The Santa Barbara District Attorney’s office has decided not to press charges against the two officers involved in a State Street shooting that killed an armed man during August’s Fiesta celebration, according to a November 1 letter from the office to Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez. Officers Kenneth Kushner and Mike Claytor, both six-year veterans of the Santa Barbara Police Department, were cleared from any wrongdoing in the death of Wilfred Turner, a 24-year-old Oxnard resident and former Navy Seabee who had been stationed in Port Hueneme.
A police department investigation, conducted by staff level officers who composed a board, found the officers using deadly force to be within department policy in that situation. The board made a recommendation to the police chief, who then rendered a decision.
Reviewed in the investigation were statements from dozens of witnesses, a larger than normal number of onlookers given the volume of people present for the festive Fiesta atmosphere. Ballistics work was done as well as an autopsy, said Lt. Paul McCaffrey. The department handed the results of its investigation to the District Attorney’s office.
“We present the legal facts and they provide a legal conclusion,” McCaffrey explained. The two officers were placed on administrative leave following the incident, but went back to duty about a week later, McCaffrey said. Firearms training is a “tremendous amount” of a police officer’s training, according to McCaffrey, to make sure they are prepared for these types of infrequent but deadly serious circumstances.
Kushner fired 10 shots, while Claytor fired eight. Turner was hit by 17 of the bullets. According to police, the officers saw a fight on the sidewalk directly in front of Hamburger Habit in the 600 block of State Street. Two groups of men had been arguing, allegedly about Turner’s dispute with a man in the other group, Terence Ruben, over an alleged affair with Turner’s 20-year-old wife, McCaffrey said. The exchange erupted into a fight on the patio of the Habit when Ruben, who believed Turner had a gun, punched him in the face.
As the two officers were breaking up the fight, they saw Turner climbing back over the patio’s barrier and onto the sidewalk, gun in hand. The gun barrel was leveled in the direction of many people, according to police. Turner’s weapon, a .45-caliber Springfield Armory XD automatic handgun, was found later to be loaded. The two officers opened up fire from about five feet away, hitting Turner eight times in the torso, four times in his hands and arms, and once in the leg, along with three or four grazes.
Some of Turner’s friends, including at least one who was at the scene at the time, have contended that Turner didn’t have a weapon drawn when the officers opened up fire. “He never pulled his weapon or pointed it at anyone,” said Michael Williams, who had driven up with Turner to Santa Barbara, and was no more than a couple feet from the man when he was shot. Another friend, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “(The police) can’t convince me in a million years that Turner pulled that gun out. It’s not in him. He knows his rules of engagement.” But many witnesses at the scene didn’t corroborate these claims, McCaffrey said the week following the incident.
“We’re glad for the officers that this situation is over,” said McCaffrey, explaining that the situation is stressful for the two officers as well as the department as a whole. “Fortunately these situations are very rare but there is a responsibility to protect the community and to protect ourselves.”