SAN DIEGO – Officers from two San Diego-area police agencies will bear no criminal liability for their roles in deadly shootings involving armed suspects last summer, the San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan’s office said Friday.
On July 23, 2021, San Diego police Officers Greg Bergman and Anthony Guerra shot and killed 22-year-old Jesus Veleta during a chase on foot that happened near a Yoshinoya fast food restaurant in the Talmadge area. The officers can be heard in a video released the next month shouting at Veleta, a suspect in two shootings from earlier that day, to stop and drop his weapon.
Officers say Veleta stumbled to the ground before raising a handgun behind him in the direction of the officers, prompting both to open fire on him. Veleta later was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Upon review of the incident, Stephan’s office determined that both Bergman and Guerra “reasonably believed Veleta posed an imminent threat to them that needed to be instantly confronted.”
“The officers reasonably believed that had they not taken action, Veleta would have shot them,” the office said.
A similar conclusion was reached in an Aug. 19, 2021 incident when El Cajon police Sgt. Kevin Reilly fatally shot 38-year-old Setha Phangdy.
Phangdy was a suspect in a shooting at an El Cajon business that wounded one employee before. Officials say he ran away, and Reilly later found him standing in the middle of a road near the corner of Ballard and Decker streets. Police say as the officer drove closer to Phangdy, the suspect pulled out a firearm and began shooting at him, ultimately striking his car four times.
Reilly ducked behind his dashboard and then drove directly at Phangdy, knocking him to the ground before exiting the car, the review found.
Reilly ordered Phangdy to drop his weapon, but he ignored the command and continued to load his gun, the agency said. Reilly then shot Phangdy four times. He later died at a local hospital, with an autopsy determining he’d tested positive for both methamphetamine and amphetamine.
An April 15 letter publicly released Friday to El Cajon police Chief Michael Moulton written by Stephan noted that while Reilly was equipped with less-lethal options, “the use of any of these less-lethal options was not feasible given the immediacy of the threat posed by Phangdy.”
“Even after Phangdy fired his weapon at the officer and had already shot another person, Phangdy was given an opportunity to drop his weapon and put his hands up,” Stephan wrote in the letter. “Phangdy’s refusal to follow those commands and drop his gun eliminated the possibility of using less lethal means.”
She adds, “Under the totality of the circumstances, Reilly was justified in his actions and bears no state criminal liability.”
The two reviews were part of a series of seven posted by the office on Friday with the other five involving suspects who were not killed.
You can read the office’s letters in their entirety by clicking or tapping here.