General Crime

* Shooting of Jose Penaloza Soto during a marijuana eradication operation sheriff’s deputies found justified

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The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office has determined that the fatal shooting of a man by sheriff’s deputies during a marijuana eradication operation last year was justified. Following an investigation into the July 21, 2010, shooting of Jose Penaloza Soto, 28, District Attorney Jeff Rosen, along with senior prosecutors, decided the deputies were legally justified because they were acting in self-defense and in defense of other deputies.

The district attorney’s office deemed that the use of force by Deputies Gregg Dibert, Devin Fontana, John Spagnola, and Mike Damigo was in response to Soto allegedly holding a folding knife, aiming a pellet rifle at them, and ignoring their orders to drop his weapon. Soto’s pellet rifle looked like a firearm and the deputies had no reason to suspect otherwise, according to the district attorney’s office. The shooting occurred while deputies were investigating a large-scale, illegal marijuana grow operation in a remote and rural part of the county.

As they approached the grow, they saw Soto with a rifle in his hands and yelled at him in English and Spanish to put down the rifle and raise his arms. Soto initially complied by lowering the barrel of the rifle, but then he lowered his hands and allegedly pointed the rifle at the deputies. Three deputies responded by opening fire from about 140 feet away and shooting and killing Soto.Soto’s autopsy indicated Soto suffered two gunshot wounds to his back right thigh and additional gunshot wounds to the left upper arm, left chest under the armpit and left abdomen.

The investigation revealed that Soto had moved to the U.S. from Mexico when he was 17. Deputies were clearing six marijuana gardens with 18,342 plants worth an estimated street value of $55 million. Deputies also found a campsite near the grow operation which contained two additional pellet rifles, a .22-caliber rifle and ammunition for various caliber firearms.The marijuana eradication was a joint operation by the Alameda County and Santa Clara County sheriff’s offices.

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