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Friday, November 1, 2019

The Isiah Murrietta-Golding Police-Involved Shooting Case

     On April 14, 2017,  in Fresno, California, 19-year-old Eugenio Ybarra, his 17-year-old brother, and three of their friends got into an argument in a pizza shop parking lot with 16-year-old Isiah Murrietta-Golding and his 17-year-old brother. When Ybarra and his four passengers drove off, they were followed by the Murrietta-Golding brothers. As the vehicles approached the Ybarra residence, one of the Murrietta-Golding brothers in the vehicle behind them fired a shot into their car. No one was hit, but the shot caused the driver of the car to smash into a tree, killing Eugenio Ybarra. Isiah Murrietta-Golding and his brother drove away from the scene of the crash.

     On Saturday, the day after Eugenio Ybarra's death, police officers, while surveilling the Murrietta-Golding house, spotted a car pass by with Isiah Murrietta-Golding in the front passenger's seat. Police officers pulled the vehicle over in a nearby shopping plaza parking lot. One of the officers, his gun pulled, ordered the car's occupants, Murrietta-Golding and two other teens, to get out of the vehicle with their hands over their heads. The suspects were told to walk backwards toward the police officer. Two of the teens complied, Isiah Murrietta-Golding fled.

     With Sergeant Ray Villalvazo in pursuit, Murrietta-Golding climbed a picket fence and landed on the other side which was the property of a closed daycare center. Officer Villalvazo, from a distance of about 35 feet, fired a single shot at the fleeing 16-year-old. The bullet struck the teen in the back of the head, causing him to collapse unconscious to the ground.

     The officer approached the fallen suspect, and with his gun out, searched for but did not find a weapon on him. Officer Villalvazo rolled the boy onto his stomach, pulled back his arms, and placed him into handcuffs.

     When medics arrived at the scene, one of them requested that the handcuffs be taken off the dying suspect. Officer Villalvazo informed the medics that the cuffs would be removed at the hospital.

     The shooting of Isiah Murrietta-Golding on the daycare center property was captured on the school's surveillance camera.

     Isiah Murrietta-Golding died shortly after arriving at a nearby hospital.

     Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer ordered an internal investigation of the fatal police-involved shooting. When questioned by police department investigators looking into the case, Sergeant Villalvazo said he had feared for his life when the fleeing murder suspect reached into his waistband several times in what the officer interpreted as reaching for a weapon.

     That April, a prosecutor charged Isiah Murrietta-Golding's 17-year-old brother with one count of murder, and three counts of assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the death of Eugenio Ybarra the day before Isiah was shot to death by officer Villalvazo.

     In March 2018, police chief Jerry Dyer announced that the internal police inquiry into the fatal police-involved shooting of Isiah Murrietta-Golding cleared officer Ray Villalvazo of any wrongdoing. According to the chief, the officer had acted within the department's use of deadly force policy. The police department did not, however, make the daycare center surveillance video available to the public.

     Stuart Chandler, the attorney representing Isiah Murrietta-Golding's father, filed a wrongful death suit against the city of Fresno and the police department. The attorney had viewed the daycare center surveillance video, evidence he intended to introduce at the civil trial scheduled for sometime in 2020.

     Attorney Chandler, informed by what he had seen on the video, said this to reporters: "There absolutely is no way the officer's life was in danger. He [the suspect] was running away and he was trying to hold up his pants."

     In April 2018, Isiah Murrietta-Golding's 17-year-old brother, in connection with Eugenio Ybarra's death, pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon. At the juvenile's sentencing hearing, he told the court that it was his brother Isiah who had fired into the car that crashed into the tree killing the 19-year-old Ybarra.

     In October 2019, attorney Stuart Chandler released the daycare center video of the fatal police-involved shooting. Regarding officer Villalvazo's putting handcuffs on the downed suspect, the attorney said: "He's unconscious and in the process of dying. What is the threat? They just saw him as an animal who had to be shot."

     Following the release of the surveillance video depicting the shooting, a video that could be seen on social media, the new Fresno chief of police, Andrew Hall, defended officer Villalvazo's use of deadly force on the grounds that Isiah Murrietta-Golding was a murder suspect known to be armed.

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