REDWOOD CITY (CBS SF) — A San Mateo police officer has been cleared of wrongdoing in the non-fatal shooting last year of two retail theft suspects who drove their car toward police vehicles blocking them in a cul-de-sac.
The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office on Friday released a statement saying it had completed an investigation into Officer Juan Ramirez’s shooting of the two suspects following a chase from Hillsdale Shopping Center on September 28, 2019. While the investigation cleared Ramirez of wrongdoing, the district attorney expressed concern for the officer’s actions.
The two women were suspected in a series of retail thefts targeting Apple Stores across the Bay Area and Southern California. That day, police officers had spotted their vehicle at the mall unoccupied and with the engine running parked in a handicapped stall when they emerged and drove away.
After a brief chase along E. Hillsdale Blvd., police cornered them in a cul-de-sac and blocked their escape with their patrol vehicles. Video from Officer Ramirez’s body-worn camera shows the suspect car driving toward the officers and Ramirez immediately opens fire with several rounds.
The video shows the car stopping and as Ramirez runs toward it, the car begins moving in reverse toward Ramirez, who moved away and fired at least nine more rounds at the vehicle, including four shots after the car was stopped.
The suspects, 30-year-old Rickita James, of Newark, Delaware, and 27-year-old Taleah Johnson, of Philadelphia were transported to the hospital, treated for gunshot wounds and arrested following the shooting.
“After a thorough investigation by Inspector Matt Broad and other inspectors with the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, District Attorney Stephen M. Wagstaffe has concluded that the facts and circumstances surrounding the shooting do not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooting by Officer Ramirez constituted a violation of California criminal statutes,” read the statement from the DA’s office. “Therefore criminal charges will not be filed and this case is now deemed closed by this office.”
However, District Attorney Steven Wagstaffe told San Mateo Police Chief Ed Barberini in a letter accompanying the statement, “I have serious concerns about Officer Ramirez’ decision to fire his weapon at the fleeing automobile and cause serious injury to two women he suspected of committing theft related crimes. I seriously question whether Officer Ramirez acted properly in this case. However, I have no hesitancy in concluding that for the reasons set forth in extensive detail below, it is not reasonably likely that a jury would find his conduct to be criminal.”
According to Wagstaffe, James sustained multiple gunshot wounds which resulted in significant injury to her lungs, kidneys, blood vessels, nerves and bones in both arms. She underwent multiple surgeries and has lost the full use of her right arm. Johnson was also hit multiple times by gunshots but her injuries were not made available to investigators, Wagstaffe said.
Officer Ramirez was hired in 1995 by the Redwood City Police Department but was terminated during his probationary period. After re-certification training, he was hired by the San Mateo Police Department in 2013.
Police said James and Johnson had flown to Los Angeles from Philadelphia two days before the incident, and over the next 48 hours committed a series of retail thefts and other crimes in at least 11 locations in Southern California and the Bay Area, including in Daly City, San Jose and Palo Alto.
On the day of the shooting, police said they were seen on camera committing numerous thefts at Hillsdale Shopping Center before being confronted by police officers.