by Dave Waddell
posted Jan. 25
Anthony Lara, the Gridley police officer who fired first in the fatal shooting of a man in mental crisis, has been a defendant in at least two lawsuits claiming excessive force and civil rights violations.
Lara initiated police gunfire that on Jan. 2 killed Baltazar Rubio, 43, of Gridley, who was allegedly pointing an unloaded handgun. The barrage came to total 31 shots fired by three Gridley-Biggs Police Department officers. Police bullets sped both directions down a skinny alley in the middle of a normally peaceful neighborhood, leaving residents stunned and shaken.
In a previous shooting in 2019, Lara fired his gun six times and slightly wounded an unarmed 19-year-old driver despite the teen’s girlfriend’s screams from the backseat. Gridley settled a civil suit stemming from that shooting, paying out $150,000, said Police Chief Rodney Harr. Gridley PD has no record of anyone in law enforcement, including Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, ever investigating the incident -– either criminally or administratively.
“It would be egregiously inappropriate and, frankly, unfathomable for an officer-involved shooting to go entirely uninvestigated,” said Seth Stoughton, an ex-cop, law professor at the University of South Carolina and one of the nation’s foremost experts on police uses of force.
In a second previous incident, Lara, in early 2021, was accused of man-handling a young woman who had committed no crime while other Gridley officers were alleged to have arrested her cousin filming the scene under false pretenses. Harr said he is unable to comment on what happened because of pending civil and criminal cases.
Neither Lara nor his attorney in civil suits, William Camy, responded to a request for comment for this story.
Rookie officer among Jan. 2 shooters
Other Gridley police involved in the Rubio shooting were Sgt. Eva Smith and officer Garrett Mauldin. Gridley City Attorney Tony Galyean said the city is prohibited by law from revealing how long the three officers have worked for the Police Department. However, Gridley City Council meeting minutes for Aug. 15, 2022, list Mauldin as a new police cadet. And precisely two weeks before he shot at Rubio, Mauldin was scheduled to be introduced at the Dec. 19 City Council meeting as Gridley’s newest police officer, according to the agenda.
Ramsey quickly issued a statement to the news media after Rubio was slain providing the officers’ versions of the shooting.
Ramsey has not disclosed how many times each officer fired or how many of the 31 bullets struck Rubio. All three officers were reported to have turned on their body-worn cameras.
Ramsey’s press statement provided the following chronology: Rubio “attacked” two members of his family with scissors at a residence in the 200 block of Kentucky Street before breaking into a nearby house and stealing a semi-automatic handgun. A short time later, Rubio surprised Sgt. Smith and Mauldin, who were driving through the alley looking for him, by banging on the rear of their patrol vehicle with the gun.
The two officers initially sped away and looped around while Lara arrived at the alley and shouted at Rubio to drop the gun. Rubio initially did so, but quickly retrieved it and pointed it first at Lara, who began shooting, and then at Smith and Maudlin, who had re-entered the alley from the opposite direction as Lara. “They got out of their vehicle and began shooting toward Rubio,” wrote Ramsey.
Ramsey’s report says nothing about Rubio’s mental condition; however, the DA told a TV news reporter that Rubio’s family said he had been living with mental illness. Ramsey’s report says nothing about where any stray bullets ended up; however, a TV station reported that a “small” dermatology office was hit during the 2:30 p.m. shooting outburst on that Monday.
Television news footage showed a green refuse container with multiple bullet holes and quoted those living along the alley as expressing astonishment at the closeness of the gunfire.
“It’s a nice neighborhood. We’re by a school, too, so imagine if school was open and that happened,” Julio Rangel said in a KRCR-TV report. “It was chaos. Screaming. Crying. Everything.”
Another neighbor, Isaac Rodriguez, told TV reporters he was walking his dogs when he heard yelling for about five seconds. Then the gunshots started. “I just came running inside,” he said.
“I was kind of scared; it was right here,” Isidro Gonzalez, whose home sits just a few feet from the alley, told Action News Now. “Our room’s right here. My son’s room is right at that window. You see how close the gunfire was. Anything could have hit him.”
Asked whether he had any concerns about public safety from so much police shooting next to homes, Ramsey did not respond.
The Rubio homicide has been turned over to the Butte County Officer-Involved Shooting Protocol Team, a rotating group of investigators from different agencies whose work Ramsey directs. Not once has the DA’s team recommended any criminal charges against any officer in any of the 38 officer killings during Ramsey’s 3½ decades as Butte DA.
Messages left seeking comment from relatives of Rubio were not returned.
Lara shoots six times at teen
Lara has been with Gridley PD for about nine years, previous news coverage indicates. He was about 5½ years into the job when he fired his gun six times at an unarmed teenage driver in June 2019. That driver, Marco Anthony Garcia-Padilla, then 19, of Yuba City, was wounded by one Lara bullet in the neck-shoulder area, according to a civil suit filed in federal court. The suit accused Lara of turning a relatively minor incident into a nearly deadly shooting. In addition to the $150,000 settlement, Garcia-Padilla was not charged with any crime.
The shooting was preceded by a chase after Garcia-Padilla failed to yield. The suit claims Garcia-Padilla became scared when he saw the police vehicle “based upon ongoing police abuse of young Latino men in the City of Gridley.”
“Whoa, that  video raises some red flags” — policing expert Seth Stoughton
The night of the shooting, Lara was “training” rookie officer Devin Pasley, Ramsey told the news media at the time. They were riding in the same vehicle with Pasley driving. Lara failed to turn on his body-worn camera, according to Chief Harr. Pasley, however, did activate his camera, which provided the only video account of the shooting. A redacted version of the video (see below) was obtained under a Public Records Act request.
Lara claimed that Garcia-Padilla’s Honda Civic almost hit him when it took off after initially stopping.
“Whoa,” responded police expert Stoughton, “that video raises some red flags. Tactically, officers definitely shouldn’t run up to a vehicle after a pursuit like that. And it sure looked like officers shot and kept shooting when the vehicle wasn’t in a position to drag or hit them.”
“I aimed my duty weapon towards the Honda but began to hear a female screaming from inside the vehicle,” says Pasley’s report on the incident. “Because I didn’t know where the passenger was [due to tinted windows], and because I didn’t want to risk hitting Officer Lara, I did not fire my weapon.”
Lara’s report never mentions any screaming, nor any worry about hitting the passenger or Pasley with his gunshots. Lara asked Pasley shortly afterward: “I didn’t shoot you, did I?”
Gridley PD produced few records in response to this reporter’s Public Records Act request, including no Internal Affairs (IA) administrative report and no criminal inquiry from Ramsey’s Officer-Involved Shooting Protocol Team. Chief Harr said no records had been destroyed from the case file.
“It would be highly unusual,” said Law Professor Stoughton, the police expert, “if there wasn’t some administrative investigation, which is focused on identifying whether the officer acted consistently with policy and training (and, ideally, whether there are any gaps in policy or training that need to be addressed). … There should *always* be an administrative investigation” when police officers shoot their guns, Stoughton said.
Stoughton is a former Tallahassee police officer and investigator for the state of Florida. He was a prosecution expert witness at the trial of George Floyd’s murderer and is lead author of the book “Evaluating Police Uses of Force.”
Pressed about the lack of an IA report on Lara’s first shooting, Harr, a Gridley lieutenant at the time, said whether to investigate administratively was the decision of his predecessor as chief, Allen Byers.
“I cannot otherwise provide you with a reason as to why or why not an IA [investigation] was initiated and conducted or not,” Harr replied.
Harr also said the department has no record of being provided any report from Ramsey’s police shooting protocol team, which normally is charged with determining whether a crime was committed in Butte County law enforcement shootings. Ramsey did not respond when questioned about why no record exists of an investigation.
“Simply put, all officer-involved shootings should be thoroughly investigated,” Stoughton said. “Sometimes those investigations can be pretty straight forward — the evidence may be easy to obtain, consistent, and leading directly to a clear conclusion — but you can’t tell whether that’s going to be the case until after you do the investigation. It would be egregiously inappropriate and, frankly, unfathomable for an officer-involved shooting to go entirely uninvestigated.”
Cousins claim unlawful arrests
About 1½ years after the shooting of Garcia-Padilla -– and two years before this month’s killing of Rubio -– Lara was involved in another incident that led to a civil suit in Butte County Superior Court.
Attorney Ralph Rios of El Monte filed a complaint on behalf of Alexandra Tacalo of Riverside County and Jesus Ramon Gonzalez of Butte County that alleges misconduct by Lara and other unnamed Gridley officers. Tacalo and Gonzalez, who are cousins, were charged by Ramsey’s office with resisting arrest and, two years later, those charges remain unresolved.
Shortly after midnight on Jan. 22, 2021, their complaint says, Lara “unlawfully stopped” Tacalo’s vehicle near Gonzalez’s residence despite “no report of a crime and … no crime in progress. … Based on ongoing police abuse of young Latinos in the City of Gridley,” Tacalo, then 21, “began to feel scared when … Lara demonstrated an aggressive behavior. … Gonzalez felt compelled to film … the interaction as he saw … Lara pull … Tacalo by the hair and attempting to reach in to open her door. … Tacalo began to scream as he began to pull her through the passenger’s side window.
“Lara used a MMA [mixed martial arts] tactic ‘arm bar’ and pulled … Tacalo from the vehicle with no cause or warning. … Tacalo was in tears and would not stop crying. … As … Gonzalez began to film he began to get [threatened] to stop filming and that he was obstructing an investigation. … Officers used intimidation and threats to [try to] obtain the film, [and] when that did not work the [officers] proceeded to arrest [Gonzalez] unlawfully and without cause,” the complaint alleges.
Gonzalez’s video was made available by attorney Rios. Tacalo and Lara are in the background and she was out of the car by the time the one-minute video begins. Gridley officer Nou Lor is in the foreground. Lor approaches and confronts Gonzalez with his pistol drawn and pointed down, a red laser beam from the gun bouncing off the curb. At times Lor blocks the phone camera’s view, appears to put his free hand or arm on Gonzalez, and repeatedly orders him to back up.
“I’m not doing anything. Why?” says Gonzalez.
“You’re impeding. You can film all you want. Just back up,” Lor says.
“My cousin, just trying to drop off my bike, comes all the way over doing me a favor and these people right here treat her like that,” Gonzalez tells Lor. “That’s fucked up. That’s really fucked up.”
Stoughton, the ex-cop and top expert on police use of force, viewed Gonzalez’s video and was asked for his response to Lor’s behaviors.
“I can’t make any definitive observations without having more context, but I don’t know why the officer has his gun unholstered and down by his side when he’s in such close proximity with someone,” Stoughton replied. “If the guy is a potential lethal threat, the firearm would be in the low or high ready position. If the guy is not a potential lethal threat, the gun should be in a holster.”
Chief Harr, citing advice from City Attorney Galyean, refused to say whether Lara and Lor turned on their body-worn cameras.
Galyean declined to comment on Tacalo and Gonzalez’s allegations until their civil litigation has run its course. Galyean noted that their lawsuit was recently dismissed by a Butte County Superior Court judge because it was “improperly filed prematurely.” Galyean said Tacalo and Gonzalez would be entitled to re-file their suit “at the conclusion of the district attorney’s criminal prosecutions against each of them.”
The Rubio death was the first law enforcement killing in Butte County since Chico police gunned down knife-holding Stephen Vest, also in mental crisis, in a Petco parking lot in October 2020.
The primary shooter in the Vest killing was Tyler Johnson, who fired his Glock nine times. Police expert Stoughton, after viewing a body-worn camera video, said Johnson fired an excessive number of rounds given that Vest was felled by the initial shots. Vest was shot in the back and while on the ground multiple times. At the time of the shooting, Johnson had been a Chico officer for 1½ years after spending a decade with Gridley-Biggs PD.
Rubio’s killing was Gridley police’s first since 2007, when gun-holding Rebecca Stebbins, 31, was shot at a total of seven times by two officers. Ramsey’s report suggested the Stebbins death was a “suicide by cop.”
Dave Waddell is a contributor to ChicoSol who is writing a book on Butte County law enforcement killings.