On Friday, San Jose State released university police body camera footage that captured the fatal shooting of Antonio Guzman Lopez on Feb. 21, 2014.
SJSU was required to publicly release the footage for the first time because of a new California law, SB 1421, which made records related to “an incident involving the discharge of a firearm at a person by a peace officer or custodial officer” available to the public.
The footage showed UPD officers confront a man, who was later identified as Lopez, strolling down 8th Street with a 14-inch blade. Prior to the encounter, a student called 911 to report a man with a knife near the Bricks dorms and old swimming pool.
“I was just over by the print shop and there’s like a bum over there with some sort of knife like stabbing the air and doing a bunch of crazy stuff,” said the student as relayed by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s report.
After Lopez failed to respond to the officer’s demand of dropping the knife, Officer Frits Van der Hoek deployed a Taser in an attempt to subdue Lopez, but was unsuccessful.
With the Taser probes still attached to his clothing, Lopez walked toward the officer.
“Shoot him,” shouted Van der Hoek as Lopez moved closer.
At that moment, Lopez was shot twice by then-Sergeant Michael Santos, who had been with UPD for about 10 years at the time. Santos is now a lieutenant with UPD.
According to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s report, Santos said, “I was in fear for Officer Van Der Hoek’s life and my life as well if [Lopez] got past Officer Van Der Hoek.”
The incident was independently investigated by the Santa Clara County and San Mateo County District Attorney’s offices, and “deemed legally justifiable in response to an immediate threat that could potentially result in great harm or death,” according to a statement released by the university.
The report stated that the Taser had no effect upon Lopez because it never penetrated the multiple layers of clothing he was wearing. Santos also attempted to fire his Taser, but the safety was engaged.
Lopez “began to run in the direction of Van Der Hoek” after being struck by the Taser, while both were on the sidewalk, the report said. Van der Hoek turned into the street, and Lopez followed him “gripping the saw blade so that the tip was facing upwards and the blade was facing Van Der Hoek,” according to the report.
“Santos saw the knife in Guzman-Lopez’s hand and heard Van Der Hoek yell ‘shoot him, shoot him,’ ” according to the report.
In the body camera footage, only one instance of “shoot him” can be heard.
Van der Hoek was the only officer involved in the altercation with
their body camera turned on at the time of the shooting, according to the San Jose Police Department.
The District Attorney’s report stated that Santos “forgot” to do so explaining that he was “caught up in the moment of finding someone who matched the description of a person with a knife and dealing with the situation.”
According to Section 451.3 of the UPD Policy Manual, “Officers shall make every effort to record all enforcement contracts, such as arrests or citations. Recording such contacts shall be the rule and not the exception.”
Before the passage of SB 1421, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office chose to not release body camera footage in cases where officers were not charged with a crime, according to a 2015 Mercury News report.
On Feb. 22, Charlie Faas, vice president of administration and finance invited Lopez’s partner, Laurie Valdez, to watch the body camera footage with him, according to San Jose Inside.
Valdez told the Spartan Daily over the phone that she had been waiting five years to see the body camera footage.
“Seeing him walking hurt like hell,” she said.
Valdez said that the officers had gone through Crisis Intervention Training and should have approached him as a human – not with their guns drawn.
Lopez didn’t speak English well, according to Valdez, but would have responded to the officers with either “OK” or “yes sir.” She said when she heard Lopez saying “it’s OK, OK” in the video, that was his attempt at communicating with the officers.
“Antonio was trying to de-escalate, he wouldn’t do anything to anyone,” she said.
Valdez said she filed her public records request on Jan. 1, having campaigned for the new law, SB 1421, in Sacramento the previous year. She said she is currently working on AB 392, the “Let us Live Act,” with San Diego Assemblymember Shirley Weber.
The proposed law would hold police accountable and require they try other alternatives before using deadly force, Valdez said.
“It’s time for change, there’s too much blood on the streets,” she said.
After fire and paramedics were called to the scene of the shooting, the report stated that Santos “conveyed to [Lopez] something similar to stay alive.”
After being escorted from the scene, Santos told Detective Michael Barnes that “he should have shot him sooner,” according to the report.
Interim UPD Chief Alan Cavallo told the Daily on the phone that he could not discuss the specific incident besides the statement the university put out, but talked about the use of body cameras in general.
“They have value in trying to be more transparent with the community,” Cavallo said.
Cavallo said that in July, a new California law will go into effect that requires police departments to release body camera footage for officer involved shootings within 45 days. But there’s no requirement that UPD officers activate their body cameras.
Officers should activate their body cameras whenever they’re in an enforcement situation, Cavallo said. And if they don’t, he said officers would need to justify why they didn’t turn on their camera to him.
But Valdez said she felt that cops should not be responsible for investigating other cops. Instead, she said, “We need special prosecutors to look at cops.”
A previous version of this story misstated where the student who made the 911 call was, as well as who invited the media to the Feb. 22 viewing of the body camera footage. The Spartan Daily regrets these errors.