Vista Deputy-Involved Shooting: SDSO

More than two months after a man was killed in a deputy-involved shooting in Vista, information released in an autopsy by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office appears to contradict information provided by the Sheriff’s department regarding the incident.

According to Homicide investigators, on July 5, Jonathon Coronel, 24, was in a crouched position, facing Deputy Christopher Villanueva when he raised his hand—which was covered by a t-shirt—toward the deputy.

Villanueva fired at Coronel because he feared for his life, investigators said.

But according to the summary on the ME report released Tuesday, a San Diego County Sheriff’s detective said Coronel pulled his shirt over his head, "turned his back to the deputies and started getting down on the ground."

That account is consistent with an eyewitness NBC 7 spoke to just after the shooting.

Coronel, a documented gang member wanted on a probation violation was first spotted by deputies in a green vehicle. But when they approached him, he jumped out the car and ran off on foot.

He led deputies on a foot pursuit that ended at a home on the 300 block of North Melrose Drive, near Knoll Road in Vista.

During a confrontation, Villanueva fired 16 rounds, striking Coronel multiple times and killing him, SDSO officials said.

Coronel had 22 gunshot wounds on his body, according to the ME report.

"My God, that's an execution; it's nothing less than an execution," said Humberto Guizar, the Coronel family’s attorney. "Call it what it is. It's an execution and murder and this officer should be arrested for murder."

In July, Coronel's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit, saying that Coronel was unarmed when he was shot and killed.

"I knew this was a bad shooting based on the accounts that we had, but based on the autopsy report, it just seems ridiculous and outrageous," Guizar told NBC 7. "And it's shocking to know that there are police officers out there that will shoot somebody commando style when they're already surrendering."

Wednesday evening, the ME’s office released an addendum to the report, which read, in part:

"The information in the Summary paragraph of the face sheet of the Medical Examiner’s Investigator’s Report was based on the initial information from one witness’ statement obtained from the Sheriff’s Department’s preliminary investigation at the time of the death, and then provided to a Medical Examiner Investigator. This preliminary information was not fully supported by subsequent investigation by the Sheriff’s Department or by the Medical Examiner’s autopsy findings."

In response to the addendum, Guizar said, in a statement:

"It is clear the San Diego Sheriff's Department put pressure on the Coroner’s office to minimize the outrageous conduct of Deputy Christopher Villanueva in shooting at Mr. Coronel 16 times and striking him with 15 of those gun shots throughout his body. The physical evidence cannot be changed. Mr. Coronel did not have a weapon of any kind and he was surrendering as he was holding his shirt over his head."

Ryan Keim, spokesperson for SDSO, told NBC 7 Thursday, the investigation has not been completed yet but is expected to finish within 90 days.

He also commented on the report released by the ME's office, saying it was "preliminary information" given to ME investigators when they arrived on scene.

"It's important to understand that summary on the medical examiner report is not a conclusion of the investigation or findings from the autopsy," Keim said. "It's merely preliminary investigation gathered at the very beginning of the investigation and obtained from one witness from that statement. So that is included in the comprehensive investigation."

He added that once the investigation is completed, the case will then be sent to the District Attorney's office.

"You have to realize an officer-involved shooting is one of the most complex and lengthy investigations that we undergo. We put everything together like a puzzle and we look at all pieces of it. And that summary was not an accurate depiction of that entire event," Keim said.

This was not the first shooting Villanueva was involved in--he also fatally shot Sergio Weick, a known gang member on Aug. 11, 2016.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office ruled the Weick shooting justified.

Villanueva, who has been employed by the department for approximately one year, was cleared at the time.

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