The scene of the officer-involved shooting on the 600 block of Mercury Drive in Lompoc | Credit: Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office

The officer-involved non-fatal shooting of an unarmed Lompoc man in February was officially ruled as a “justified use of force,” according to an announcement from Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley’s office on Wednesday.

Rudy Delgadillo — who was 24 years old at the time and suspected of driving recklessly and breaking into vehicles in the area — was shot in the shoulder after Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Deputies Ross VanTassel and Yeshella Jimenez opened fire, fearing that Delgadillo was armed after he allegedly ignored commands and “reached into his waistband,” the District Attorney’s report said.

Delgadillo was treated at the hospital for a gunshot wound and released after two days. Sheriff’s spokesperson Raquel Zick said at the time that he was “booked in absentia” for obstructing an officer and violation of probation; both deputies were placed on administrative leave pending investigation.

In the months since then, Detective Daniel Kohli reviewed investigative reports, video, audio, photographs, and witness interviews and submitted his findings to the District Attorney’s Office.

The report details the incident, which was initiated by reports of a reckless driver who had crashed into several parked vehicles and a fence in the unincorporated area of Lompoc near the Providence Land Clubhouse.

Delgadillo matched the suspect description and was first contacted by Deputy VanTassel, who saw him running near the clubhouse. According to the report, the deputy made eye contact with Delgadillo, who “stopped, pulled up his pants, and then resumed walking.”

VanTassel said this initial contact “just didn’t feel right,” adding that when the suspect pulled up his pants, it made it seem like Delgadillo was ”getting ready to run or he’s getting ready to fight.” 

After losing sight of Delgadillo and then finding him about 90 feet down a hill near a trash enclosure, VanTessel describes Delgadillo as “stopped and just looking back and forth.”

He said Delgadilo’s actions gave him “a bad feeling.”

“Just a gut instinct that something wasn’t right,” VanTassel said in an interview included in the report. “Just — my heart didn’t feel right. It just didn’t feel like … something — something with him was wrong. He  — it didn’t feel normal. It didn’t feel like someone who, like, I was going to have a — a normal interaction with it. Or even just an interaction where he doesn’t want to listen or doesn’t want to go to jail or anything like that. Like, it’s just different, like, it’s just — I don’t even know how to explain — like, the — just something weird in my heart didn’t feel okay.”   

VanTassel exited his vehicle at 1:54 p.m. Within one minute, he opened fire. At the time of the incident, he had been a new deputy on the job for just over three months.

According to the report, Deputy Jimenez arrived seconds after VanTassel and said she saw the deputy with his weapon out and followed suit. She said she could not see Deglgadillo from her vantage point up the hill, but she pointed her gun in the same direction.

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Within that next minute, VanTassel gave verbal commands to Delgadillo, telling him to get on his knees; he then broadcast on the radio that he had “one at gunpoint,” and told the suspect he would call a K-9 unit. 

VanTassel said Delgadillo “lifted up his jacket and began digging in his waistband,” bringing his hands up in what the deputy described as a “shooting stance.”

VanTassel fired eight shots, then said he saw Delgadillo “digging into his waistband again.” He said he felt that the suspect was reaching to “produce a second weapon,” and fired two more shots. Jimenez fired once.

When asked why he shot the second time, VanTassel said it was because Delgadillo “would not stop reaching into his waistband and he feared Delgadillo was going to kill him.” 

When asked why he believed that, VanTassel said, “Just everything that happened. He just didn’t — something was wrong. Something was wrong with — I’d never had an interaction with anybody like that before.”

Other deputies arrived seconds after the shooting. Both deputies had in-car recording systems, but neither caught video of Delgadillo. VanTassel’s actions can be seen on Jimenez’s video recording.

Jimenez said she could not fully see Delgadillo — only his upper body — but described his hands as “in his front waistband as though he were holding onto something.”

She fired a shot only after seeing VanTassel raise his arm and hearing shots being fired. Delgadillo was later found to be unarmed.

Several deputies approached Delgadillo, who was lying on his back, and handcuffed him before finding a bullet wound on his shoulder. He was described as “incoherent and behaving as though he was under the influence of a central nervous system stimulant.”

On the way to the hospital, Delgadillo was said to be rambling and uncooperative. It was later found that he was under the influence of amphetamines. 

Delgadillo was briefly interviewed by law enforcement the day following the incident, but only stated that he had been “having some personal problems” and did not want to speak further.

The District Attorney found the actions taken by both deputies were “reasonable based on the facts known and perceived by them at the time of the shooting,” and that both “reasonably believed Delgadillo posed an imminent threat and intended to cause them serious bodily injury or death.”

In 2021, Santa Barbara County recorded seven instances of use-of-force. Most recently, the shooting deaths of 32-year-old Travis Carlon in Lompoc and 30-year-old Cameron Ely in Santa Barbara were also ruled as justifiable.

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