Fatal Huntington Beach police shooting of Navy veteran justified, probe finds

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The fatal police shooting of a homeless Navy veteran in Huntington Beach last year has been determined to be justified, the O.C. DA's office said. (@cali_funk1/Twitter)

The fatal police shooting of a homeless Navy veteran in Huntington Beach last year has been determined to be justified, the Orange County District Attorney's office said.

Dillan Tabares Jr., 28, was shot and killed by Huntington Beach Police Department Officer Eric Esparza on Sept. 22, 2017 following an altercation with that officer.

During a Wednesday morning press conference, county prosecutors released a nearly 13-minute video that includes footage from bystanders' cellphones and officers' body-worn cameras.

Esparza, who fired the shots, can be heard telling another officer who arrived to assist him that Tabares had tried to grab his gun.

GRAPHIC: Full video of officer-involved shooting in Huntington Beach
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A witness captures an officer-involved shooting in Huntington Beach on Friday.

Investigators said Tabares' DNA was later found on the grip of Esparza's pistol and his flashlight, which he appears to have snatched during the tussle.

It is not clear what prompted Esparza to stop Tabares in the first place. Esparza declined to provide a statement to investigators.

Investigators said witnesses said Tabares appeared "out of it" as he approached a 7-Eleven store along busy Edinger Avenue near a high school. Toxicology tests later showed Tabares tested positive for methamphetamine.

Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh said Esparza gave multiple commands that Tabares ignored and tried using his Taser before shooting his weapon. Esparza fired seven shots.

The DA's office said after careful review, the office has determined that Esparza acted lawfully.

"A jury analyzing the facts in this case, it is our conclusion, would correctly conclude that Officer Esparza acted justifiably and did not commit a crime and that he was doing his job as a peace officer in a reasonable manner," Baytieh said. "Therefore, we conclude there is no evidence to support a finding that there is any criminal culpability on the part of Officer Esparza and our office is closing its inquiry into this matter."

The bodycam and witness videos were main components in the investigation, but the O.C. DA's office also looked into Tabares' criminal history.

Brandon Tabares said his brother's life had unraveled into homelessness, drug use and mental illness after he failed a drug test and was dishonorably discharged from the Navy five years ago.

Dillan Tabares had a series of arrests in California and was released on parole Sept. 14 after completing a two-year sentence for a felony battery conviction, the district attorney's office said. He absconded and was marked as a "parolee-at-large" on Sept. 20 - two days before the shooting.

His family repeatedly sought help for him and said he was treated at psychiatric facilities.

In November, authorities said they believed that days before the shooting Tabares had beaten to death an 80-year-old friend. It took about a month for police to tie the two cases together.

As for Officer Esparza, he remains employed by the Huntington Beach Police Department.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Related Topics:
officer-involved shootingshootingman shotcaught on cameraveteranhomelessHuntington BeachOrange County
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