On Saturday, July 29, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office issued a public statement revealing that a deputy had shot a man in a creekbed east of Healdsburg at 10:03am that morning. The man, later identified as 36-year-old David Pelaez Chavez, was pronounced dead by a paramedic at 10:29am.
In the week after the event, a little more information trickled out in statements from law enforcement agencies. However, no body-worn camera footage from the shooting or the deputies’ prolonged search leading up to it has been released, leading some to call for more transparency and outside investigations.
At a Friday, Aug. 5, vigil hosted by the North Bay Organizing Project, Chavez’s older brother accused authorities of “murdering who [David] was” in public statements about his death.
“My brother did not deserve to die like this. He was a good man, a joyous, happy man. We have many questions in regard to the investigation and what they are saying happened. What we want is justice,” Jose Pelaez said in Spanish, addressing dozens of people gathered in Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square through a translator.
According to the Sheriff’s original statement and a subsequent Aug. 1 statement from the Santa Rosa Police Department, the Sheriff’s Office received a call at 8:20am from a Geyserville resident who said that a man had “threw a rock thru a house window.” The statements allege Chavez interacted with multiple residents, asking one to shoot him, and then stole a truck, breaking several gates and a fence before crashing the vehicle and fleeing barefoot.
After chasing him through rural, hilly terrain for approximately 45 minutes, the deputies stopped Chavez in a creekbed. According to the Sheriff’s original July 29 statement, they ordered him to drop what “appeared to be … a weapon.” After “he refused” to drop the item, the man “initially appeared to charge at one of the deputies but stopped.” The first deputy shot him with a taser and, when that “appeared ineffective,” the second deputy shot him with a gun.
The Sheriff’s original statement drew criticism from longtime law enforcement oversight advocates for its vague language, including using the word “appeared” three times in a paragraph describing the events leading up to Chavez’s death.
The Aug. 1 statement released by the Santa Rosa Police Department, which is conducting an investigation into the events leading to Chavez’s death with the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office, offered a more detailed description of what allegedly occurred. According to SRPD’s statement, Chavez held a claw hammer, a hand tiller farming tool and a “cantaloupe-sized river rock” during the final interaction. Chavez then dropped the rock, bent over to pick up another rock and “made a movement that indicated he was threatening to hurl the rock at the deputy,” according to the SRPD statement. The deputies were 10–15 feet away from Chavez when Deputy Michael Dietrick, a five-year employee of the Sheriff’s Office, shot Chavez three times, the Press Democrat has reported.
Dietrick and Anthony Powers, the other deputy pursuing Chavez, have been placed on paid administrative leave.
On Aug. 3, the Press Democrat reported that Dietrick shot and killed a 45-year-old man in 2016 while working for the Clearlake Police Department. The Lake County District Attorney’s Office decided in 2017 that Dietrick was justified in the killing, the Press Democrat reported. The same year, Dietrick was hired by the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office.
On Aug. 4, the Committee for Law Enforcement Accountability Now (CLEAN), a Sonoma County law enforcement oversight advocacy group, released a statement calling for the California Attorney General’s Office to investigate Chavez’s death instead of local agencies.
Under state law, the AG’s office can investigate killings by law enforcement officers when the victim was “unarmed or if there is a reasonable dispute as to whether the civilian was armed,” according to CLEAN. The AG’s office has reportedly already told the Sheriff’s Office it will not investigate Chavez’s death.
Chavez’s family is gathering funds through GoFundMe to hold a funeral for him in Mexico.