A Bend police detective was justified in fatally shooting the unarmed passenger of an SUV that had pulled up to a northeast Bend home being raided by drug agents, Deschutes County District Attorney Mike Dugan announced Wednesday.
When Refugio Cruz-Fuentes, 28, of Bend, refused to raise his hands as directed, in both English and Spanish, and appeared to be reaching inside his jacket, Bend Police Det. Tom Brown fired 11 shots, nine of which hit him in the left side of the chest, Dugan's report said. The other two hit a nearby car and the pillar on the car window.
Dugan spent the last two weeks reviewing the investigation's evidence and deciding whether Brown was justified in shooting the unarmed man during a drug investigation on May 2.
During a news conference held at Bend Police headquarters, Dugan said although Cruz-Fuentes of Bend was unarmed, Brown had had reasonable belief he and another drug agent were in danger when Cruz-Fuentes refused to put up his hands and reached toward an inside pocket.
"I have determined that Detective Tom Brown's use of deadly force was justifiable, under the circumstances and conditions which existed at the time," Dugan said.
"I find that Detective Brown reasonably believed that Mr. Fuentes was about to use unlawful deadly physical force against another person," the DA continued. "The subsequent determination that Mr. Fuentes did not, in fact, have a gun does not diminish the reasonable belief of Detective Brown."
Brown is still on administrative leave until both he and Bend Interim Police Chief Sandi Baxter believe he's ready to come back, the DA said.
Dugan said drug agents had gotten some information about a statewide meth trafficking group and went to this home on Northeast Wichita Way to make an arrest of a man named Anthony Cossette.
After they arrested him, they got a search warrant for the rest of the home. That's when they found over two ounces of meth, a semi-automatic rifle and another gun, cash and drug paraphenalia.
According to investigators, Cossett then said his meth supplier, Jose Acuna, was on his way over to make a delivery, and he usually carries a gun.
The district attorney's report says the officers felt like they didn't have much time to get ready.
So when the Nissan Xterra pulled up with three passengers, the driver, Acuna, got out and ran to the front door with some meth, Dugan said.
Acuna was tackled to the ground and arrested by Brown.
At that point, Prineville Police Det. Jeff Frickey, also with the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement Team, went up to the car and started yelling "get your hands up!" to the remaining two passengers.
Cruz-Fuentes was in the back seat, and a woman named Alaina Lehner was in the front seat; she immediately complied, but Cruz-Fuentes did not, officers said.
After repeatedly yelling in both English and Spanish to "get your hands up!" Frickey became nervous.
The report says Detective Brown could sense that.
Then both men saw Cruz-Fuentes reach across his body into the inside of his jacket.
Brown told investigators that based on the fact that he knew most alleged drug dealers carry weapons and by his body language, it appeared Cruz-Fuentes was about to shoot Frickey. Lehner, who did raise her hands, told investigators she, too, thought Cruz-Fuentes was reaching for a gun.
The bullets from tom Brown's gun killed Cruz-Fuentes immediately.
Brown told investigators that he "felt his body go cold" and was unaware if anyone else fired their weapons, but that he did hear voices yelling "shots fired." This was the first time Brown, a 14-year veteran of the force, had fired a gun in the line of duty, Dugan said.
Police found cigarrettes in one hand and a lighter between his legs and a half ounce of meth on Cruz-Fuentes.
Dugan said based on all that, and despite the fact he was not armed, Brown's actions were justified because he believed Cruz-Fuentes could have fired at either him or Frickey. And the DA told reporters the investigation was done "thoroughly, fairly, openly and impartially."
Cruz-Fuentes had been wearing a medallion around his neck of Jesus Malverde, who Dugan said is known among Mexican drug dealers as the "narco saint" or the "patron saint" of narcotics traffickers. The image is believed by drug dealers to possess protective powers, so that whoever wears it will be safe from harm or apprehension while trafficking in narcotics.
Cruz-Fuentes' body showed signs of long-term meth use, the DA said. At the time of the shooting, he had a high level of meth in his system, which Dugan said could explain why he repeatedly did not comply with officers' orders.
Cruz-Fuentes was arrested in California in 2001 for DUII and had been detained by US Customs agents in 2002 when he was attempting to enter the US. He was sent back to Mexico.