In June, following the death of George Floyd and amid renewed scrutiny over how and when law enforcement officers use physical force against civilians, the Independent filed a California Public Records Act request with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office for information on serious use-of-force incidents dating back to 2010. The Sheriff’s Office is releasing the records on a rolling basis, and these reports will be published as the information is made available.
The deputies had been looking for Bryan Carreño for more than two and a half hours when they finally cornered him, and themselves, on the small back patio of a La Cumbre–area home he’d broken into.
Body-camera footage from Senior Deputy Kenneth Rushing, one of two ranking members of the Sheriff’s Office team that night, February 12, 2017, first shows Rushing warning Carreño that he’s about to unleash his dog. Seconds later, Carreño exits the patio’s French doors, walks off the landing, and takes a step toward the deputies. He carries a 12-inch kitchen knife in his right hand and is high on methamphetamine and fentanyl. The deputies shout at him to stop. Carreño yells back at them to shoot.
Three months earlier, Carreño, 26, told a friend on Facebook he was going to kill himself. “You can’t trust anyone in this world,” he said. “I am going to commit suicide.” Three days before he died, Carreño was just as despondent. “I hate my life,” he wrote on social media. “Just hate my life… This is where I draw the line… Take care.”
In the video, Rushing appears to pull the trigger first. The other four immediately follow. A total of 27 rounds are fired, 20 of which strike Carreño’s heart, brain, liver, and lungs. He crumples to the ground. It’s all over in an instant.
The next morning, as news of Carreño’s death spreads across Santa Barbara, accusations of excessive force are voiced. The Sheriff’s Office responds by publicly defending the deputies and releasing Carreño’s criminal record, which included a prior gang affiliation and arrests for assault and drug possession.
According to internal Sheriff’s Office records, however, a Shooting Board convened five months after the incident found “supervisors did not implement basic emergency incident management protocols” as the group tried to locate Carreño. More importantly, the board also said it was “unclear if a perimeter was established prior to making contact with the subject,” when all five deputies found themselves trapped in a tight outdoor space bounded by a steep hillside and only accessible by two narrow walkways. “Provide training emphasizing in establishment of inner and outer perimeter,” the board recommended.
Despite these apparent tactical errors, Santa Barbara authorities deemed Carreño’s killing a justifiable homicide. The deputies reasonably feared for their safety as an armed Carreño advanced on them and came within “lunging distance,” District Attorney Joyce Dudley said in her final report.
During his interview with investigators, Rushing said he’d seen firsthand the violence a person with a knife can inflict. “I’ve been to scenes where people, where a young lady’s throat was sliced and the suspect used the knife on himself to kill himself,” he said. “I just couldn’t let that happen to one of my partners.” Growing emotional, Rushing paused the interview several times to collect himself.
During his own debriefing with detectives, Senior Deputy Joshua Cockrell said he couldn’t have used less-lethal means, including his Taser, pepper spray, or baton, to subdue Carreño because Carreño had gotten too close and was moving too quickly. It is not clear from the records or the video why Rushing did not release his K9 before resorting to his handgun. A shotgun that fired less-lethal rounds was ordered but didn’t arrive in time.
Carreño’s family has since filed a wrongful-death and civil-rights lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office, alleging that Rushing and another deputy at the scene had firsthand knowledge of Carreño’s suicidal tendencies. Records show they’d been dispatched to the family’s home less than a year prior when Carreño was fighting with an ex-girlfriend, with whom he shares a young daughter, and threatening to kill himself. Rushing had again visited the house more recently on a domestic disturbance complaint involving Carreño and his brother. The deputies ought to have taken Carreño’s mental-health issues into greater consideration as they formulated their response, the lawsuit argues.
It was Carreño’s family, specifically his father, Nicolas, who first called 9-1-1 the night Bryan was killed. Nicolas, himself a retired custody deputy at the County Jail, said Bryan was “tripping out really, really bad” and roaming and raving around their neighborhood. He was worried his son, who hadn’t slept for days and was expressing paranoid thoughts that people were out to get him, was “going to do something stupid.” Nicolas also told the responding deputies that Bryan often carried a long-handled hatchet.
Other neighbors soon began calling 9-1-1 to report Carreño had trespassed through their yards by jumping fences and scaling gates. “He scared the hell out of me,” one resident said. The callers described him as agitated, though not directly threatening. For some reason, he kept saying his father was in trouble and needed help.
The Sheriff’s Office deployed a helicopter to search for Carreño by the time he and the deputies met at 695 Russell Way. The house was empty when Carreño got there, and he rummaged through the kitchen drawers to find the knife.
The Carreño family’s wrongful-death lawsuit, filed in federal court, remains in mediation. The next mediation date is scheduled for May 22, 2021, though it may be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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