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Ventura County DA Clears Officers in Limon Shooting

District Attorney Gregory D. Totten announced the conclusion of an independent 5,000 page report. Based on information from the report, all shootings were found to be legally justified and not criminal acts. Pictured from (l. to r.): Ventura County Assistant Sheriff Gary Pentis, Oxnard Chief of Police Jeri Williams, Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten, and Assistant District Attorney Chris Harman. (Photo credit: Peggy Hunt)

By Tim PompeyVENTURA, CA —  Describing the accidental shooting death of Alfonso Limon as a “great human tragedy,” Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten held a news conference on July 9 to announce that the nine Oxnard police officers involved in the October 13, 2012 shootings of alleged gang members Jose Zepeda and Justin Villa, as well as Limon himself, who was an innocent bystander, had been cleared of any criminal charges.

Alfonso Limon

Alfonso Limon

Totten emphasized that “Mr. Limon had no association and no involvement in Mr. Zepeda’s activities.” Instead, he blamed Zepeda himself who, along with associates Justin Villa and Rafael Hernandez, initiated an officer-related pursuit and shootout in Oxnard’s Colonia district.

According to reports issued by the DA’s office, Hernandez, driving with Villa and Zepeda south on Garfield in a black Monte Carlo, ran a stop sign at the intersection of Garfield and 1st Street and was pulled over by officers Pedro Rodriguez and Roslynn Wilfert.

The traffic stop initiated an extended pursuit that eventually resulted in Zepeda fleeing the car and discharging his handgun at officers. During the shootout, Alfonso Limon and his brother Gerardo, who were walking south on Garfield after jogging at nearby Pacifica High School, were caught in the crossfire.

In a case of what Totten and Assistant DA Chris Harman (who filed the DA’s 132 page report) described as mistaken identity, Alfonso was shot approximately ten times by Oxnard police officers. Justin Villa was wounded as he fled the scene and later arrested. Zepeda, who initiated the gunfire, was shot and killed.

“Alfonso was in the worst possible place at the worst possible time,” said Totten, “but make no mistake. This tragedy and the split second decisions by police officers leading to Mr. Limon’s death began with the actions of one man: Jose Zepeda.”

The events that night unfolded in what Harman described as a series of four shootouts involving officers Rodriguez and Wilfert and assisting officers Jess Aragon, John Brisslinger, Ryan Lockner, Ernie Orozco, Matthew Ross, Rocky Marquez, Zachary Stiles, and Don Ehrhardt.

Beginning with the initial traffic stop, Hernandez led officers on an automotive cat and mouse chase on 2nd, Grant, and 1st Streets, then turned north and stopped near 136 Garfield. During that time, officers requested backup and reported that Villa and Zepeda, dressed in Westside gang attire, were acting strangely and refusing to cooperate with police.

In the meantime, as officers pursued the occupants in the Monte Carlo, Alfonso and his brother Gerardo crossed Cooper and continued south on Garfield.

Once Hernandez came to a stop on Garfield, Villa and Zepeda jumped out of the car and ran north. Zepeda then opened fire at police. Officers on the scene returned fire, wounding Zepeda in the back, Villa in the knee, and Alfonso Limon (still walking on Garfield) in his right thigh. Zepeda ducked into a parking lot at 506 Cooper Road, hid behind a car, and continued shooting at officers. The wounded Limon fell into a nearby shrubbery planter.

As more police arrived on the scene, Limon attempted to stand up. Officers unfamiliar with the identity of Zepeda spotted him and assumed from a dispatch describing a man armed and wearing a grey sweatshirt that Limon was the suspect firing at officers. Fearing for their partners’ safety, they began firing at Limon and mortally wounded him.

As the officers fired at Limon, Zepeda, out of ammunition and badly wounded, stood up, raised his empty gun at officers, and assumed a firing stance. Officers subsequently shot and killed him.

Following the shooting, Oxnard Police Chief Jeri Williams requested investigative assistance from several agencies, including the DA’s office, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, and the U.S. Attorney General’s Office. An independent weapons tactics expert from Bellingham, Washington was also hired.

It was a lengthy and exhaustive investigation that Totten described as a “great search for truth,” a search he estimates may have cost between one-hundred to two-hundred thousand dollars. Assistant Sheriff Gary Pentis, who headed up his unit’s investigation, described the process. “We searched 10 different locations and did 150 interviews,” he said. “We undertook probably one of the most complicated officer involved shootings that I can recall in my career.”

After a year and a half, in which separate investigators sifted through reports, documents, interviews, diagrams, photographs, video recordings, radio transmissions, and on-site scene examinations, the DA’s office concluded that the shootings of Villa and Zepeda and the accidental shooting of Limon were justified within the parameters of California state law because the officers believed they were in danger and their responses were reasonable. Totten concluded that “officers acted in self defense of others and in direct response to the imminent threat to life posed by Zepeda.”

George Williams, the independent tactical weapons expert, also concluded in a 54-page report that based on what the officers believed about threats to their safety, the shootings of Zepeda, Villa, and Limon were justified. “Based upon my analysis of each officer’s deadly force decision-making,” Williams wrote, “it is my opinion that each acted in a reasonable manner expected of well-trained California peace officers.”

Now that the primary investigation has been completed, the DA has filed multiple felony charges against Hernandez and Villa, including conspiracy and weapons charges and charges for committing these offenses for the benefit and in association with a criminal street gang.

Chief Williams said that further investigation of the incident would continue by outside agencies and that the Oxnard Police Department will conduct its own “internal review where we will examine our policies, procedures, and training to determine if any changes are in order.”

Williams also announced that she will hold a separate press briefing with the Limon family at some point in the near future.

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