An independent review by the Placer County District Attorney’s Office has determined that the fatal shooting of a man by local law enforcement officers on Jan. 1 was a justifiable use of force.
The conclusion was reached in the death of Gregory Gifford, 54, who was shot after disregarding commands by officers to drop what appeared to be a rifle as he exited his stopped vehicle in Lincoln.
The District Attorney’s determination was contained in a letter sent last Wednesday to the Rocklin Police Department, the Lincoln Police Department, the Placer County Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol agencies involved in the incident.
Assistant District Attorney Scott Owens wrote that Gifford had committed two armed robberies one in Sacramento and the other in Rocklin and that at about 1 a.m. on Jan. 1, he led officers on a short vehicle pursuit that began near Twelve Bridges and Colonnade drives in Lincoln and ended at Fairway Valley Lane.
Owens indicated that Gifford, who was described by his family as suffering from depression, appeared to want the officers to shoot him.
Gifford left a suicide note for his family and, after being shot, was found with another note in his pocket in which he apologized for leaving the officers with ‘no choice,’ Owens said.
The fatal shooting involving officers was the first since Placer County law enforcement agencies collaborated to adopt a protocol last September detailing how such incidents would be investigated.
A committee made up of 11 law enforcement agencies developed the protocol, which addresses jurisdictional and notification issues, roles of the investigating agency and of the district attorney and incident scene procedures.
Noah Brommeland, an investigator for the Placer County District Attorney’s Office, said the probes into officer-related shootings ‘are complex and have to be thorough.’
‘It was the goal of the committee to develop a protocol that assured the public that such incidents are investigated fully and independently,’ Brommeland said.
Owens said the collaborative efforts of the law enforcement agencies, both in the development and implementation of the protocol, deserved commendation.
‘This protocol will serve as a useful tool when officers become involved in the stressful realities of these types of investigations,’ he said.
Owens said the events involving the Jan. 1 shooting unfolded in the following manner:
Gifford left a suicide note for his family prior to engaging in the reported robberies and that during the vehicle pursuit, Gifford used a cell phone to call his wife and daughter, telling them he wanted to kill himself and that if the police interfered, it was going to be ‘bad.’
Shortly after, Gifford notified his wife and daughter that he was loading the gun and he ignored their pleas to stop. This information was conveyed to the law enforcement officers at the scene.
When stopped by the officers, Gifford ignored commands to ‘lower your hands,’ ‘put em down’ and ‘put it down.’ Instead, he came out of the car and began turning toward the officers while holding what appeared to be a rifle in his hands. When he began raising it toward them, the officers fired on him.
It was later discovered that Gifford had been holding a pellet rifle.
After the shooting on Fairway Valley Lane, officers found the note in Gifford’s pocket.
‘In that note, Gifford apologized for the horrible thing he was doing, and he had written that the officers had no choice,” Owens wrote in his letter to the law enforcement agencies.
Gifford’s wife told investigators that her husband was injured on duty as a firefighter with the Sacramento County Fire District, now a part of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, and that the injuries forced him into retirement.
According to the wife, Gifford ‘had been suffering from depression for a substantial period of time,’ Owens wrote.
Owens indicated that the law enforcement officers who fired on Gifford had been placed in a difficult position.
‘The states of mind of the responding officers to this event demonstrate that the officers took reasonable and necessary action,’ Owens said.
They believed that their lives, and the lives of the public, were in imminent danger of death or great bodily injury.’