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Lancaster County DA: 'No question' deadly police shooting of Ricardo Munoz justified

Adams said Wednesday that the officer involved in the shooting was justified in the use of deadly force.

LANCASTER, Pa. — The Lancaster County District Attorney's Office said Wednesday it will not charge the Lancaster police officer involved in the fatal shooting of Ricardo Muñoz on September 13.

District Attorney Heather Adams made the announcement at a press conference Wednesday morning, saying that the officer was justified in the use of deadly force.

Munoz, 27, was shot and killed by a police officer responding to a reported domestic disturbance call at a home on the 300 block of Laurel Street in Lancaster at about 4:15 p.m. on Sept. 13. 

The officer's body cam footage showed that when the officer got in front of a home near the scene, Munoz immediately emerged from inside and ran toward the officer, brandishing a knife above his head, in clear view, in a threatening manner. 

The officer then fired four shots, all striking Munoz, who died at the scene.

In this incident, District Attorney Adams determined that the officer was clearly justified in firing four shots at Munoz, as Munoz chased him with a large knife – clearly presenting a threat to the officer’s life.

The firing officer acted to preserve his own safety and the safety of others. Body camera footage from the firing officer was a key piece of evidence in this investigation. 

That footage shows:

  • There was no interaction between Munoz and the officer. The officer simply responded to the 911 dispatch, arrived, and approached the door. 
  • The officer had no time to speak with Munoz, as he immediately charged the officer with a knife.
  • Between four and five seconds elapsed from the time Munoz emerged from a doorway, chasing the officer, to when the officer fired shots. 
  • Munoz was within approximately 4 to 7 feet of the officer – while continuing to charge at him – when the officer fired.

You can watch the body camera footage below:

“The responding officer was immediately confronted with a threat at 306 Laurel Street on the afternoon of September 13,” Adams said. “The officer had no time or opportunity to do anything but run for his life and only resorted to lethal force when he confirmed an imminent threat to his life remained. The officer’s belief that lethal force was necessary to defend himself was reasonable and therefore, the use of force was justified under the law.”

You can watch the full press conference below:

Injuries from the gunshot wounds killed Munoz immediately, according to the forensic pathologist who performed Munoz’s autopsy.

At the scene, police recovered a large fixed-blade, hunting-style knife next to Munoz’s body, which he used in his charge at the officer.

It is pictured below:

Credit: Crimewatch

The incident sparked protests outside the Lancaster Bureau of Police Station, resulting in the arrests of 13 people over two days.

Munoz's family spoke out after the incident, saying he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early twenties, and he also suffered from a bipolar disorder. 

His sister told FOX43 that Munoz's mother called the Lancaster Bureau of Police and Crisis Intervention on the day of the incident, hoping that Munoz could receive help. They claimed they did not call 911. 

You can hear the 911 call below:

Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace called the shooting "a heartbreaking day for our city" and said the incident highlights the need for more mental and behavioral health programs across the state.  

Lancaster Police Chief Jarrad Berkihiser, who announced his retirement last week, said in the days following the shooting that, from his perspective, nothing there was nothing that the officer involved could have done differently to change the outcome of the events on Sept. 13.

"When it's a lethal threat, unfortunately, we have to react with lethal force, and unfortunately, it's tragic for everyone involved," he said.

"We called for help. We didn't call for bullets," said Rulennis Munoz, after the DA's announcement. "This incident has really hurt us emotionally and mentally." 

Rulennis Munoz is Ricardo's sister. The Munoz family insists they wanted medical help and for Munoz to be taken to the hospital.

"Nosotros estamos muy devastato," said Miguelina Munoz, Ricardo's mother.

Translating for her mother, Rulennis said, "That the cop that shot my brother didn't kill my brother; he also killed her as well."

Attorneys for the family say they are dismayed with the decision by the DA but not because of the ultimate outcome.

"The investigation doesn't seem to be as thorough as it could've been. For example, Rulennis' sister who was an eye witness who spoke immediately before and after the shooting wasn't even interviewed," said Michael Perna, who is representing the family. "They [the DA's office] also told us today they didn't look into at all whether the officer in question followed best practices with regard to responding to a person well known to them as mentally disturbed."

Perna also told FOX43 it's not right Ricardo Munoz' autopsy results have not been given to the family. He has a few questions, including: Why was the body camera cut short? Why wasn't cell phone or surveillance footage captured in the area also released with the DA's findings? Who is the officer in the footage and the other officers who showed up afterwards?

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