DA concludes SPPD officer acted in self-defense in shooting incident

July 20, 2011
Santa Paula News

The Ventura County District Attorney’s Office has ruled a Santa Paula Police Officer was legally justified and acted in self-defense when he shot a mentally ill man in a garage who reportedly rebuffed repeated requests to drop a pair of 10-inch sewing scissors and moved toward police with the shears.

Phillip Guevara, 44, was paralyzed in the shooting, which came after he visited his stepmother’s home seeking a place to hide from the enemy that voices “in his head” warned would “break his face” and skin him alive.

Senior Officer Scott Varner shot Guevara on October 6, 2010 after responding to a report of a man causing a disturbance at a residence in the 400 block of North 10th Street.

The 38-page report prepared by Senior Deputy District Attorney John West that was released last week notes Varner was unaware of Guevara’s mental health history, although police suspected he was under the influence of drugs. Before Varner shot Guevara with his handgun and Officer Walter Harper fired a Taser almost simultaneously, Varner ordered Guevara more than 40 times to drop the 10-inch shears.

The encounter - which was captured on an audio recording device per SPPD policy - ended in shots after Guevara refused to drop the shears, stood up from a sofa, turned toward the officers, slightly raised the hand holding the scissors, and moved toward police in what “appeared to be a lunging motion,” according to the report. “The evidence establishes that Sr. Officer Varner discharged his weapon in an honest response to a perceptible threat of deadly force,” West wrote.

One of the two bullets Varner fired severed Guevara’s spinal cord, and relatives told authorities he became paralyzed from the waist down, West wrote.

The evidence and witness statements left little doubt that Guevara was widely perceived as a threat, including by Lourdes Tamayo, the widow of Guevara’s deceased father. According to the report, Tamayo called police when Guevara showed up and asked for a place to hide because she knew he was mentally ill and was afraid of him.

Tamayo let Guevara into her garage, and when police arrived a neighbor translated for her, noting she did not want him there and that he was acting “kind of paranoid,” according to the report.

Varner had not met him and did not know his mental health history when he and Harper entered the garage, where Guevara was sitting on a couch watching television. He told investigators he was not hearing the voices, but he had armed himself for protection against the enemy that the voices had warned him would “break his face,” skin him alive, cut off his legs and then take him to Folsom Prison.

Guevara - who was prescribed medication for a bipolar condition, but told investigators he had not taken it for months - had numerous run-ins with law enforcement and criminal convictions before the shooting incident, including an attempted bank robbery in Fillmore. On several occasions Guevara had contact with the SPPD as well with Ventura Police, encounters that led to Guevara being taken to mental health or jail. During a 2003 encounter with the SPPD, Guevara threw a duffle bag at officers before charging them with his fists raised even after he was pepper sprayed.

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