LIVE OAK — The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputy who shot 15-year-old Lucas Smith after a standoff with police will not face criminal charges, Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell said Friday.
According to Rosell, the deputies feared for their lives when they confronted Lucas in November after he reportedly stabbed his father multiple times, and then fled his home in a rural part of Watsonville.
The investigation by the DA’s office included interviews with officers and witnesses and reviews of body camera video footage.
Investigators said that Lucas was under the influence of LSD during the incident, during which he refused to cooperate with deputies who unsuccessfully tried to stop him with Tasers, shoot him with several foam-rubber “less lethal” bullets and released a police K9 officer.
Lucas advanced on officers with the knife in his hand, and three nonlethal rounds fired from an officer had no effect.
Lucas died shortly after sheriff’s deputy Chris Vigil shot him with an AR-15.
In a press conference soon after the shooting, Sheriff Jim Hart called Lucas a “serious threat” to the officials at the scene.
In a video released by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO), the deputies placed Lucas in handcuffs before beginning lifesaving efforts. That was part of an investigation by SCSO’s Serious Incident Review Board, which also released its findings Friday.
The board, composed of a senior officer, three use-of-force instructors and three community members, came up with a list of five findings and 15 recommendations.
The board said that the SCSO should improve the way it handles critical incidents, and that it should, “improve its ability to manage the use of a canine.”
The board also said that a supervisor should be informed when deputies decide to use their service rifles, and that the SCSO should provide training for deputies in responding to critical incidents.
In addition, the board said that lifesaving efforts of injured suspects should “not unnecessarily” be delayed, and that law enforcement officials should use “judgment and discretion” when deciding to leave handcuffs on a suspect after they have been shot.
Wilson said that the SCSO has been criticized for taking time to handcuff Lucas after he was with a bullet, and then leaving them on.
“This is something that is difficult for people to understand when they see it,” Wilson said. “When we examined that, what we found was that perhaps in all cases it's not necessary to either handcuff or retain the handcuffs on if it's going to cause a delay in lifesaving efforts.”
Also as a result of the incident and the investigation, Wilson said that the SCSO will incorporate “preservation of life” into its training protocol.
“The focus is on loss of life, regardless of the tactics you’re using,” he said.
Wilson said the SCSO in 2015 began working with Santa Cruz County Mental Health Services to help deputies deal with mentally and emotionally disturbed people. The department also hired a mental health liaison, who accompanies deputies when encountering people with mental health issues.
The SCSO recently hired a second mental health liaison, and recently began offering an intensive three-day training in dealing with emotionally distressed people who are behaving erratically but do not possess a firearm.
“We know that tragedy and pain will always follow the loss of life, and that’s why it’s crucial that we provide our deputies with the best training tools and training tactics that are available,” Wilson said.
Friday, Nov. 18
• Lucas and a friend purchase and ingest LSD.
Saturday, Nov. 19
• Before 2:30 a.m. — Lucas returns to a home on Amesti Road in Corralitos that he shared with his father and uncle.
• 2:45 a.m. — Lucas gets into a verbal altercation with his father. Gripping a four-inch pocketknife, he stabs his uncle and father and flees.
• 2:52 a.m. — Sheriff’s deputies and emergency workers respond.
• 3:02 a.m. — Lucas attacks Cal Fire truck that responded to help his father and uncle.
• 3:03-3:07 a.m. — Lucas found armed with a knife on the 300 block of Pioneer Road. Sheriff’s deputies, with backup from Watsonville and Capitola police departments, negotiate with Lucas.
• 3:09 a.m. — Three less-than-lethal 40mm sponge rounds were deployed, with no effect.
• 3:10 a.m. — Lucas runs away from the officers towards a residence. Officers move forward, using their vehicles for cover.
• 3:13 a.m. — Reverse 9-1-1 orders residents to shelter in place.
• 3:14 a.m. — Lucas reappears between a fence and the road, but still armed with the knife. Officers use Taser, non-lethal rounds and police dog, all with no effect.
• 3:15 a.m. — Deputy Chris Vigil fires a single round from his AR-15, striking Lucas.
• 3:16 a.m. — Deputies use two more non-lethal rounds and another Taser
• 3:16 a.m. – Emergency medical care provided.
• 3:54 a.m. — Lucas declared dead at the scene.