Calif. sheriff releases video from suspect pursuit, fatal OIS
Deputies pursued suspects in a stolen truck, fired on the vehicle when it appeared they were going to be struck by it
RIVERSIDE, Calif. — The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department released portions of video on Wednesday that was captured by deputies at the time a 28-year-old suspected auto thief was fatally shot while allegedly trying to evade deputies following a chase that ended just east of Aguanga.
“This is a critical incident,” Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco said in an introduction to a nine-minute narrative concerning what happened, posted on the sheriff’s Facebook page. “Whenever we have a deputy-involved shooting, multiple investigations are automatically launched. We take use of force seriously, and we make every effort to de-escalate these situations whenever possible.”
Rico Robles of Aguanga was fatally shot in the confrontation with deputies on Tule Peak Road, near Eastridge Trail, on the morning of April 1.
According to the sheriff’s documentary-style video compilation, Robles and another, as-yet unidentified man allegedly stole a pickup truck with a trailer attached in Temecula and ended up in a residential area near Via Puerta and La Serena Way.
A sheriff’s community services officer, who is not sworn but is tasked with patrol duties, spotted the pickup and alerted dispatchers, directed deputies to the location.
Critical Incident Video Release Deputy Involved Shooting 04-01-2020, Tule Peak Road & Eastgate Trail • Aguanga (Viewer Discretion is Advised)Posted by Riverside County Sheriff's Department on Wednesday, May 20, 2020
The video, partly relying on radio calls from the pursuing deputies to fill in details, depicted the pickup first going south, along Margarita Road, then turning east on Temecula Parkway, where the driver — Robles — ran at least three red lights with deputies on his tail.
At speeds ranging from 50 to 70 mph, the suspect continued east on Highway 79, leaving Temecula and heading past the Vail Lake Resort, steering into opposing traffic lanes several times, according to the video.
The pickup went east of Aguanga onto Tule Valley Road, then turned onto Tule Peak Road, which is all dirt, but on the day of the chase was pitted and muddy, according to the video.
Robles was seen stopping in the road. Bianco said the driver stopped because he was stuck. At that point, two deputies, a female identified as Deputy Zabrowski, and a male, identified as Deputy Hansen, exited their patrol units as another deputy pulled up behind.
“Driver, turn off the car and show us your hands,” Zabrowski shouted, and the pickup slowly backed up toward an adjacent patrol vehicle but stopped short of hitting it.
Zabrowski fired two shots in the direction of the pickup cab, and Hansen fired a single shot, as Robles and his accomplice bailed out and ran south, according to the video, which was gleaned from the body-worn camera on Zabrowski’s shirt.
Hansen did not have a camera. The backup deputy who arrived just as the shots were unleashed was wearing a camera but was not close enough to capture any of the gunfire, which occurred about 7:30 a.m.
The video was cut for continuity and time, and in a brief segment during which the deputies start toward the woods to look for the suspects, Zabrowski stated, “I thought they were going to ram me with the trailer.”
A sheriff’s news release issued later that day said: “As the pursuit concluded, the suspect attempted to assault two deputies with his vehicle.”
“It was unknown at the time (of the deputy shooting) that the driver, Mr. Robles, had been struck by the gunfire,” Wednesday’s sheriff’s presentation said.
Robles’ body was found two days later, roughly 500 feet southeast of where he was shot. The other man’s whereabouts remain unknown.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office will review the shooting to determine whether criminal charges are warranted against the deputies.
“Additionally, our department will internally review and evaluate the actions of the deputies to ensure that they acted within policy and training standards,” Bianco said.
Sheriff’s officials said Zabrowski and Hansen were placed on paid administrative leave immediately after the deputy-involved shooting, but their current duty status could not immediately be confirmed.