Off-duty Fontana officer was legally justified in fatally shooting home intruder, report says

An off-duty Fontana Police Department officer was legally justified when he fatally shot an intruder at the officer’s home during an incident last year, according to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.

The intruder, identified as 26-year-old Vincent Avila, had stolen the officer’s off-duty weapon and was uncooperative when confronted by the officer in the early morning hours of March 16, 2016. The D.A.’s Office, citing security concerns, did not reveal the name of the officer, whose residence is in Apple Valley.

“The actions of the officer were appropriate and justified based on the law of self-defense, defense of one’s home, and a peace officer’s right to detain and arrest,” the D.A.’s Office said in a statement accompanying the full report of the incident.

According to the report, the officer, who lives with his wife and three children, heard his dog barking in the middle of the night but did not consider it unusual. However, when he woke up at 5:30 a.m., he suspected that his home had been burglarized because items were missing from the kitchen counter, where they had been left the night before.

The officer went through the interior garage door into the garage and noticed that his motorcycle was missing and that the external side door to the backyard was open. At this point, the officer realized his backpack containing his off-duty weapon was also missing from the kitchen counter.

The officer grabbed his duty weapon from his bedroom, went out to the front yard in the darkness, and noticed Avila near the side gate to the officer’s backyard. At this point, the officer and Avila (who was wearing a black ski mask and gloves) were about 40 feet from each other.

The officer walked toward Avila, pulled out his gun and repeatedly yelled for Avila to show his hands. But Avila did not comply and instead approached the officer and told him something to the effect of, “Hey, I know who did this. I was just coming to tell you.”

The officer continued to order Avila to show his hands. Avila did not comply and instead turned his back to the officer, the report said. The officer approached Avila from behind and continued to order Avila to show his hands and to get on the ground. As the officer got within five feet of Avila, Avila suddenly turned and took a step toward the officer.

The officer struck Avila in the head with the handle of the gun, hitting Avila in the upper left forehead.
When this happened, the officer accidentally discharged his gun into the air. This accidental discharge did not strike anyone. Avila fell to the ground after this strike. Avila landed on his left side and then rolled onto his back.

The officer then stood over Avila at gunpoint and immediately called 911 at 5:39 a.m., identifying himself as an off-duty officer.

During that 911 call, the officer told Avila to “Lay down” at least nine times and to take his hands out where the officer can see them at least 16 times. Instead of complying, Avila repeatedly attempted to place his hands under his shirt, toward his stomach area. As Avila did this, the officer repeatedly kicked Avila’s hands away from Avila’s stomach area.

When Avila tried to stand up, the officer used his foot to push Avila in his chest in an attempt to pin Avila down on the ground. Avila tried to get up again, so the officer again kicked him in the head, and the intruder landed on his back.

Avila then tried once again to get up. This time, Avila quickly rolled to his right and reached back toward his waistband with his left hand. For the first time, the officer saw that Avila had a gun on his waistband near Avila’s left hip area. At 5:44 a.m., the officer fired two rounds at Avila’s upper torso, striking Avila in the left chest and shoulder area. Avila fell, landed on his right side, and then rolled on his back.

About a minute later, three San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputies arrived. When the deputies shined their spotlights on Avila, the officer recognized that his off-duty gun was on Avila’s hip.

Shortly before 6 a.m., Avila was transported by ambulance to St. Mary’s Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 6:22 a.m. The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest.

“Based upon the totality of circumstances, the conclusion is that the actions taken by law enforcement were justified in this circumstance,” the report said.