Rubio on his back when killed by Gridley police Body cameras recorded shooting of timid man in mental crisis

by Dave Waddell
analysis posted Jan. 2

GRIDLEY — A year ago today, in the dawn of a new year, was it necessary for Gridley police to kill Baltazar Rubio, a smallish, timid man in acute mental crisis?

photo by Dave Waddell
At least one police bullet went into Tanabe Dermatology on Magnolia Street along the alley where Rubio died.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, 365 days later, still hasn’t answered that question, though he issued a statement the day after the shooting giving the officers’ version of the deadly event. The three shooting officers – Sgt. Eva Smith and officers Anthony Lara and Garrett Mauldin — were soon returned to duty by the Gridley Police Department.

Body-worn camera videos of the killing of Rubio – recently released after denials and delays by the City of Gridley – raise questions about the tragedy. One critical question is how much danger police were in when, after pausing their gunfire, officers pulled their triggers a few final times.

Police had stopped their barrage of wild shooting for roughly four seconds after Rubio fell to the ground. Their last several shots, which came as Rubio had rolled to his back and was not looking toward the officers, stilled and killed him. It is not clear from the redacted videos whether Rubio, once downed, was still holding the gun, which Ramsey said was unloaded and unfired. The gun, in officer Mauldin’s words, was “right next to him” — but not in Rubio’s hand — when picked up and tossed aside by Mauldin after the shooting, videos show. Ramsey did not respond when asked whether Rubio still held the gun while on his back.

In all, 31 shots were fired by police – five by Lara, who started the shooting, his second in 3 1/2 years, while Smith and Mauldin each unloaded a 13-round clip from their semi-automatic handguns.

In response to a Public Records Act (PRA) request from this reporter, DA Ramsey refused to release any investigative records, including the autopsy and forensics reports – records Gridley PD says it doesn’t have. An autopsy report would describe Rubio’s wounds, while a forensics report should reveal whose bullets took the life of the 43-year-old, lifelong Gridley resident.

photo by Dave Waddell
Lobby of Gridley PD

ChicoSol is making body-worn camera video clips of the shooting publicly available for the first time. They were obtained under a PRA request to the City of Gridley, which issued a blanket denial for access to records prior to communications from attorney Aaron Field, a California public records expert representing this reporter.

(Though redacted by police, the videos may be disturbing to many. Viewer discretion is advised. A clip of Lara’s body cam video is here, Smith’s here, and Mauldin’s here.)

None of the officers seems to have written an incident report about the fatal event, based on the records Gridley released.

Rubio had no criminal history and clearly was in mental crisis when killed. He was accused of pointing the gun at police, but given the distance between Rubio and the officers, as well as various camera obstructions, that’s not clear from the raw, blurry video.

Lara, Gridley’s police officer of the year in 2017, has been a defendant in several excessive force lawsuits. He was involved in a solo shooting in June 2019 in which he fired his gun six times at a fleeing 19-year-old driver. The driver was wounded, though not seriously. That shooting went uninvestigated by either Gridley PD or Ramsey’s office. The teen was not charged with any crime and Gridley paid him $150,000 to settle an excessive force lawsuit.

Smith had been a Gridley police sergeant for just two months on the day Rubio was shot dead. She appeared to be training Mauldin, who was fresh out of the Butte College Law Enforcement Academy and in just his 22nd day as a police officer, according to information provided by the college and Gridley Police Chief Rodney Harr.

Gridley contracted with a private investigator, Michael Allison of Auburn, at $105 an hour to investigate the shooting for the administrative purposes of the Police Department. Allison was not hired until four months after the shooting and did not even interview the three involved officers until November – 10 months after the killing, according to Gridley City Attorney Tony Galyean. Gridley has not released Allison’s findings.

Last July, seven months after Rubio was shot, Gridley businessperson Barbara Caramba-Coker contacted ChicoSol by email over her concern that his killing “was being swept under the rug” by police and the district attorney, while being covered hardly at all by Chico and Gridley newspapers.

In her email, Caramba-Coker, who operates the Bungalow, a Gridley bar, wrote that Rubio was “a quiet, socially awkward guy. He wasn’t big or imposing – maybe 150 or 160 pounds at the most. I have never heard him use foul language or observed him in an aggressive state. At 43, he was still living in his parents’ home. I don’t understand how [Gridley PD] can justify their action. GPD does not seem to understand negotiation or non-lethal tools. If they had taken time to talk him through the situation, Baltazar might still be alive.”

In a later interview, Caramba-Coker said Rubio visited the Bungalow “maybe 10 times a year, at most. He wasn’t a big drinker or anything.” He would meet friends there and “just slap balls around” the bar’s pool table.

“When the guys were talking to him, they’d say, ‘Hey B,’” said Caramba-Coker. “I called him ‘Balta.’ … He wasn’t somebody to be afraid of. … We were all shocked when it was him.”

Rubio came from a “very large, very close, financially comfortable family,” Caramba-Coker said. “Every New Year’s Eve they have a big family gathering at the Masonic Hall.”

Though he never said anything to police, Rubio was reported to have earlier in the day made statements that sounded delusional. Police were called after he attacked family members with what Ramsey described as “a pair of scissors” and Gridley PD called a “knife.” In a picture sent by police, it actually appears to be a sharp-pointed metal decorative item of undisclosed size. A small blood stain can be seen on one of the points. Body-cam videos show family members quite shaken by Rubio’s uncharacteristic attack. Their injuries were minor.

Gridley PD photo
The object used that caused minor injuries to Rubio’s relatives. A small amount of blood can be seen on the tip.

After the attack, Rubio took off and stole the handgun from a neighbor’s house. Mauldin drove a police SUV with Sgt. Smith in the passenger’s seat through an alley looking for him. The alley runs between and parallel to Kentucky and Ohio streets and the shooting area was bordered on the north by Sycamore Street and on the south by Magnolia Street. Suddenly, Rubio banged on the back of the vehicle with the gun. The two officers sped out of the alley onto Sycamore and then looped back in.

Meantime, Lara, in another vehicle, parked blocking the entrance to the alley from Magnolia and ordered Rubio to drop the gun. Rubio did so and dropped to his knees with his arms raised above his head. However, Rubio did not follow Lara’s repeated orders to get on his stomach. Instead, according to Ramsey’s statement, Rubio grabbed the gun and pointed it at the officer. Lara rapidly fired five times as he was backing out of the alley and retreating behind a fence along Magnolia.

Before Lara began firing, Mauldin and Smith’s SUV had re-entered the alley. Mauldin put it in park at about the same moment Lara fired his first bullet. Lara’s body cam footage shows the SUV to be in his line of fire.

With Rubio still kneeling, facing sideways to the two officers, and not appearing to be pointing the gun, Mauldin, without saying a word, began firing in rapid succession. Smith did likewise as Rubio stood up and hopped down the alley in her direction. At least one bullet struck Lara’s patrol car and at least one round went into the Tanabe Dermatology office on Magnolia, which was seeing patients that Monday afternoon. A green trash barrel had bullet holes. The shooting scene was less than a block from McKinley Primary School’s playground and portable classrooms, though the school was closed that day on holiday break.

photo by Dave Waddell
McKinley Primary School

When Rubio went down, Mauldin stepped forward to a position where he could steady his aim on the open driver’s door. After a delay in the shooting of about four seconds, Mauldin appeared to fire two or three more times before running out of bullets. It appears from the videos Smith may also have fired two final shots. Both officers quickly snapped a new ammo clip into their guns, but Rubio was no longer moving. None of the officers identified themselves as police, and Mauldin and Smith never spoke to Rubio prior to shooting him down.

The pause in the shooting before the kill shots was long enough for Lara to think the gunfire was over. His body cam video shows him heading back to the alley during that silence but quickly backing up when the shooting resumed.

Dave Waddell is a contributor to ChicoSol who is working on a book about law enforcement killings.

5 thoughts on “Rubio on his back when killed by Gridley police Body cameras recorded shooting of timid man in mental crisis

  1. Let’s get this straight: Gridley PD shoots down a young man in a mental crisis. Is that how police in Butte County “protect and serve” people with mental illness? Any innocent child at play, neighbor, passerby, dog walker, or car driving down the street could have been hit by the “peace officers.” This is called “friendly fire,” but it is NOT friendly to the public or the family of the victim. The killing was in a residential alleyway in the middle of the afternoon, yet the officers used bullets, not brains, to detain and secure an ill person. Finally, the City of Grifley leadership obstructs the release of public records from the alleged investigation. The good people of Gridley and Butte County should be horrified.

  2. Hello David:

    Gripping and evocotive reporting. I’m not surprised. You were in the “top two” of my professors at Chico State; not to take anything away from the gravity of the incident you reported on.


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