An 18-year-old west Medford man shot and killed by police Jan. 22 after he charged them with a knife had been arrested five weeks earlier in Santa Cruz, Calif., on suspicion of assault.
“He used a baseball bat and hit his father,” said Jesus Delgadillo, assistant district attorney in Santa Cruz County, adding the injuries did not appear to be serious.
A little more than a month later, Elias Angel Ruiz came out the front door of his house in the 800 block of Pennsylvania Avenue and attempted to slash officers with a butcher knife, causing one of the officers to open fire. Ruiz was pronounced dead at the scene.
What prompted Ruiz to confront police is unknown. But details of his recent past — including that he may have been bullied at school and had occasional outbursts at home — and the chaos that surrounded those few seconds are revealed in a Medford police investigation, obtained recently by the Mail Tribune.
Officers and witnesses described a wild scene in which two bullets whizzed down a residential street, striking a neighbor’s Mazda Miata and a concrete porch. In the midst of the confusion, a police officer mistakenly feared he had been wounded by a stray bullet after he fell to the ground, injuring his hip.
“I think I’ve been hit,” Medford Officer Brian Hall told another officer shortly after he fired Taser darts at Ruiz while falling to the ground.
The darts didn’t stop Ruiz, who was wearing a bulletproof vest under his clothing.
Officer Jason Antley fired six rounds from his .40-caliber Glock handgun at Ruiz. Five rounds penetrated Ruiz’s body.
Hall told investigators he felt the energy of the shots from Antley’s gun blasting past his face, but he was not struck. He told another officer at the scene he was fearful that Ruiz was going to stab him.
Hall and Antley were the only officers who approached the front door of the Ruiz house. According to police reports, the confrontation between the officers and Ruiz took place within a 6-foot area. After Antley fired his gun, he also fell backwards while retreating, the reports said.
Antley said later he had worried about crossfire because of his close proximity to Hall, who was attempting to pull his gun out of his holster while he was on the ground.
Prior to the Medford shooting, Ruiz had been arguing with his mother, Maria Alejandra Ruiz, according to police reports.
A neighbor, Evonne Maxine Hubbard, said the mother told her a dispute erupted inside the house when the Ruiz family was preparing dinner. Hubbard said the mother took a meat cleaver away from her son, who then smashed a picture frame over his head.
Hubbard said Ruiz’s mother told her she initially didn’t want to call police because it would make the situation worse. Police responded to 9-1-1 calls from Ruiz and his mother.
Hubbard told police there had been a lot of conflict in the family and Elias Ruiz had been bullied at school, but did not elaborate further.
Hubbard indicated she overheard an officer apologizing to Ruiz’s mother shortly after the shooting. “I’m sorry,” the officer reportedly said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t have a choice.”
Medford police Lt. Curtis Whipple said he observed Ruiz’s mother yelling at Antley, asking him why he had shot her son. Whipple took Antley from the scene to avoid any further volatility, his report said.
At police headquarters, Ruiz’s mother declined medical assistance, Whipple said. “She was emotional and advised she did not want any additional help from MPD because she did not want to be shot,” he said. He said a private party took the mother to Rogue Valley Medical Center.
Lt. Mike Budreau, Public Information Officer, said in an interview he couldn’t see any other course of action the officers could have taken that would have avoided the shooting. Prior to knocking on the front door, the officers attempted to call Ruiz by cellphone.
“If he is actively hurting himself, there’s got to be some attempt to try and save him,” he said. “I don’t see any Monday morning quarterbacking about how we could do things differently.”
In many other calls, officers have saved lives by intervening in suicide attempts, he said.
“Not responding is not an option,” Budreau said. “He could still die while they are outside waiting. Most of the time, we are able to talk people out of it and into medical attention.”
Budreau said one of the biggest surprises for officers in the shooting was the bulletproof vest Ruiz wore under his clothes.
The vest was traced to Florida but is the same type issued to Medford police, though officers also insert trauma plates into pockets on the vest for additional protection. Police said they don’t know how Ruiz obtained the vest.
The hollow-tipped bullets used by police are generally designed to hit a target, then mushroom out so they don’t come out the other side and injure a bystander, Budreau said.
One of the five bullets that hit Ruiz apparently exited his body and flew down the street, though investigators haven’t determined which one.
Budreau said one of the stray bullets dented the driver’s side rear quarter panel of the Mazda Miata. The bullet bounced off the car, ending up a few feet from the car, he said.
The investigation into the shooting has concluded, Budreau said, though investigators are still awaiting completion of the toxicology report on Ruiz to determine if he was drinking or using drugs.
The Ruiz family could not be reached, but the family has hired the firm of Kafoury & McDougal to investigate whether the police response was excessive.
The Ruiz family had earlier called the shooting unjustified, though a Jackson County grand jury determined on Feb. 8 it was justified.
The Santa Cruz District Attorney’s Office said Ruiz did not resist arrest when a deputy from Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office responded to reports of a fight at 8:24 a.m. Dec. 16 in a residential neighborhood about a mile from the Pacific Ocean.
The father’s injuries didn’t require medical treatment, according to Delgadillo. Ramiro Adame Ruiz told police he and his son had been arguing prior to the assault, Delgadillo said.
Delgadillo said he found no information that Ruiz was involved in any gang activity.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.