WCDA OIS Report
District Attorney Releases Findings on March 2, 2017 Officer Involved Shooting Incident
For Immediate Release
Contact: Michelle Bays
775.321.4304 (o); 775.771.6049 (c)
Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks has released his findings on the March 2, 2017 Officer Involved Shooting (OIS) incident involving the Reno Police Department (RPD) and Rafael Navarro-Garcia. On that date, RPD detectives conducted a traffic stop of a vehicle occupied by Navarro-Garcia, who had an active warrant for his arrest and was a suspect in a recent homicide. The stop quickly escalated into a deadly confrontation when Navarro-Garcia shot an RPD officer while officers were making contact with the occupants of the stopped vehicle. Two RPD officers responded by returning fire and Navarro-Garcia was struck and ultimately declared dead. The OIS protocol was initiated and the case was forwarded to this office for a determination of whether the shooting was legally justified under Nevada law.
Finding that the shooting RPD officers were justified in their actions, District Attorney Hicks has released a 29 page report detailing his conclusions and the legal analysis applied to the case. A copy of the report will be made available on the WCDA’s Office’s website at https://www.washoecounty.us/da/newsroom/reports.php
Details of the report: On February 24, 2017, a homicide occurred at the intersection of Smithridge Drive and Filbert Road in Reno and RPD’s Robbery Homicide Unit identified Rafael Navarro-Garcia as a suspect. Additionally, Navarro-Garcia was a multi-convicted felon, a documented gang member, and had an active warrant for his arrest for violating his supervised release from federal prison after serving time for convictions on charges of ex-felon in possession of a firearm.
As a part of the homicide investigation, RPD detectives attempted to locate Navarro-Garcia and conduct surveillance in the hopes of obtaining additional evidence that may further the case. On March 2, 2017, detectives surveilled several locations associated with Navarro-Garcia. Soon into the surveillance, Navarro-Garcia was located parking his vehicle at his mother’s condominium complex on Smithridge Park Drive in Reno.
Navarro-Garcia entered his mother’s Nissan along with his mother, a 14 year old juvenile, and a 17 year old juvenile (“Juvenile B”). Juvenile B. was also wanted by law enforcement and was a person of interest in the same recent homicide. His mother drove, the 14 year old juvenile sat in the front passenger seat, Juvenile B. sat in the back driver’s side seat and Navarro-Garcia sat in the back passenger side seat. The party left the area, followed by law enforcement.
While the group was away, a detective approached Navarro-Garcia’s parked vehicle and saw an AK-47 style assault rifle and magazine tucked between the driver’s seat and center console, in plain view. Through subsequent forensic testing, this assault rifle was identified as the gun used in the February 24, 2017, homicide.
At that time, the Nissan and its occupants were returning to the Smithridge condominium complex. Due to the concern that Navarro-Garcia would return to access the AK-47, detectives abandoned the surveillance and opted to conduct a traffic stop and apprehend Navarro-Garcia and Juvenile B.
Unbeknownst to the two RPD officers conducting the traffic stop, Officer Rand Hutson and Officer Mike Harding, both Juvenile B. and Navarro-Garcia had handguns in their possession. Officer Harding approached the driver’s side of the Nissan and ordered Juvenile B. out of the vehicle. Juvenile B. refused and began to reach for his waistband area. Officer Harding grabbed Juvenile B.’s arm and a struggle ensued.
Observing the struggle, Officer Hutson opened the rear passenger door to gain control of Navarro-Garcia and assist his partner. Instead of complying, Navarro-Garcia produced a Glock .45 automatic handgun and shot Officer Hutson at close range in the lower torso. The seriously wounded officer recoiled away and fell to the ground, just outside the Nissan. Hearing the shot and his partner state, “He shot me!” Officer Harding drew his duty weapon as Navarro-Garcia was exiting the vehicle. Fearing for his safety, the safety of others in the area including his wounded partner, the officer fired towards Navarro-Garcia through the Nissan. He then saw Navarro-Garcia standing outside the vehicle holding a handgun.
Meanwhile, RPD Sergeant Andy Carter had arrived at the traffic stop and saw the struggle at the rear of the SUV. He began to run towards the SUV when he heard a gunshot and heard the statement by the first RPD officer that he had been shot.
Knowing that Navarro-Garcia had just shot a fellow officer and believing Navarro-Garcia was a continuing deadly threat to the public, both Sergeant Carter and Officer Harding fired their guns at Navarro-Garcia as he began running in the center of Kietzke Lane towards oncoming occupied vehicles, a restaurant with patrons, and a gas station with patrons. Navarro-Garcia was hit and fell to the ground.
REMSA personnel arrived on scene and transported Officer Hutson and Navarro-Garcia to Renown hospital. Navarro-Garcia succumbed to his injuries. The RPD Officer required multiple surgeries, but survived the shooting.
Consistent with the regionally-adopted Officer Involved Shooting (OIS) Protocol, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) led the investigation. The Sparks Police Department (SPD) provided secondary investigative support, RPD provided further needed support, and the Washoe County Crime Laboratory (WCCL) and Washoe County Medical Examiner’s Office (WCME) provided forensic investigative services.
All reports, along with WCCL and WCME reports, photographs, surveillance video and recorded interviews were then submitted to the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office in May of 2018, for a determination of whether the shooting of Navarro-Garcia was legally justified. No criminal charges were recommended by the WCSO. The District Attorney’s evaluation included reviewing hundreds of pages of reports and documents which included interviews of police and civilian witnesses. It further included the review of photographs, diagrams, video, recordings, and examination of the scene of the shooting.
Based on the available evidence and the applicable legal authorities, it is the opinion of the District Attorney that the shooting of Navarro-Garcia was justified and not a criminal act. District Attorney Hicks concluded in his report, “Sergeant Carter and Officer Harding actually and reasonably believed that it was absolutely necessary to use deadly force to stop the imminent threat of substantial bodily harm or death that Navarro-Garcia presented to the public.”