Few details in Salinas police shooting
One Salinas officer says he thought he had been shot before opening fire

The Salinas Californian | February 6, 2009
By Jack Foley

Police opened fire on an unarmed couple during a routine traffic stop late Tuesday night because one officer "thought he was shot," a high-ranking Salinas Police Department official said Thursday.

"He saw what he perceived as a threat and thought he was shot, and based on that both officers discharged their firearms," said Dino Bardoni, commander of investigations.

No one was hurt in the 11:24 p.m. incident at North Sanborn Road and Freedom Parkway, but the couple's SUV was riddled with bullet holes and its rear window was shattered.

Police are releasing few details about the incident or case and have characterized it as a "priority investigation," Bardoni said.

It's the fourth officer-involved shooting in the city in the past seven months, two of which were fatal.

Interim Police Chief Daniel Ortega refused to discuss the most recent case, referring all questions to Bardoni.

Bardoni said the incident began when one officer stopped the vehicle because one of its license plate lights was not working. He was joined shortly thereafter by a second officer.

Bardoni said the primary officer was in the midst of contacting the vehicle's occupants, a driver and passenger, when the problem began.

"He was walking up to them, nothing out of the ordinary," Bardoni said, when there was the perception of a threat and the officer thought he'd been shot.

Police later determined that the couple was unarmed.

Neither of the vehicle's occupants was arrested or cited.

The couple, Adrianna Velasquez and Julio Fernandez, could not be reached for comment.

Bardoni declined to identify the officers or to confirm or deny that one of them is the same officer who was involved in the tragic shooting death last year of Maria Irma Del La Torre, 45, of Salinas.

She was shot and killed when officers mistook a knitting needle for an ice pick and said she lunged at them. De La Torre was taking medication for epileptic seizures at the time of her death.