San Jose, CA – Two veteran San Jose police officers, who fatally shot a heavily armed man at a power plant in January, were legally justified in their use of deadly force, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office announced on Tuesday (video below).
Bodycam footage captured the officers’ encounter with 27-year-old Thompson Nguyen.
Nguyen was a mentally-ill man who had exhibited paranoia and lashed out violently towards his family members in the past, The Mercury News reported.
“Any reasonable officer would conclude that Nguyen, whether as a result of a mental health issue or not, had decided that he was going to die that day and that if he had to attack an officer with a weapon to make it happen, he was going to do so,” Deputy District Attorney David Boyd wrote in his report.
The incident began at about 5 p.m. on Jan. 9, when workers at the Metcalf Energy Center spotted Nguyen wandering the facility grounds, The Mercury News reported.
Employees told detectives that they initially thought Nguyen might have been lost, but said they were also concerned about a security breach.
When the workers tried to speak with Nguyen, he acted as if they weren’t even there, they told the investigators.
“This guy wasn’t on the same world I was on,” Metcalf Energy Center General Manager Terry Mahoney told the detectives at the time.
San Jose Police Officer Douglas Potwora was the first to respond to the employees’ 911 call.
When he arrived at the scene, he looked into Nguyen’s abandoned Mercedes-Benz, and spotted a large sword lying on the driver’s seat, The Mercury News reported.
San Jose Police Sergeant Jarrod Nunes was notified about the items inside the suspect’s vehicle he pulled up at the power plant.
“He’s got swords, weapons – all kinds of stuff – meth pipe,” an officer told the sergeant in the video. “I can see it in the center console through the window there.”
Before Sgt. Nunes exited his patrol car, he radioed for someone with less-lethal weapons to head their direction.
The officers then placed tire-deflating devices next to the tires of Nguyen’s vehicle.
“Hey! He’s right here,” an officer suddenly yelled out. “Right there behind the gate.”
Sgt. Nunes and Officer Timothy Faye rushed after Nguyen and ordered him to drop the hatchet he was holding in his right hand, The Mercury News reported.
In his left hand, Nguyen clutched a long pipe, the video showed.
“He has an ax in his hand and he’s refusing to drop it,” one officer said over the radio, as Nguyen turned and walked away.
The officers continued to issue commands as they followed the armed suspect across the power plant property, and Sgt. Nunes again requested units with less-lethal weapons to come to their location.
“We wanna talk to you, bud,” one of the officers shouted to Nguyen.
“I didn’t do anything!” he hollered back.
“We’re not saying you did!” Sgt. Nunes assured him. “Hey – we don’t wanna shoot.”
“Shoot me! Shoot me!” Nguyen told the officers.
Sgt. Nunes again told the armed man that they had no desire to shoot him, but he persisted.
Nguyen then turned and headed past a patrol vehicle towards the area where Officer Adam Hutson was positioned, The Mercury News reported.
“Shoot me,” the suicidal man said in the video. “Kill me.”
“Stop!” the officers yelled as Nguyen continued his advance.
Officer Hutson fired his duty weapon four times, at which point Officer Faye fired four rounds from his rifle, The Mercury News reported.
Nguyen immediately collapsed onto the ground, and was pronounced dead approximately 10 minutes later. He had been hit five times.
Toxicology reports later revealed that he was under the influence of methamphetamine and amphetamine at the time of the incident, the San Francisco Gate reported.
In his report, Sgt. Nunes wrote that “a baton, OC spray, or a Taser would have been ineffective against Nguyen,” and said the less-lethal options were not immediately available, according to The Mercury News.
Investigators later discovered that, in addition to the ax and pipe, the suspect was carrying multiple knives, pepper spray, handcuffs, and a fake police badge when he was shot.
In his vehicle, officers recovered nunchucks, three pipes, seven kitchen knives, and a sword.
Nguyen also kept two journals, which contained notes about his beliefs that he was a god who was possessed by aliens. He said he believed that the power company was “putting microchips in his head to erase his memory,” The Mercury News reported.
But Asian Law Alliance spokesperson Richard Konda disagreed with Boyd’s findings, and argued that officers didn’t try hard enough to de-escalate the situation, KPIX reported.
“Although he’s saying a lot of different things, he’s walking away from them, not toward them. That’s the troubling part of it,” Konda said. ““It seems like there should have been some way to de-escalate the situation. It seems as soon as the officers arrived, things got escalated.”
According to Boyd’s report, Nguyen’s family members said he had threatened his brother with a knife in 2017, The Mercury News reported.
They took him to a family therapy session, but Nguyen refused to cooperate with their efforts to get him into psychiatric care.
In September of 2017, he was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold, but was released less than a day later.
According to police, Nguyen’s criminal history included weapons violations, drug offenses, and a resisting arrest charge, The Mercury News reported.
He was also had a warrant out of Santa Cruz County for brandishing a sword.
Officer Hutson and Officer Faye were placed on paid administrative leave after the officer-involved shooting while the incident was under investigation.
You can watch the officers’ encounter with Nguyen in the video below: