A Coachella man was shot eight times by an Indio police officer because he pointed a gun at the lawman, a prosecutor said Friday, while a defense attorney said the officer exercised excessive force on a suspect who could not understand what the officer was relaying to him due to a language barrier.
Mario Alberto Soto, 43, is accused of firing a gun at the Coachella Mobile Home Park on Nov. 13, 2014, prompting a law enforcement response that ended with Soto hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
After police went to the scene and attempted to arrest him for allegedly discharging a gun, Soto fled in a vehicle and on foot, then pointed a gun at an Indio police officer, according to prosecutors.
Soto’s attorney, Leonard Cravens, said his client was fired on 16 times by Officer Christopher Shannon and was struck eight times. Shannon was later cleared in the shooting by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
Deputy District Attorney John Rodnick told jurors Friday that Soto fired a gun on two separate occasions that day, with one bullet entering a neighboring home. No one was struck by the gunfire.
Sheriff’s deputies and Indio police who responded to gunfire reports found Soto’s trailer on fire, then saw him drive off in a Ford Mustang, according to Rodnick.
The Mustang was later found abandoned, with a .380-caliber handgun in the rear of the car, he said.
Officers later spotted Soto running northbound on Jackson Street and as they approached him, he produced a handgun from his waistband, prompting them to respond with gunfire, according to police. Soto was struck by bullets, then fell or jumped into bushes, and was shot with a second volley of gunfire because he wouldn’t drop his gun, according to the prosecutor.
“Mr. Soto was shot because he pulled a gun on a law enforcement officer,” Rodnick said. The prosecutor said Soto later apologized for the shooting when interviewed at Desert Regional Medical Center following surgery, and told officers the incident occurred because he’d been on drugs and was depressed over a recent separation from his wife.
Rodnick said Soto also didn’t remember having the second gun, but Rodnick said “you will hear who does remember the gun, and that’s Officer Shannon.”
However, Cravens told jurors that Shannon was “just out of control in this situation.”
The defense attorney said Shannon was in the area on an unrelated case, then responded to the outstanding suspect call and displayed excessive force in firing on Soto on two separate occasions. Another officer who located Soto before Shannon arrived saw him “walking nonchalantly,” unlike a typical fleeing suspect, Cravens said.
The attorney said Shannon then arrived on scene and demanded that Soto “Show me your hands,” a command Soto was unable to understand as he primarily speaks Spanish. While a gun was found following the shooting, Cravens alleged that Soto did not point it at the officer, and that the gun was found to be empty.
He also said that little credible evidence could be derived from the “so-called confession” at the hospital, as Soto was just coming out of major surgery.
Soto is facing charges of brandishing a gun, shooting at an inhabited dwelling and negligent discharge of a firearm. Two counts of assault with a gun were dismissed after his preliminary hearing.
Since the shooting, Soto filed an excessive force federal lawsuit against Shannon, the Indio Police Department and the city of Indio. Riverside County Superior Court Judge James Hawkins ruled that the jury would not be allowed to hear any references to the lawsuit, while Cravens argued that knowledge of the lawsuit colored Officer Shannon’s potential testimony.
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