Six San Diego police officers were legally justified in fatally shooting a drunken assault suspect who opened fire on them at his Lake Murray home last summer, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis concluded in a ruling released today.
The officers were investigating an earlier non-injury shooting in the eastern San Diego neighborhood when Joseph Giordano, 64, emerged from his Lake Ariana Avenue house and fired a revolver at them about 10 p.m. Sept. 12, Dumanis wrote in a letter to SDPD Chief William Lansdowne.
Giordano died in a hail of return fire from police Lt. Kenneth Hubbs, Agent Gary Hill and Officers Manuel Escalante, Riter Flores, Larry Triplett and Scott Wilkinson.
The events that led to the deadly encounter began the evening of Sept. 9, when a resident of the neighborhood, sheriff's Sgt. Scott Ybarrondo, was "urgently" summoned to a house across the street from his to help deal with a disturbance, Dumanis stated.
The off-duty lawman arrived to find Giordano, whom he didn't know, "upset, drunk and verbally threatening," according to the district attorney.
Ybarrondo detained and handcuffed his belligerent neighbor and held him for police, who eventually decided that Giordano had calmed down enough for them to drop him off at his nearby residence with a warning instead of arresting him.
Three nights later, Giordano arrived at Ybarrondo's front door. When Ybarrondo answered, thinking his neighbor might want to apologize for his earlier behavior, Giordano asked him, "Are you the police officer?"
Ybarrondo said he was, then noticed that Giordano was holding something behind him, covered in white towel. When the lawman asked him what he had in his hand, Giordano raised it toward him, and Ybarrondo saw that it was a pistol, Dumanis stated.
Ybarrondo slammed the door, shouted for his children to get under their beds, told his wife to call 911 and ran to get his gun. As he did so, he heard shots ringing out from his front stoop.
When San Diego police arrived in the area, residents told them the gunman had driven off in a white van. A short time later, SDPD helicopter personnel searching the area from above spotted the vehicle in front of Giordano's home, according to Dumanis.
Uniformed officers surrounded the house and tried to make contact with the suspect, who was inside with his wife. About 40 minutes later, Giordano walked outside, raised his .38-caliber handgun and fired, Dumanis wrote.
Escalante, Flores, Hill, Hubbs, Triplett and Wilkinson returned fire, discharging a total of 23 rounds.
An autopsy determined that Giordano died of bullet wounds to the chest, back and legs. At the time of his death, his blood-alcohol level was 0.36 percent -- 4 1/2 times the legal limit for driving.
Under state law, peace officers are entitled to use lethal force when confronted by threats of death or great bodily injury to themselves or others, Dumanis noted.
"Based on the circumstances of this incident, we conclude that the officers acted in self-defense and defense of one another," the district attorney stated. "Therefore, their use of deadly force was justified, and they bear no criminal liability for their actions."
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