Investigators on the scene after officers shot Juan Luis Castro on a rural road in Kings County.
(Hanford Police Department)
It was Nov. 27, 2017, at about 3 p.m. when Hanford police Officer Jeff Davis first heard a dispatch about a deadly shooting in the small Central Valley town of Lemoore. Minutes later, he noticed a blue Dodge Charger at a traffic stop. He checked the license plate numbers against those he’d just written down on his hand.
“I put two and two together and I thought, well, this has got to be the suspect in the Lemoore shooting,” Davis told investigators later, according to documents recently released by the Hanford Police Department.
What happened that day resulted in a months-long investigation into how the Hanford police handled a high-speed car chase and eventually a deadly confrontation. Hours of body-camera footage and dozens of documents from the Hanford Police Department, Kings County Sheriff’s Office and the Kings County District Attorney’s Office give unprecedented insight into the crucial moments when police officers made life-and-death decisions.
For decades, records of police misconduct and use of deadly force have been kept secret in California for the most part. But that changed when a new state law, SB 1421, took effect on Jan. 1, 2019. The new law allows public access to records of sexual assault by on-duty peace officers, of lying by officers on police reports or testimony, of police shootings and any other officer use of force resulting in serious injury or death.
Below is the story of how an officer-involved shooting in Kings County unfolded, as told through testimony given to investigators and analysis of video footage from cameras worn by officers.
It started in the early afternoon when a woman named Danielle Dever was found shot in her home in Lemoore, allegedly by her boyfriend, Juan Luis Castro. Her parents called the police and an alert was issued for Castro’s car — the blue Dodge Charger.
Once Officer Davis was sure he had the right car, he turned on his siren. Davis and several other officers chased Castro down rural roads, reaching speeds of 100 mph.
Davis radioed his boss, Cpl. Chris Barker. “Hey, if we slow down to anything under 30, Code 4 to do a PIT maneuver?” asked Davis.
Davis was hoping for an opportunity to execute a so-called PIT maneuver, in which he would bump into Castro’s car, spin it and bring it to a stop. He got the OK.
“It’s a rural road, with dirt on either side. There are no other dangers,” he later told investigators.
The maneuver worked and Castro’s car was stopped. Four other police cars pulled up around the Dodge Charger. Barker yelled at Castro, “Keep your hands up, get your other one up.”
According to documents and a review of the video camera footage, the officers couldn’t see if Castro had a gun, because he’d opened the door of his car and it was blocking their view.
“Crawl out, get on the ground,” Barker shouted.
But Castro replied that he couldn’t.
Barker considered his options. He looked in his car trunk for his beanbag shotgun, but it wasn’t there.
“Ain’t got my less lethal,” Barker can be heard saying to himself in the body-camera footage.
Another officer suggested using a taser, but Barker said there wasn’t a clear shot and he didn’t want to chance it.
Meanwhile, Barker asked Castro to show his hands with increasing urgency, but instead, Castro mumbled something about his family and how they were going to kill him.
Barker later told investigators what ran through his mind in that moment.
“This is going to go to suicide by cop,” Barker said, referring to situations in which a person provokes police to shoot them. “Or a suicide, or shoot it out with us.”
To Castro, Barker said, “Come on man, just let us help you.”
Castro replied, “Just let me breathe.”
After a few more minutes of deadlock, Officer Davis said he sensed a shift in Castro.
“At one point I saw the guy start breathing real heavy and I told Chris, Corporal Barker, I said, ‘Hey this guy’s starting to breathe heavy, something’s gonna happen,’ ” Davis told investigators.
As the tension mounted, a sheriff’s dog that had arrived on the scene began barking. Kings County Sheriff’s Deputy Dakota Fausnett threatened to send in the dog if Castro didn’t start cooperating.
“Last chance!” Fausnett yelled.
Castro still didn’t move.
The next action set off a rapid and deadly chain of events.
Deputy Fausnett released the dog, which ran at Castro, snarling. Castro’s right hand finally came out — holding a gun.
He shot at the dog and Fausnett, and Barker fired back.
The exchange of fire was quick and Castro fell to the ground.
Barker later described the scene to investigators: “He's looking at me, his eyes basically roll back in his head and so I, it looks like the threat stopped. I kicked the gun out of the way.”
The entire confrontation, from the beginning of the car chase to Castro’s death, lasted about 15 minutes. No officers were injured. The dog had been shot in the leg but survived.
An autopsy later found that Castro was shot six times. It also revealed that Castro had methamphetamine in his blood at the time of death.
Immediately after the shooting, per protocol at the Hanford Police Department and Kings County Sheriff’s Office, an investigation was initiated into whether the use of deadly force was necessary.
After a six-month investigation, the Kings County district attorney concluded that the officers’ actions were justified “in accordance with the law of defense of self and others.”
“The deputy and officer would have been derelict in their duties had they not engaged Juan Castro in the manner in which they did,” wrote District Attorney Keith Fagundes.
Fagundes also cited California case law that ruled that peace officers may use deadly force when they believe that they're in imminent peril. “ ‘Imminent peril’ means that the peril must have existed or appeared to have existed at the very time the shot(s) was/were fired,” Fagundes wrote in his report.
“I don’t know a cop in this world that would approach him [Castro], you know, any differently,” said Cmdr. Mark Bevens of the Kings County Sheriff’s Office in a recent interview.
Bevens was not directly involved in the shooting or investigation, although he works in the same agency as the officers who were involved. He agreed that some of the less lethal options the officers had considered, like using a taser, would not have made sense tactically.
“You’d have to leave a position of cover to use it, you’d have to get in close, and in doing so, you’d have to put your gun away,” he said.
The district attorney’s office concluded that Castro had shot and killed his girlfriend, Danielle Dever. Bevens added that the gun Castro used to shoot at officers was the same gun used to kill Dever.
We were unable to identify living family members of Castro to contact for this story.
This story was produced as part of the California Reporting Project, a collaboration of more than 30 newsrooms across the state to obtain and report on police misconduct and serious use-of-force records unsealed in 2019.