Placeholder Image Relatives and supporters of David Palaez-Chavez gathered in Courthouse Square on Friday Aug 5 2022, protesting what they described as an unjust, extrajudicial killing of a man by Sonoma County Sheriff Deputies
Photo Credit: Marc Albert

More than six months after a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy killed 36-year-old David Pelaez Chavez, the Santa Rosa Police Department has concluded its criminal investigation into the officer-involved shooting, So what’s next? Reporting for KRCB News, Tash Kimmell has more

In early January, Santa Rosa PD forwarded its investigation of the July 29th fatal shooting of Chavez to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office.

"We've interviewed the family…and anyone who knew Mr. Chavez, we were trying to get an idea of his mindset, things that he was doing, why he was in that area of the county as well, because he didn't live there," said the department’s public information officer, Sergeant Christopher Mahurin.

Mahurin said despite finishing the initial investigation in mid-September, SRPD was stalled awaiting information from the Marin County coroner’s office.

"Our preliminary investigation was done within about six to eight weeks," Mahurin said. "But we were waiting for the medical examiner's report to get completed from the autopsy and any toxicology reports."

In September, a spokesperson for the Marin County coroner’s office told KRCB News in an email that the office was tasked with doing the death investigation on behalf of Sonoma County for “transparency purposes and maintaining of the integrity of the case investigation to avoid any bias."

After KRCB News asked for a copy of the Marin County coroner’s report earlier this month, Chief Deputy Roger Fielding replied that the office’s case investigation had been concluded.

"Under normal circumstances the case report would be made available to the legal next of kin provided the case was not subject of a prosecutorial review,” Fielding wrote in an email to KRCB News. He said he “not been updated as of this writing regarding this process being completed by the authorities. Once provided direction by our County Council I will update you."

That was on February 6th.

Now, Sonoma County District Attorney Carla Rodriguez has until early March--90 days after receiving SRPD’s report--to make a decision on whether or not to bring charges against the deputies involved in the fatal shooting.

Izaak Schwaiger, the attorney representing the Chavez family, says he’d be surprised if the three-month timeframe was met with a decision, let alone a conviction.

"All of these are just rough guidelines. And frankly, I have never actually seen them met," Schwaiger said. 

In an email, the DA’s office says prosecutors quote “don’t have a specific timetable for the completion of our report."

While the Sonoma County DA’s office deliberates, California’s Attorney General has already taken a pass on the case.

Schwaiger said even if the local jurisdiction does decide to press criminal charges, he doesn’t expect a guilty verdict.

"Even in that rare event, when law enforcement, you know, gets indicted, or a complaint is filed against them in the criminal system, we've yet to actually see anyone be made accountable," Schwaiger said.

That’s despite recent national cases of officers being criminally charged and convicted for on-the-job killings, such as former officer Derek Chauvin in the George Floyd case.

JULY 2022

David Pelaez Chavez was gunned down by Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Michael Dietrick last summer following a 45-minute pursuit through rocky and wooded terrain in rural Geyserville. According to the sheriff’s office account, the barefoot, agitated farm worker was allegedly threatening deputies with a rock and gardening tools before being shot to death.

In a federal wrongful death lawsuit Schwaiger filed against the county and the deputy, the attorney alleges Chavez’s death was preventable.

"Despite years of this being predictable, because of the policies and history of the office, We still have these deaths," Schwaiger said. "And that's why the county is responsible, just as much as the deputy who pulled the trigger."

When KRCB News asked the Sonoma County Sheriff's office for a response to these statements, a spokesperson declined to comment. In an email, public information officer Rob Dillion says the criminal investigation is still active and ongoing, and the agency “doesn’t want to affect the investigation in either direction."

Schwager said the Chavez family is holding out hope some action may be taken by the courts.

"In this case, we look to the federal courts to get some kind of accountability for what happened, and that's what the family wants. They want some accountability, some justice," Schwaiger said. "But justice is always going to be incomplete when you're talking just about a civil remedy because all we have is money to compensate people for the loss of a loved one."

Schwager said his greatest hope now is just to keep Chavez’s story alive.

 

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