by Dave Waddell
(Ed. note: This is part II in a three-part series on investigative video that was obtained through Public Records Act requests and with the help of the writer’s attorney. Read part I here.)
A Butte County sheriff’s deputy had both his hands on the flailing, severely wounded Tyler Rushing and was about to “sweep” him to the floor when Chico police Sgt. Scott Ruppel rushed forward and shot Rushing twice at nearly point blank range.
That’s one of the interesting details that emerge in newly released video related to the July 23, 2017, killing of Rushing on the site of a downtown business.
Deputy Ian Dickerson, who was holding Rushing when the sergeant fired, reported that his initial concern was whether the first bullet had gone through Rushing and into his own arm, which was draped across Rushing’s shoulder. Ruppel shot Rushing first in the trachea and then in the upper back.
Dickerson’s statement to investigators that Rushing was being held when shot – which is supported by body-worn camera evidence — was not included in Butte County District Mike Ramsey’s official report on the shooting. The DA’s report, which runs on for 16-single spaced pages, is more focused on what Rushing was doing in the weeks, days and hours before he was killed than on the particulars of his killing.
Ramsey’s report also left out numerous other facts and statements that are coming to light with the release by Chico PD to this reporter earlier this summer – under threat of a lawsuit – of eight videotaped interviews. Included are recordings of Ruppel and Dickerson being questioned by detectives.
Scott Rushing of Ventura, Tyler’s father, said none of the newly released video was turned over to the Rushing family during the discovery phase of their wrongful-death lawsuit against the city. Rushing said the withholding of the videos was unethical if not illegal and served to weaken the family’s case. Chico Police Chief Matt Madden and attorneys representing the city have declined comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
Among other details the video interviews have helped expose that are conspicuous by their absence from Ramsey’s report:
–Ruppel believed, after Rushing struck him in the neck with a ballpoint pen, that Rushing “chuckled” and “laughed” in the sergeant’s face with satisfaction. If Rushing did any laughing, no other officer reported seeing it and no such emotion was captured on video from multiple body-worn cameras. Dickerson described Rushing as angry.
Because Rushing had been weakened by significant blood loss, was in severe pain from the chest wound, and was fending off a biting dog, these claims raise questions about Ruppel’s truthfulness or state of mind, said Scott Rushing. “Tyler was in no mental or physical condition to laugh,” he said.
–Just prior to the pen strike, Ruppel estimated he choked Rushing for eight seconds, which turned out to be the exact length of time that Ruppel — three weeks later — choked a handcuffed and seat-belted-in suspect in the back of a police SUV. Ruppel was acquitted by a jury of a misdemeanor assault charge in the second incident, but it may have hastened his retirement at age 51 from Chico PD. Scott Rushing has said that Ruppel “lost his cool” in both cases.
–Before he pulled his Glock and shot Rushing, Ruppel said he knew he was not badly hurt by the pen strike “because there wasn’t enough pain for me to go down.” According to Ramsey’s report, “Ruppel said he believed the subject was out of control of the officers and was an immediate mortal danger to them.”
However, the photo accompanying this story (above) was stilled from officer Cedric Schwyzer’s body cam video. It shows that when Ruppel first fired, Schwyzer was behind and to the right of Ruppel, while Dickerson was behind and to the right of Rushing. Dickerson was wearing light blue surgical gloves and can be seen holding Rushing at the instant he was first shot, consistent with the deputy’s statements to investigators.
–After pausing 1 2/3 seconds between shots, Ruppel said he fired the second round because Rushing “wasn’t really going all the way down.” That may have been because Dickerson still clung to Rushing’s wrist. Dickerson said he thrust Rushing to the floor after Ruppel’s second shot. “I have control of his right arm; I’m not going to let it go,” Dickerson told investigators of his thinking in the restroom, which was made slippery by a mix of Rushing’s blood with water from a broken toilet. “I never lost control of that [wrist] throughout the whole situation.”
Ruppel, who reportedly lives in Wyoming, could not be reached for comment.
DA Ramsey did not respond to multiple email inquiries asking for an explanation about why his report didn’t mention (1) that Dickerson was holding and preparing to “toss” Rushing when Ruppel shot Rushing, (2) that Ruppel said he knew he wasn’t seriously hurt by the pen strike when he shot Rushing, and (3) that Ruppel thought Rushing was laughing at him in a mocking manner.
Seth Stoughton, a former cop and Florida state investigator and one of the nation’s foremost experts on police use of force, said some “pretty significant factual discrepancies” exist between Ruppel’s and Dickerson’s accounts of the shooting.
“If one witness says one thing and one says something else, the investigator’s job is to figure out which one is true to the extent that they can and why there’s a discrepancy,” said Stoughton, who teaches law at the University of South Carolina. If the two accounts are mutually exclusive and investigators “just let it lie, you’re doing a crap investigation.”
On the night he died, the oddly behaving 34-year-old Rushing was first shot by private security guard Edgar Sanchez after attacking and cutting Sanchez’s arm with a flower pot at the closed business. For at least 20 minutes, Ruppel calmly tried to talk Rushing out of the restroom into which he had fled, but got little response beyond Rushing’s loud moaning from the pain of his serious chest wound. Police eventually busted in with Dickerson’s canine Tig, which bit Rushing up and down his body, including between his legs and deep into his calf.
Rushing is believed to have hit officer Schwyzer, who was holding a ballistic shield, in the head with a piece of porcelain from a broken toilet. Then, as he flailed against Tig’s assault, Rushing struck Ruppel in the neck with a Chico PD-issued ballpoint pen pulled from Schwyzer’s shirt pocket. Ruppel then backed away, put his left hand over where Rushing had struck him, pulled his Glock with his right hand, and hurried forward to shoot Rushing. Schwyzer’s head cuts required nine stitches, while the pen strike did nothing more than break Ruppel’s skin.
Sgt. Ruppel was interviewed with his attorney present several hours after the shooting by Patrick McNelis, one of Ramsey’s investigators, and Jim Beller, a Butte County sheriff’s detective. McNelis and Beller were part of the Butte County Officer Involved Shooting/Critical Incident Protocol Team that wrote reports on the Rushing shooting. Despite Public Records Act requests, Ramsey as well as the Chico Police Department have to date refused to release those reports, which are supposed to be public documents under Senate Bill 1421, a state law that made certain police records subject to citizen scrutiny.
In the videotaped interview, Beller asked Ruppel what he experienced when Rushing struck him.
“Well, my first thought was, ‘Oh, crap! … He’s got an object in his hand and he just stabbed me with it.’ And he just looked right at me and laughed. He knew he had got me where he got me, and he just kind of chuckled. …
“The way he looked at me during this struggle, he knew exactly where he was going with that blow. I mean, he was looking right at me. My concern was he would catch me in the carotid.”
Later, Beller asked a follow-up question: “He hit you, [and] you said he had some sort of behavior right afterward. Could you describe that again?”
“Because we were face-to-face, I grabbed ahold of him, and I was trying to incapacitate him to make him go down,” responded Ruppel, holding his hands out to demonstrate a chokehold. “And he looked right at me. And the next thing I know that hand’s coming up and he hits me because I went ‘Oh!’ I probably made a noise. I don’t know. And he looked at me and he just kind of laughed. He’s like, ‘Yeah!’ … In my mind, he knew exactly what he was doing. He knew where he was going with that knife [sic]. He just kind of laughed.”
Judge Morrison England of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California, in Sacramento, dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Rushing family against the city of Chico, Armed Guard Private Protection and Butte County, among other defendants. England’s decision, dated July 22, 2020, praised the police response in Tyler’s death, calling it “restrained and methodical.” The Rushings have appealed and a hearing is scheduled Oct. 5 at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.
Dave Waddell is a contributor to ChicoSol.