Francisco Anthony Alcaraz Jr. was killed by four police bullets on May 7, after a shootout with the Santa Barbara Police Department SWAT team. An investigative report released today by the District Attorney’s Office concluded that when the team arrived to serve a “high risk” arrest warrant on Alcaraz for attempted murder, he shot at officers attempting to enter his apartment, number 147 at 25 Camino de Vida in Goleta. The Coroner’s Office determined his death to be homicide, which the DA’s Office found justified.
The SWAT team had worked since the day before on how to bring Alcaraz in. He was a suspect in a violent crime — two gang-related shootings — was known to have a police scanner, and lived with his wife and children in a large apartment complex near San Marcos High School. At around 12:20 p.m., when the family was usually out of the house, the SWAT team arrived. About four officers lined up to the right of the apartment door. Neighbors said they were plainly identified as police officers.
One officer knocked on the door, shouting, “Police Department, search warrant! Open the door,” the report states. No response came. After half a minute, Officer Bryce Ford moved his battering ram to the front of the line and struck the door twice. He heard something and felt a brush of air pass his groin. As the door opened, something whizzed by his ankle, and he saw a round go through the door. He yelled, “Shots fired.”
Next to him, Officer Justin Cruz dropped to a knee and shot toward the stairs inside the apartment, where the bullets seemed to be coming from. Sergeant Andrew Feller ordered them back to the Bearcat, where the other half of the team waited in the parking lot behind apartment 147. The apartment had windows that looked out to the parking lot and also to the side of the building, along which the officers ran toward the Bearcat. Shots came again from the apartment, and two officers took cover under a stairwell alongside the apartment while the others reached the Bearcat.
The forensics team found 45 bullet casings in the parking lot, nine alongside the building, and four outside the apartment door. Photographs show the upstairs back window and wall peppered with bullet holes.
When the firing stopped, the surrounding apartments were evacuated and traffic was stopped on Highway 101 for a short while. Media reports state the high school was on lockdown. The officers first sent a bomb robot into the apartment, whose camera found Alcaraz immobile on the floor of the upper landing. A police dog was sent in, and Alcaraz did not respond to touch. The coroner later determined he had two wounds to his head and to his chest. Inside, officers found a .40 caliber handgun with a high-capacity magazine. Outside, multiple bullet strikes were found on the concrete outside the front door and on the Bearcat, having come from within the house.
The warrant service was judged a dangerous task from the outset, states the report, which was assembled from a Sheriff’s Office investigation, coroner’s reports, video and audio recordings of the event, photographs, and witness interviews. (Law enforcement officials state further details on the warrant are unavailable.) When officers perceive a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury, they may use deadly force, the legal analysis finds. When Alcaraz fired on the officers and continued to shoot at them as they took cover behind the Bearcat, their fear of harm was justified. The DA’s report concludes that the officers exercised a reasonable use of deadly force in a justifiable homicide.