The family of Krys Brandon Ruiz ― a 26-year-old transgender man fatally shot by Lompoc police late last month ― is calling on the state Attorney General’s office to investigate the incident, arguing Santa Barbara County’s law enforcement system cannot be relied upon to fairly and objectively investigate its own officers.
Sheriff Bill Brown, whose department is currently leading the investigation, formerly served as Lompoc’s chief of police and maintains deep ties there, said the family’s attorney William L. Schmidt. That constitutes a clear conflict of interest, he declared.
Moreover, Schmidt said, District Attorney Joyce Dudley has never in her tenure “criticized, let alone prosecuted” any law enforcement officer who has hurt or killed a civilian despite multiple instances of misconduct later uncovered in lawsuits.
At approximately 8 p.m. on March 28, Lompoc dispatchers received a 9-1-1 call of a person with a gun walking northbound on H Street. Ruiz was in the area and was approached by two officers. Some kind of altercation took place in an alley between H and G streets that ended with Ruiz being shot in the head and upper torso.
After three weeks of silence and intimations that Ruiz was armed with a gun when he was killed, Lompoc Police Chief Joseph Mariani announced for the first time this Tuesday that Ruiz was in fact carrying a knife and had “charged” at the officers. “The knife was recovered as evidence at the scene,” Mariani said.
But Schmidt and Ruiz’s family have a hard time believing that account. Ruiz had no criminal record and no history of violence, Schmidt said. “It was not his nature to be confrontational. He was small ― 5’1”.” Earlier that evening, Schmidt went on, Ruiz had dinner with his family and hadn’t exhibited any signs of being agitated or depressed. “He was in a fine mood.” His mother had dropped him off at his apartment an hour before he was killed.
“We really don’t know what happened yet,” said Schmidt. “We don’t know who called 9-1-1. We don’t know why the officers opened fire.” Lompoc police are not equipped with body cameras, explained Schmidt, who fears the investigation will rely solely on the officers’ statements without any recorded evidence.
“Whether the shooting was intentional or a mistake due to poor training by the department, is yet to be seen,” he said. A change.org petition was recently created to compel the Lompoc Police Department to start wearing body cameras. It has so far received 1,100 signatures. Supporters cited the controversial shooting of 27-year-old Lompoc resident Michael Giles in 2016. His family ultimately received a $300,000 payout from the City of Lompoc after filing a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court.
“My experience tells me that the details we get from law enforcement don’t tell the whole story,” Schmidt continued. He previously represented the family of 26-year-old Bryan Carreño, who was killed by Sheriff’s deputies in Santa Barbara in 2017. The family had filed their own lawsuit, and last summer accepted an $850,000 settlement from the county. Both Brown and Dudley had cleared the deputies involved of any wrongdoing, but Schmidt uncovered proof that the deputies had actually broken their own safety protocols during the incident, putting Carreño and themselves at greater risk.
Schmidt said he plans to file a wrongful death complaint in the Ruiz case as well. But it could be months to years before local authorities release the information he and the family are seeking. “The reality is that the police control all of the evidence and all of the information,” Schmidt said. In the meantime, he hopes the Attorney General’s office will consider his request to step in. “We just want an impartial investigation,” he said.
In his obituary, Ruiz was remembered for being “compassionate and kind.” A fourth-generation Lompoc native who loved music and dogs, he graduated from Delta High School and worked as an in-home care provider while attending Allan Hancock College.
A public “Celebration of Life” service was held April 16, where attendees wore Dodger blue. Ruiz was buried during a private ceremony on April 20.