Three Salinas police officers who shot and killed a 20-year-old woman in Salinas on March 1, 2019 will not be charged with any crime.
Monterey County District Attorney Jeannine Pacioni determined, the three officers acted in self-defense when they shot Brenda Rodriguez Mendoza nine times after hours of failed talks by a crisis team and trained hostage negotiators. Pacioni’s determination and some details of the investigation were announced in a letter to Salinas Police Chief Adele Fresé on Sept. 18 and a press release on Sept. 19.
Around 11am on March 1, police responded to a call about a dispute at a home on Laurel Street between North Sanborn and Towt. They found Rodriguez Mendoza outside her boyfriend’s mother’s house, locked in a Ford Explorer.
Her boyfriend’s mother had placed the 911 call, reporting that Rodriguez Mendoza threatened to kill her with a screwdriver.
Negotiations with police officers and a team including a mental health professional lasted for two-and-a-half hours, until officers fired at 1:30pm, killing Rodriguez Mendoza.
According to Pacioni’s letter, Rodriguez Mendoza told officers she had a gun. When she brandished an airsoft pistol, Pacioni writes, officers visibly flinched in body camera footage her team reviewed. “The shooting officers stated they believed the weapon was a real firearm because it had no red tip or anything else to distinguish it from a real firearm,” Pacioni wrote.
It was a fatal end to a tragic time for Rodriguez, who gave birth to her first child barely a month before the shooting. Her daughter, Victoria Guadalupe, was placed in the care of the Monterey County Social Services Department because the new mom was found to have drugs in her system and had no place to live, Rodriguez’s mom, Mireya Mendoza, told the Weekly.
After five days in psychiatric care at Natividad, she was determined to get her life on track and get her daughter back.
“She was talking about fixing her life,” Mireya Mendoza said days after the shooting. “She told me she wanted to finish her high school diploma and become a CNA (certified nursing assistant) and give her baby a better life. And she was OK.
“I don’t know what happened. She was trying to do everything right.”
In the hours before the 911 call, Rodriguez Mendoza—who had just run out of bipolar medication—sent her mother messages threatening to kill herself. During the hours she was locked in the car, she called her mom and expressed suicidal thoughts.
The Salinas Police Department asked the DA’s office to investigate the shooting, per a new policy implemented in the wake of four police shooting deaths and a review of the U.S. Department of Justice on how to rebuild trust between community members and law enforcement officers. In her letter to Fresé, Pacioni reviews the legal basis for her decision not to file charges.
“Pursuant to state and federal law, any person—including a peace officer—is allowed to use deadly force in self-defense or in defense of others if the person reasonably believes the immediate use of deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent danger of great bodily injury or death,” she wrote. “The danger does not need to have actually existed as long as the person reasonably believed the danger existed.”