Questions remain about deputies shooting of disturbed man

Questions remain about deputies shooting of disturbed man
BUTTONWILLOW, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — A grieving family has questions after Kern County Sheriff's deputies shot and killed a suicidal 18-year-old man who was armed with a knife. Officers say Christian Chavez tried to stab one of the deputies.

The deputies were called out to Buttonwillow Park late Monday afternoon. Eyewitness News has learned it was Chavez' therapist who called and reported he was suicidal.

Chavez' grandmother was also there and saw the officers shoot him. She had legally adopted Chavez, according to the family. They say she was still too distraught on Tuesday morning to give officers a statement.

But Chavez' uncle, Henry Chavez, spoke on behalf of the large family.

"We're sad that Christian is gone, and we want justice," Henry Chavez said. "We want justice, because it's unfair."

Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said the officers had first started talking to Chavez as he sat in a car. Then they asked him to get out, and as a routine safety procedure, one deputy started a "pat down" to check for any weapons.

"At one point, (Chavez) removed a knife from his pocket with his right hand and he began turning toward Deputy Storar, who was behind him" Pruitt told Eyewitness News.

"As Mr. Chavez began turning toward Deputy Storar, both deputies observed he had a knife in his hand," Pruitt said. "It was raised, and his hand was moving in the direction of Deputy Storar."

At that point, Pruitt said "several rounds" were fired by both deputies from their duty pistols.

But, the family questions whether Chavez was a threat to the officers.

"He even told the mother, 'I'm going to hurt myself,'" Henry Chavez said. "And he pointed the knife at himself."

The family also asks whether the officers could have taken different action to get the knife from the teenager.

"They should have done something else," Henry Chavez said. "Maybe a dialog with him, or at least get him to a stage of putting the knife down."

He wonders if the deputies could have wrestled Chavez to the ground and gotten the knife away. "Or, at least, get a Taser gun and Taser him," Henry Chavez continued.

Pruitt responded: "To speculate as to what they could have done, would be to question their judgment, and we're not going to do that."

Pruitt said a review is now underway of the incident and the officers' actions. And, as is standard in officer-involved shootings, the deputies have been put on paid administrative leave.

The two officers are identified by the department as Deputy Jeremy Storar, a seven-year veteran, and Deputy Tommy Robins, a nine-year veteran of the department.

The family said Christian Chavez was a Shafter High student who was getting home-schooled. He enjoyed soccer and listening to music.

Chavez had been getting counseling for about a year, according to the family. "He had depression, he went through depression," Henry Chavez said.

The family's been through a lot recently.

"On Christmas Eve, my mom's house burned down and one of our other brothers was hospitalized for three months," Henry Chavez said. "And now this happens."

The sheriff's department said after the officers fired, Chavez fell to the ground and dropped the knife. The deputies immediately called for medical aid, according to the department statement.

They say life-saving efforts were started, but Chavez was pronounced dead at the scene.

The family said they're looking for answers and they're struggling.

"He was really, I think, a great kid," Henry Chavez said. "We're devastated right now. We're really devastated."