The calm is broken on what was a quiet Sunday morning at a four-story apartment building on Harding Avenue.
Neighbors report domestic violence coming from the third floor. Police officers arrive, bang and kick the apartment door, loudly telling the man who lives there to open his locked door. The man, refusing to open the door, can be heard by neighbors yelling expletives back at police and ranting.
He can be heard answering, “Get out of here,” in between police shouting at him to open the door and at one point he goes so far as to say, “Kick it in, son of a b***ch, I’m ready to die.”
The police — after unsuccessful attempts to use a pass key — use a ramming bar to break the door open. Five officers forcibly enter the apartment and, as they rush in, a knife according to police is spotted. Just seconds after entering, five shots quickly ring out.
Albert Garcia, 58, a long time tenant, is hit and falls just inside his bedroom.
San Fernando Police Department (SFPD) Chief Tony Vairo told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that his officers entered the apartment after they heard a woman inside scream, but those who live in close proximity said they didn’t hear a woman scream immediately to the officers entering.
It appears when the police were banging on the door, Garcia’s girlfriend, Christina Gandara, is inside the apartment taking a shower, somehow unaware of what’s going on.
Neighbors can hear her screaming after shots are fired. Crying she said, “They shot him right here… I lost him.”
She was ordered out of the apartment by police naked, dripping wet, holding a towel to cover herself. She told the police the shower was still running.
Wrapped in a towel, told by police to sit in the apartment lobby, Gandara said Garcia had grabbed her by the hair and called her a “b***ch.” and She said she had warned him she would call the police, but later noted to several witnesses afterward that she wasn’t the one who called 9-1-1.
Garcia is mortally wounded, lying in his blood until paramedics arrive and transport him to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, where he is declared dead.
This account is how witnesses and authorities describe the fatal police shooting that took place in the City of San Fernando on Oct. 8, when SFPD officers responded to the domestic violence call.
As is standard procedure, Sunday’s incident is now being investigated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau and the LA County District Attorney’s Justice System Integrity Department (JSID) — a team of prosecutors and investigators that automatically respond to officer-involved shootings to determine, among other things, if any criminal law violations have occurred.
When contacted by the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, the District Attorney’s office referred reporters to its website. The website claims the JSID’s purpose is “to accurately, thoroughly, objectively” — and if necessary, independently — “investigate all relevant evidence and to determine the potential criminal liability, or lack thereof, of any party.”
Deadly Confrontation As Described by Sheriff’s Department
The shooting occurred at 11:02 a.m., at a third-story unit of the apartment building on Harding Avenue.
Detectives from the Sheriff’s Department said SFPD officers were responding to a domestic violence call, as screaming could be heard coming from one of the units on the third floor.
“Officers attempted to make contact with the occupants inside. The officers were denied entry by the suspect, and made a forced entry into the apartment. During the entry, officers used oleoresin capsicum spray to try to gain compliance from the suspect. The suspect was armed with a large knife and an OIS (Officer Involved Shooting) occurred,” Sheriff’s investigators said in a prepared statement released to media following the shooting.
“The suspect, a 58-year-old male Hispanic, was struck at least one time in the body. He was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead,” the statement said.
Garcia was described by those in the apartment building as a military veteran that may have been struggling with some mental issues, suggesting PTSD. The victim of the reported domestic violence was his girlfriend, whom friends identified as Christina Gandara.
The statement notes that a “55-year-old female Hispanic was the victim of a domestic violence assault by the suspect whom she lived with at the apartment. The victim received minor injuries from the assault.”
Three officers shot at the suspect. None were injured.
A next door neighbor who declined to give his name told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that he heard the couple arguing loudly for about 10 minutes before police showed up.
He said officers were accompanied by the apartment manager, and that the man wouldn’t open the door so they brought in a battering ram to break the door open. When they went inside he heard the shots.
“They just went in and started shooting,” the man said.
“He must have been doing something to get shot like that,” the neighbor added. “Maybe he had something in his hands or something.”
Another neighbor who asked not to be identified described Garcia as a friendly guy and said he never heard arguments between the couple before.
“They were always friendly,” the neighbor said. “He was such a mellow man. He was like a big teddy bear. This is so out of character.”
Yellow police tape covered the stairs and entrance to the unit on Sunday afternoon as residents in the area flocked to the scene — many with cell phones in hand — trying to capture the commotion around them. Police cars lined up along Harding Avenue, and TV station vans and cameras were poised in front of the yellow police tape blocking the street.
As of Wednesday, Oct. 11, the door to the apartment unit is boarded up.
Neighbor Videotapes Incident
Carlos Calderon, who lives across the street from the apartment building where the shooting occurred, captured the sounds and parts of the incident on a video from outside the building.
He said he was in his front yard, talking to a neighbor who had a birthday party that day, when he saw two police cars park in front of the apartment building.
“They came up pretty fast. The officers got out and went up to the apartment building,” Calderon said. “Two other squad cars pulled up and one of the officers went and got a battering ram.”
Calderon said it took the officers awhile to have someone open the gate to gain entry into the apartment building, and then afterward they promptly went up to the third floor.
Next, in the video captured by Calderon, one can hear loud “bumps” outside the building as the battering ram hits the door of the unit and later as the door breaks. Seconds later, shots are heard in quick succession.
Gandara, after she is told to sit in the lobby by San Fernando police officers, made comments that could be interpreted as indicating her boyfriend had some mental issues.
“He thought people were going to go after him,” “He started talking to himself again,” she was heard saying.
“He started to go crazy,” “He just lost it,” “He’s not been the same lately,”
A neighbor who saw Garcia the night before the shooting also notes that he seemed “strange.”
“He looked disoriented, paranoid, different,” the neighbor said. “There was definitely something wrong with him.”
Vario told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that “our officers did everything possible given the situation, the close proximity, and the area permitted. They did everything possible to minimize any sort of injuries to either party. They tried to talk to him, they used other devices to subdue him. Unfortunately, the suspect’s actions ultimately forced the officers to use lethal force and, unfortunately, he succumbed to his injuries.”
Vairo said that Garcia “did have” a knife.
“He was armed at the time of the shooting,” Vairo said.
When asked by the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol whether Garcia’s mental state was considered as officers approached the situation, Vairo said that his force has received more training than is required, “Each situation is different. Whether he had drugs in his system or a [medical] brain situation, we won’t know until the reports are completed.”
He added that for officers domestic violence calls are “potentially very violent.”
Vairo told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that six officers were involved in the incident, and three of them were put on administrative leave following the shooting.
They are expected to come back to the force “in a couple of days,” but he said, they would receive counseling first, before going back to full duty.
“It hurts on both sides of the spectrum. When they discharge their weapon, it’s pretty dramatic for an officer,” Vairo said.
The coroner’s office is conducting an autopsy and toxicology report on Garcia. Vairo said the autopsy should be available within the next few days, but the results of the toxicology report could take several months.