Last Wednesday morning, Santa Maria police officers fired multiple gunshots at a man holding a knife to his throat, after they said they exhausted nonlethal means. For more than a half hour on Broadway Street, officers negotiated with 31-year-old Javier Gaona, who shouted to officers to kill him. Police first deployed several rounds of beanbag shotguns, but they used lethal force after he appeared to lunge at them.
At a time when outrage over use of police force has strained community relations, Santa Maria Police Chief Ralph Martin told reporters last week officers always want to use the least amount of force but in this case, they exhausted their options. Martin said Gaona showed signs of mental illness, but his grieving family disputed that in a TV interview with KSBY, a Central Coast affiliate of NBC. Gaona had been arrested six times for minor offenses, all but once in Santa Maria.
KSBY caught the entire event on tape but chose not to air the actual shooting “due to the graphic nature of the video,” said president and general manager Kathleen Choal. She said KSBY anticipates a formal request from police to turn over the raw footage but has not yet received a subpoena. She added KSBY would not be willing to provide the recording before a court hearing.
At the scene, a crowd of 20 or so looky-loos gathered, some chastising police. In the blogosphere, a video of part of the incident captured by James Jepsen prompted impassioned remarks from a number of community members. County Supervisor Steve Lavagnino — who has been outspokenly anguished about the recent surge of violence in his hometown of Santa Maria — wrote on Facebook that the man appeared to be “hell bent on killing himself. … I feel terribly for the man and his family… Let’s all pray for peace and the safety of those who risk their lives protecting us.”