First is a picture of the shooting scene with Olvera-Preciado's car circled in red | Credit: Department of Justice

A recent report from a state-led investigation concluded that the shooting of an innocent bystander by a police officer in northern Santa Barbara County did not have enough evidence to support criminal charges against the officer responsible.

On August 22, 2021, 59-year-old Guadalupe resident Juan Luis Olvera-Preciado sat in his 2004 Toyota Highlander, in the driveway of his family’s home on the corner of Birch and Obispo streets in the small town located nine miles west of Santa Maria. It was shortly after 9:30 p.m. on an otherwise ordinary summer night, and he was about to leave to grab a late dinner with his wife, Silvia, who had run inside to grab a sweater.

Less than one block away, Guadalupe police officers responding to reports of a fire nearby found the man suspected of starting the fire — a man who was also wanted on two outstanding warrants at the time — and attempted to make contact.

Juan Luis Olvera-Preciado and his wife, Silvia | Credit: Courtesy

The suspect retreated, eventually backing himself to the corner of Birch and Obispo. According to two officers at the scene, Christopher Orozco and Miguel Jaimes, the suspect had placed his hand into his sweater “in an aggressive manner” and refused to listen to the officers’ demands to show his hands.

“The person has got one arm in his pocket,” Officer Orozco reported on the radio, “we’re gonna have him at gunpoint right now. He’s fleeing right now.”

Seconds later, the suspect reportedly “punched out his arm,” holding what the suspect later admitted “could’ve” been a black butane torch. Officer Jaimes fired three shots in rapid succession, and the suspect fell to the ground, shocked motionless but unharmed.

It wasn’t until the officers moved in to arrest the suspect that they heard a woman at the house across the street looking into the car and screaming in Spanish: “Lo mataron! Lo mataron!” [“They killed him! They killed him!”].

In the driveway just a few hundred feet away from the scene of the arrest, the officers found Olvera-Preciado, upright in his driver’s seat with his car door slightly ajar, shot dead with a single wound through his left cheek. There were no bullet holes on the car’s doors or windows, but it was later discovered that one round shot by Officer Jaimes ricocheted off the ground and skidded 174 feet through the narrow door opening and killed Olvera-Preciado on impact.

These previously unreleased details were part of a recent report from California Attorney General Rob Bonta following a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation and review into the incident, which found that while the event was indeed “tragic,” there was not enough evidence to support criminal charges on any of the officers involved. 

“My heart goes out to Mr. Olvera-Preciado’s family, friends, and all those who knew him,” Bonta said. “His death was tragic and there is nothing that can make up for the loss of a loved one. While my office has determined that the evidence does not support criminal charges against the involved officer, we are making direct recommendations to the Guadalupe Police Department to help increase public trust and keep our communities safe.”

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The state investigation into this shooting was the first in Santa Barbara County to fall under Assembly Bill 1506, which was passed in 2021 and requires the DOJ to “investigate all incidents of an officer-involved shooting resulting in the death of an unarmed civilian in the state.” Before the passing of the bill, investigations into these kinds of shootings were primarily handled by the local law enforcement agencies themselves.

The full report details the investigation into the incident — which was conducted by DOJ special agents with some assistance from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office — including photographs, video recordings, audio transcriptions, a digital 3D representation of the scene, physical evidence, autopsy report, ballistics analysis, and interviews with more than 24 witnesses. 

No video was recorded of the incident. According to the report, Officer Jaimes “failed to activate” his body cam and Officer Orozco didn’t wear his because the camera assigned to him “did not work properly.” Jaimes also refused to provide a voluntary statement. Another officer was wearing a working body cam but arrived after the shooting.

Bonta said that the report is the final step into the state’s review into the shooting and that its conclusion is limited “solely to determining whether criminal charges should be brought against the involved officers, and policy and practice recommendations.”

According to the ruling, Olvera-Preciado was an “innocent bystander who was reportedly not visible to the officers,” but there was “substantial evidence that Officer Jaimes acted in self-defense and in the defense of others.”

“Under the doctrine of transferred intent, where an individual uses deadly force in lawful self-defense or defense of others,” the report says, “the individual’s lack of criminal intent for homicide of the intended target transfers to the killing of the bystander. Therefore, under the applicable legal standards, there is insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges.”

The report does not comment on the civil suit filed by the victim’s family early last year, but it does make several recommendations regarding Guadalupe Police Department’s policies and regulations.

Among those recommendations, the DOJ says that the department should: revise its policy on body-worn cameras to state that an officer “shall activate their body-worn cameras” during investigative stops; prohibit officers who deploy lethal force or witness an officer-involved shooting from discussing the incident afterward; post departmental policies online as required by law; update use-of-force policies so that they are consistent with state law; use de-escalation techniques and other alternatives to force when feasible; and develop guidance on “situational awareness” to minimize the risk of harm to innocent bystanders.

The DOJ is recommending the department make any necessary changes to be compliant with state law within 90 days and provide mandatory training to all staff on the revised policies.

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