Orange County prosecutors Tuesday revealed they concluded Orange County sheriff’s deputies should not face criminal charges for a deadly shooting in Laguna Niguel last year.
A letter to Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes informing him of the ruling that was dated Jan. 21 was released on Tuesday.
The clearing of Deputies Craig Sanders and Mark Dent of criminal culpability stems from the fatal shooting of 32-year-old Stephan Curtis McCulloch on May 11, 2020.
Sanders was sent to McCulloch’s apartment just before 12:30 p.m. when neighbors reported a loud commotion in the residence at 50 Coral Sea, according to a report written by Senior Deputy District Attorney Janine Madera.
Dent used a less-than-lethal shotgun in the conflict, Madera said.
Deputies could hear a struggle in the apartment and McCulloch’s live-in girlfriend screaming for help, Madera said.
As they demanded he come out he emerged with a hammer and deputies said he was “at least an 11 on a 1 to 10 scale of anger,” Madera said.
McCulloch refused to follow orders and challenged the deputies, “Come on, come on, shoot, shoot,” Madera said, adding he also said, “Shoot me, I have a hammer, shoot me!”
Dent shot McCulloch in the abdomen with the less-than-lethal round, hoping it would get him to drop the hammer, Madera said. McCulloch “briefly buckle(d),” but ran back into the apartment and grabbed his companion, prompting “blood curdling screams” from her, Madera said.
McCulloch held the woman with the hammer poised to strike, prompting Sanders to shoot the suspect with an AR-15 and Dent to shoot him with a less-than-lethal round, Madera said.
McCulloch was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy showed he had methamphetamine and amphetamine in his system, Madera said.
The victim said she had been abused before by McCulloch and was “begging McCulloch to stop because she did not want him to get arrested again and `go to prison forever,”’ Madera said.
Before deputies arrived, McCulloch had also placed something in the oven, which later exploded, Madera said. The girlfriend said he had been “hallucinating” and “getting mental” in the weeks leading up to the violent confrontation with deputies and that she “attributed his change in behavior to his methamphetamine use,” Madera said.
Madera said “it was reasonable for Deputy Sanders and Deputy Dent to believe that their lives and the life of (McCulloch’s companion) was in danger. Therefore, the evidence supports the conclusion that Deputy Sanders and Deputy Dent were justified when they shot at McCulloch. Simply stated, Deputy Sanders and Deputy Dent did not commit a crime. To the contrary, they carried out their duties as peace officers in a reasonable and justifiable manner.”