San Diego DA’s Office clears several police officers in shooting and in-custody deaths
SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office released three reports Wednesday clearing several police officers in connection with the non-fatal shooting of a murder and kidnapping suspect in Old Town San Diego, as well as two in-custody deaths.
The first report relates to the Jan. 19, 2017, shooting of Luke Lampers, who was in San Diego about one week after fatally shooting 49-year-old Douglas Navarro at an Anaheim motel.
After the shooting, Lampers kidnapped his girlfriend, whose father told police that his daughter contacted him and told him she was in San Diego, according to a June 2017 District Attorney’s Office letter to then-San Diego Police Department Chief Shelley Zimmerman and then-Anaheim Police Department Chief Raul Quezada.
A stolen car Lampers was known to drive was located in a Caltrans parking lot in Old Town, leading police to the scene, according to the letter.
Anaheim police Investigator Jacob Slechta was parked at the Old Town Transit Center on Jan. 19 when he heard Lampers jumping a nearby fence, the letter states.
Slechta spotted Lampers running behind some bushes and commanded him to show his hands, according to the letter. While Lampers did put his hands in the air, Slechta told investigators that Lampers continued moving away and told Slechta to shoot him.
At one point, Slechta said Lampers’ hands went in front of his sweatshirt. Believing Lampers was still armed with the murder weapon from the Anaheim killing, Slechta fired four to six rounds because he believed Lampers was going to shoot him or other responding officers, according to the letter.
A gun was recovered, which investigators say Lampers dropped as he climbed over the fence.
The District Attorney’s Office concluded Slechta’s use of deadly force was justified due to his knowledge that Lampers was armed and had already used a firearm to kill someone.
Lampers was convicted in an Orange County court last September of first-degree murder and a special circumstances allegation of killing during a kidnapping. He’s slated to be sentenced later this year to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The second report relates to the Jan. 20, 2019, death of 52-year-old Harold Daniels, who was arrested for violating probation in City Heights, then suffered a medical emergency that led to his death less than three hours later.
A letter from District Attorney Summer Stephan to SDPD Chief David Nisleit clears two officers who transported Daniels to jail of liability in his death.
The report states Officer Brian Frias and Officer Stephen Varns responded to a call of a man refusing to leave a facility and found Daniels, who appeared intoxicated and admitted to drinking a beer, which violated the terms of his probation.
Upon arriving at the jail, Frias noticed that Daniels was “limp and unconscious,” leading Frias to contact medical personnel. Daniels was taken to UCSD hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
An autopsy performed the following day concluded his cause of death was “hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease with contributing factors of methamphetamine intoxication and pulmonary emphysema.”
Stephan’s letter states that Daniels’ death was accidental, and that Daniels’ behavior was consistent with being intoxicated, with no appearance of a life-threatening medical condition prior to his arrival at the jail.
The District Attorney’s Office also cleared officers involved with the death of 29-year-old Jason Watts, who died following his Oct. 12, 2018, arrest at a Chula Vista 7-Eleven store.
Officers responded to the store after Watts called 911 reporting someone inside the store’s back freezer was going to shoot him, according to a letter from Summer Stephan to Chula Vista Police Department Chief Roxana Kennedy.
As the responding officers spoke with Watts, he entered the store and moved past a store clerk in the employee counter area.
Despite officers drawing firearms and tasers on him, the letter states Watts did not heed commands to put his hands behind his back or come out from behind the counter. Instead, the letter states he punched the cash register and picked it up with both hands.
He was zapped with a stun gun, pepper-sprayed and struck with a baton before he could be restrained, after which he began to vomit, the letter states.
Medics arrived and took Watts to Paradise Valley Hospital in National City, after which he was cleared for transportation to a county jail. However, officers at the jail rejected him for having “an altered mental status,” leading him to be taken to another hospital, after which he became unresponsive and went into cardiac arrest. He died just after midnight on Oct. 13.
Watts’ cause of death was found to be “methamphetamine intoxication and excited delirium.”
Stephan’s letter states the officers were justified in using the level of force they did due to Watts’ refusal to comply with demands and continual resisting arrest. The letter also notes Watts received “extensive medical attention throughout the night.”
The involved officers were Thomas Luhta, Brittany Schofer, Ginger Van Houten, Bryan Jackson, Juan Manibusan, Leopoldo Chousal and Natalie Garnsey.
Watts’ family filed a wrongful death lawsuit last year against the city of Chula Vista, Kennedy and the officers.