DA Declines to File Charges Against Officer Wright – In early January, the Vanguard ran a story about Kevin Hughey, a West Sacramento attorney who, along with his wife, are suing the West Sacramento Police Department in the United States District Court in Sacramento for excessive use of force, unreasonable search and seizure, and a failure of municipality to train officers.
Kevin Hughey was shot by former West Sacramento Police Officer Christopher Wright on the evening of July 9, 2012, which left Mr. Hughey shot in the abdomen and in need of emergency surgery. (See full article).
Mr. Hughey file a formal complaint against the West Sacramento Police Department. Lt. David Delaini of the West Sacramento Police Department, working at the time in the professional standards unit, would write Mr. Moenig on May 10, 2013.
“The letter is being sent to inform you that a thorough investigation into the complaint you filed on behalf of your client Mr. Hughey has been completed by Lieutenant Delaini,” the letter stated. “The finding for the allegation of excessive force has been SUSTAINED.”
The Vanguard also received a copy of a letter from former Police Chief Dan Drummond to District Attorney Jeff Reisig, dated May 23, 2013, in which he wrote, “The West Sacramento Police Department would like to request that your office specifically review the actions of Officer Christopher Wright in order to determine if his conduct of that evening was criminal in nature.”
The Vanguard has acquired correspondence between the Assistant Chief Deputy DA Michael Cabral and West Sacramento Police Chief, Thomas McDonald.
On November 15, Mr. Cabral wrote, “The Yolo County District Attorney’s Office, as an independent agency, has completed its investigation and review of the above referenced officer involved use of force.” He clarified that they are only addressing whether there “is sufficient evidence to support the filing of criminal charges” against Officer Christopher Wright.
He concluded, “We conclude that the use of force in this case does not warrant the filing of criminal charges against Officer Christopher Wright.”
Critically, he wrote, “In evaluating the totality of the circumstances under a reasonable doubt standard, we have considered and analyzed the opinions and conclusions set forth in the December 20, 2012 report from Hughey Moenig, Attorneys at Law.”
Mr. Cabral noted, “The report reflects that on balance they believe that the use of force was unreasonable.” He cited evidence that there was a crime occurring within the residence and but also “that there is evidentiary support for the proposition that there was a struggle between Officer Christopher Wright and Kevin Hughey prior to the discharge of the weapon” and “that there is evidence that Officer Christopher Wright believed that he had an injured victim and that if he was disarmed he and his partner were at risk of suffering death or great bodily injury.”
However, Mr. Cabral’s statement seems detached from the evidence that we have viewed in this case.
First, while it is true that, in order to convict an individual of a crime, the DA’s office must be able to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt – in order to arrest, charge, and obtain a holding order, the standard of proof is probable cause. The DA’s office, in several of the investigations in which they have investigated police officers as opposed to regular citizens, used a far higher standard for charging.
More critically, however, is that their investigation differs with the Vanguard’s understanding of the facts at hand. Mr. Cabral writes that there is “evidentiary support” indicating a struggle, but the only evidence of that struggle is testimony from the officer in question. Officer Markus, in fact, never saw a struggle, and neither did anyone else.
In January, the Vanguard reported that it was able to view a video obtained by attorneys for Mr. Hughey. We have posted the video below along with the transcription of the audio provided by Mr. Hughey’s attorneys.
While the recording had distortions and was difficult to hear, using noise reducing headphones, the Vanguard able to verify the accuracy of the transcript.
Visible in the recording, the West Sacramento police arrived in the alleyway in patrol cars. “The security guard attempted to speak with them and informed Officer Markus that he had just spoken to the residents only moments before about the garage door being open. The security guard did not report anything unusual such as violence or calls for help,” the Complaint states.
Sgt. Markus can be heard stating that “they were there for a different matter.”
The officers can be seen on the video walking past a fence where apparently they “had an unobstructed view inside the Hughey home through two glass sliding doors that lacked any blinds or curtains and proceeded to look into the open garage.”
At this point the video no longer captured Officer Wright; however, as Sgt. Markus ran toward the door, the audio captured what took place.
The video and transcript together show the idea of a struggle prior to the shooting is unlikely at best. It appears the officer is pounding on the door, yells and as he is in the process of ordering the door open, the shot goes off. That evidence would preclude the officer’s statement, as well as the DA’s justification for failing to file criminal charges.
The CSI report (see below) taken on Monday July 9, 2012, by CSI Pagano reported that “the front door of the residence was opened and showed signs of forced entry. The lock plate was broken and a large crack split the surrounding wood.”
The report continued, “A corresponding boot mark was on the exterior of the door near the dead bolt area and door handle. The boot impression was believed to have been left by Officer Wright.”
The CSI’s report is consistent with the statement from Mrs. Hughey in which she described a loud bang on the door “which sounded like someone had kicked the door.”
After about three to four kicks, Mrs. Hughey heard a man’s voice yell, “Open the door, Police!” Mrs. Hughey was trying to get hold of the deadbolt, but because of the forceful kicks and jarring of the door, Mrs. Hughey was unable to get a good grasp, so she called out, “I’m unlocking the door, hold on! I’m unlocking the door!”
“Standing several feet inside the residence entryway, the door flung open and Mr. Hughey immediately saw a police officer with handgun drawn and pointed and instantly began to raise his hands in a common surrender position. At the same instant, Wright’s service weapon fires a single shot,” the Complaint alleges.
“Very confused and uncertain what just happened, Mr. Hughey immediately felt excruciating pain in his abdomen and spine. He grabbed at his abdomen, looked down and saw blood gushing from his left side. Shocked and terrified, Mr. Hughey realized Officer Wright had just shot him,” it continues.
Officer Wright, yelled, “Get on the ground! Get the fuck down!” Ms. Hughey was nine months pregnant at the time and struggled to get on the floor.
The plaintiffs allege that at this point Sgt. Markus inquired as to why a shot had been fired. According to the Complaint, “Officer Wright immediately lied and stated that Mr. Hughey reached for his gun in an effort to cover up Wright’s wrongful act.”
However, they argue, “Officer Wright’s immediate statement failed to explain why he proceeded to kick the door in, why his gun was out of its holster and why he would pull the trigger instantly and near-fatally shooting Mr. Hughey.”
According to their recording, Officer Wright continued to make false statements as police officers attended to Mr. Hughey’s wounds. The bullet went through Mr. Hughey, ricocheted off his pelvis and continued up to Mr. Hughey’s spine fracturing vertebrae (with the bullet ultimately resting and lodging onto Mr. Hughey’s spine); officers pinned Mr. Hughey to the floor and handcuffed him before he was rushed for emergency, life-saving surgery.
News 10 in Sacramento ran two news segments on the story that are embedded below:
—David M. Greenwald reporting