SAN DIEGO — WARNING: The video featured in this story contains graphic content.
The San Diego District Attorney’s office on Monday cleared two San Diego police officers who fired on a gunman last summer in the College Area. Both officers were shot by Joseph Darwish who was later found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The shootout caught on an officer's body camera was released Monday by the DA’s office with a statement that officers were justified in using deadly force in the shooting that took place in 2018.
Police were at the condo on June 23, 2018 to respond to a report of a disturbance and smelled smoke coming from the apartment. According to the DA's report, the officers called firefighters to assess the situation. Police knocked on the door for more than 20 minutes but got no response. To ensure there was no fire danger, fire personnel forced entry into the home.
Before officers could even announce themselves, police officer Dan Bihum was shot in the back.
He told investigators he had no feeling in his body as he tried to crawl toward a window for safety along with another officer. Outside, other officers rushed to help as Darwish kept firing. The DA’s statement indicates that Darwish fired at least 22 shots at police.
“This harrowing incident shows just how quickly a routine call for service can turn deadly for police officers who suddenly found themselves in the line of fire, trying to protect their wounded fellow officers and keep the shooter from endangering members of the public,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “It’s a tribute to these officers’ bravery and quick response that the gunman didn’t injure more people or kill the officers and firefighters involved.”
Officer Francisco Roman fired more than a dozen rounds back, but he was also wounded in his chin, neck and shoulder. Officer Bihum then got up and started to kick out a window.
Both officers were taken to a nearby hospital and survived. The officers later received a national award for going beyond the call of duty.
In addition to the San Diego police officers, four San Diego firefighters were also in the hallway during the shootout with Darwish. A new firefighter who had been on the job for just hours was the one who forced the door open. His captain told him to move aside and let officers take over. Seconds later, the gunfire erupted.
Captain Fuller of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department was there that night and said there were many lessons to be learned from the incident. One of the most important being that firefighters never let their guard down because you never know what a routine call could turn into.
Fuller said the experience took its toll on him at first as he felt overly cautious at work and had trouble sleeping. He said he is thankful for the counseling resources provided to both firefighters and police officers that have helped them process the trauma from that night.
According to the DA, Darwish was hit at least twice by officers during the shootout, but later used his own gun to take his life. The district attorney determined all officers that night used reasonable force and aren't criminally liable for Darwish's death.
Darwish was wearing a bullet-proof vest and was armed with a homemade assault weapon and a homemade 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, according to the DA's report. Neither weapon had a serial number and the guns were not registered.
As part of its finding, the DA’s Office released about seven minutes of body-worn camera video evidence of the incident to the media, as well as a detailed letter of its review.
Retired San Diego Police Department Lt. SWAT Commander Ray Shay reviewed the video released by the district attorney Monday.
"That is great teamwork here. I understand by reading the report they shot through the wall at times of at the target or the aggressor which is completely allowed, supported and encouraged. It is amazing to watch - makes you proud as a former cop. Those are cops that are doing it right," he said when referring to video.