Tustin police were justified in the fatal shooting of an Army veteran who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and holed up in his car, keeping police at bay for hours before pointing a weapon at them, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced Wednesday
Edwin Moreno Fuentes was fatally shot May 16, 2017. The 25-year-old Army infantryman who saw combat in Afghanistan grew “despondent” when he was notified he had failed a test at CNI College in Orange and was kicked out of the magnetic resonance imaging program there, Rackauckas said.
He was especially upset because the failure would jeopardize his disability benefits and money from the GI Bill, Rackauckas said.
At 2 p.m., his wife returned home from work and learned the bad news from Fuentes, who decided to go to the vocational college and plead his case, packing a gym bag with clothes and a gun.
By 3 p.m., he sent a text message to his wife saying that if he did not return home, “I love you, these people (expletive) me.”
Fuentes sent a text message to a classmate saying he wanted to “hurt” people at the college, but could not bring himself to do so. Then he said he planned to shoot himself in a leg.
By 6 p.m., he informed his wife he was back at the college again begging for another chance, Assistant District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh said.
When he returned home, the angry veteran dressed in his military uniform, which worried his wife, Baytieh said.
Fuentes left again, saying he was going to UC Irvine Medical Center and that hospital officials would call her to let her know what happened, Baytieh said. Fuentes’ classmate later called Santa Ana police, telling them Fuentes had a gun and wanted to hurt himself. A short time later, Fuentes’ wife saw him sitting in his car outside their apartment complex on the phone, and she alerted police.
At 7:08 p.m., he left the Tustin apartment and sent text messages to his wife warning her not to “report me or my plans to the police. I will shoot at this point if they stop me,” Baytieh said.
She told him she had spoken with police, prompting another warning from Fuentes that he was returning home, but “if the cops show up it will not end (well). I lost everything. I’m coming back but loaded don’t set me up.”
Police from Tustin spent hours pleading with Fuentes outside his apartment complex to exit the car, Baytieh said. A Marine veteran from Tustin police tried to coax him out of the car, followed by an Army veteran from Santa Ana who heard about the standoff and volunteered to help with negotiations, according to prosecutors.
Throughout the ordeal, Fuentes can be heard on body-worn cameras and squad car cameras ruing his situation, with the officers imploring him to get out of the car so they can get him help.
The officers assured Fuentes repeatedly that they would not arrest him, but would take him to the Veterans Administration hospital or another helpful resource for veterans.
As the sun set and it got harder to see the suspect in the vehicle, police used their squad car lights to illuminate the area, but had to turn them off because it was “agitating” Fuentes, Baytieh said.
Fuentes frequently moved his car forward and backward for short distances and refused to get out of the car. At one point he opened the door and put a foot out, but then quickly got back in and shut the door.
Fuentes fired three rounds into the floor of the car and then turned his car around to face the officers, Baytieh said. One officer, who was perched on a nearby carport, assumed at one point Fuentes was going to point his gun toward his head, as he had done frequently through the negotiations, so he did not open fire. But the officer shot Fuentes when he pointed the Glock at the officers, Baytieh said.
“This happened very, very quickly,” Baytieh said.
At one point during his negotiations, Fuentes told the officers, “I’m not a bad person. I served my country … I lost my best friend (in Afghanistan). It should have been me.”
Baytieh said a Humvee Fuentes was on was attacked and several of his fellow troops were killed. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Baytieh said.
“We don’t want to shoot you,” one of the officers told Fuentes during the negotiations. “We just want to talk to you, brother.”
The officers spent two hours trying to negotiate with the suspect, and they cannot be held liable criminally because he pointed the car and his weapon at the officers, Baytieh explained.
“This is a tragedy. He was a good man who served our country,” Baytieh said.
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