Unarmed Suspect Allegedly Fired Officer's Rifle in Bizarre Fatal Police Shooting in Napa

A screenshot from Napa city police Officer Christopher Simas' body camera several minutes before he would fatally shoot David Molina on Dec. 5, 2018. (Via Napa Police Department)

David Molina had dropped the .38 revolver he was allegedly carrying by the end of a five-minute foot chase on Dec. 5, which led the pursuing Napa city police officer through an apartment complex and into a woody ravine, according to a description of the case and video clips from the officers' body camera released Monday.

But that didn't prevent Molina from firing a weapon — Officer Christopher Simas' semi-automatic rifle — moments before Simas himself used the rifle to shoot Molina dead, according to Napa Police Chief Robert Plummer's description of what Simas' body-camera video shows and does not show about the case.

The case is the first test for the Napa Police Department's relatively new body-camera program.

"The body cameras for the Napa Police Department are new. We've only been operational with those for the last 30 days," Plummer said. "Without that body-worn camera, it would have been more difficult to determine what actually occurred."


Caller Identifies Molina by Name

A 911 caller told a police dispatcher that "we just had a guy put hands on my girlfriend," about 1:48 a.m. on Dec. 5., near the corner of Soscol Avenue and River Glen Drive.

"His name is David Molina," the caller said, adding that Molina displayed the handle of a revolver that was tucked into his waist-band. "My girlfriend's really scared right now. I'm holding myself back from going after him."

The caller told the police dispatcher he did not know Molina well.

KQED has learned the caller's identity, however. He described Molina as "a good friend of mine who was struggling emotionally," in a video posted to Facebook on Monday. We are not identifying the caller because it's unclear the Police Department meant to publicize his name, or if he knew that his identity would be released.

The Police Department did not return a call seeking clarification about the caller's identification.

"I can still feel my buddy David with me, no matter where I go or whatever I'm doing," the caller said. "I know he's got me no matter what."

The Napa County Register reported last week that Molina had been hanging out that evening with a couple who were dating, but there was an argument, and they'd kicked him out of their car. Molina later returned to the couple's apartment, his father told the newspaper, attempting to retrieve his wallet and cellphone.

Officer Arrives

Simas contacted Molina three minutes after the 911 call at Soscol Avenue and Stonehouse Drive, a few blocks south of the alleged assault. He asked Molina, "What's your name?" as he exited his squad car. Molina can be seen on the officer's body-camera video riding a skateboard. He quickly changed direction when he saw Simas. The officer ran across the street and into Molina's path, appearing to push him off his skateboard.

"Put your hands up," the officer said.

"Why, dude?" Molina said.

"Someone said you have a gun," Simas said.

A few seconds later, Simas can be seen raising an AR-15 semi-automatic .223-caliber rifle, illuminating Molina with a gun-mounted light on the darkened street.

"Don't point that shit at me, dude," Molina said.

Simas continued giving commands, telling Molina to put his hands up, show his hands and not reach into his pockets.

Molina can be seen putting his hands in the air, but even as he does, he's walking away from Simas.

"Get away from me, dude," Molina said just before he dropped his hands and broke into a run.

Simas ran after him.

Chase Into a Ravine

The chase proceeded through an apartment complex south of Stonehouse Drive, then through a dog park, over a fence and into a ravine, according to Plummer's account.

Molina continues to walk, jog and run away from the officer through the wooded area, refusing the officer's commands to keep his hands up.

Simas eventually caught up to Molina, who appeared on the video to be squatting in some bushes.

"Do you have a gun or not?" the officer asked, breathing heavily.

"No, dude," Molina said.

Plummer said the .38-caliber revolver was recovered about 75 feet away from the final confrontation, near where Molina jumped the fence.

The officer never saw the weapon, Plummer said, but he saw Molina reaching repeatedly toward his waist.

"Officer Simas did not know that the weapon had fell out of his pocket — or fell off his person — at that time," Plummer said.

Molina can be seen on the video placing his hands on the back of his head, and Simas appears to be handcuffing him. The video becomes obstructed after the officer puts one handcuff on.

"He’s able to get one handcuff on, the left handcuff," Plummer said. "At that point, there’s a struggle. They start to fight."

The officer says "Stop!" with more urgency. "Keep your hands up."

"You're a bitch," Molina said. "Let me go."

"Put your hand behind your back now," Simas said.

"Or what?" Molina repeated three times.

Two Rounds of Gunfire

Then the sound of muffled gunshots, apparently Simas' rifle firing into the dirt several times, can be heard as the officer curses.

"The rifle was wedged between Officer Simas and the subject, Molina," Plummer said, noting that this is what he believes occurred at this early stage of the investigation: Molina fired Simas' rifle with one of his hands behind his back.

"His hand's back there where the rifle is, and that's how he's able to manipulate the trigger," Plummer said.

"What are you gonna do?" Molina asked after the muffled gunshots stop.

Heavy breathing heard over a black screen continues on the video for approximately 14 seconds. Then Molina can be heard saying, "Fuck you, dude," as Simas can be heard racking the rifle.

Plummer said the gun had jammed after the first group of muffled shots, which apparently fired into the dirt.

"The officer recharges the weapon," Plummer said. "Molina then says some curse words and comes toward the officer. The officer, fearing that he was already in a struggle for his life at this point, discharges his weapon."

Five much louder gunshots can be heard on the video. Molina was struck four times, Plummer said. Simas initiated CPR, but Molina was later pronounced dead at the scene.

Ongoing Investigation

Molina, 27, was a repeat felon and lifelong resident of Napa, Plummer said, citing prior convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and burglary.

Had Molina survived, he would also have been charged with attempted murder on a police officer, among other crimes, Plummer said.

Two additional firearms were discovered in a search of Molina's home, Plummer said, including a .38 starter pistol and a short-barrel rifle.

Molina had made suicidal and homicidal statements in the days leading up to the shooting, Plummer said, but he did not elaborate.

The case continues to be investigated by the Napa County Sheriff's Office, the county district attorney and the Police Department.

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