[UPDATED with DA Report:] Brea Cop Cleared in Fatal Shooting of Julian "Jules" Collender
"Accordingly, the OCDA is closing its inquiry into this incident."
The letter addressed to Brea Police Chief Jack Conklin and signed by Senior Deputy DA Ebrahim Baytieh of the Homicide UnitYou can read here.
Baytieh claims OCDA investigators interviewed 37 people, including Neel, about the shooting of Collender in front of his family home on Avenida de Marcia in Yorba Linda. The DA's letter includes the most detailed description of what supposedly happened that night.
The "background" for the incident includes disclosures that 25-year-old Collender was addicted to Oxycontin, that he did not have a job to pay for the drug, but he did have a Beretta 9mm semi-automatic handgun purchased a month before his last day on Earth.
The letter says Collender and 21-year-old Adela McCormick drove up to the EZ Take Out burger joint on La Palma Avenue in Yorba Linda in a red Nissan Sentra after 5 p.m. on June 29, 2010. They then got into the back seat of a truck that belonged to 18-year-old driver Chris C. and included passengers Michael F., 19, and Brianna M., 18. Everyone knew one another from Esperanza High School.
Collender is reported to have pointed his Beretta at all three friends, including the head of Chris C., and demanded that the driver give him Oxycontin and everyone give him personal property. Collender and McCormick, who later pleaded guilty to armed robbery and signed a statement admitting Collender's role in the crime, drove off in the Nissan after the robbery.
Chris C. called Brea Police, which patrols Yorba Linda, about the robbery around 9:30 p.m. Detective Michael Johnson told Chris C. to come with Michael F. and Brianna M. to the police station to give statements. They provided Collender's name, car description, license plate number, type of gun used and the fact that the robber demanded $1,000 from Chris C.'s family. Chris C. and Brianna M. also picked out Collender's mugshot from a photo lineup.
Brea Police Officer Richard Salcido drove in a marked unit to Collender's home just before 11:30 p.m., when he spotted the red Nissan in the driveway. He was not sure if anyone was home. Meanwhile, Johnson called his partner Neel, who was preparing to go to bed, to come watch Collender's home while Johnson obtained a search warrant. Johnson is said to have told Neel there was probable cause to arrest Collender should he try to flee.
In his interview with the OCDA two days after killing Collender, Neel said he arrived in front of the home on Avenida de Marcia, parking his unmarked car in such a way to have a view of the home and the Nissan. Neel's rear windows were tinted, so he reclined his seat so not to be seen, resting his service weapon in his lap because he's been informed about the suspect's black semi-automatic.
Neel claimed Collender exited his home "like someone running out of burning house," getting into the driver's seat but leaving the door open, which also illuminated him due to the overhead dome light. The detective claims Collender moved between the front driver and passenger seats, reached for something in the rear-seat area, closed the door and put the Nissan in reverse. Neel says he radioed that Collender was driving away in hopes that Salcido would pull the suspect over.
After backing out of the driveway, the Nissan was pointed west on Avenida de Marcia. The car started moving slowly toward Salcido's police car before stopping next to Neel's car. Collender shined a flashlight into Neel's car while the stunned detective continued to try to avoid detection. After about 10 seconds, Collender quickly drove off, and Neel was unsure if he'd been spotted. Then Collender abruptly made a U-turn and headed toward Neel's vehicle, the detective claimed.
Collender again stopped a couple feet from Neel's car, shined a light inside and, after about 10 more seconds, started to drive off. Neel was now sure he had not been seen by the suspect. Still, according to his claims to the OCDA, the detective feared Collender may have been pointing his gun into the car with his flashlight, or that he thought the car belonged to a robbery victim who came to the home for revenge. So, he radioed in for assistance.
Only, he tells those investigating him, he pushed the wrong button on his radio so it did not transmit.
Now, Collender flashed his light into the non-tinted front windshield of Neel's car, and the detective figured he's been had. Neel says he again feared that Collender may have been pointing a gun at him and that the cop might be in the "kill zone."
So, he decided to "engage" Collender. He radioed for Salcido to trip his lights--presumably not hitting the wrong button this time--and the detective got out of the car to confront Collender. Neel says he identified himself as police and told Collender to put his hands up and drop to the ground. The suspect did not comply. Neel said it was his experience that those with guns pointed at them comply with police orders but that Collender quietly walked away, in "back pedaling" fashion.
Neel, saying he wanted to arrest Collender and avoid a situation where the suspect might barricade himself in the home, followed the young man. He claims Collender would not follow his commands, instead remaining quiet and leaving his empty hands exposed while backing away.
The detective claims that when Collender reached the curb, he reached into the left front pocket of his "baggy" pants. The cop described the suspect's movement as "very rapid, distinct and intentional." Fearing Collender was reaching for a gun--and for his own life--Neel fired one shot from his gun into the robbery suspect.
The OCDA confirms that Collender was not packing a weapon when he was shot. He was holding only a flashlight. A cell phone was also in a pocket. The letter also claims video from Salcido's patrol car confirms the timeline of events supplied by Neel.
Other findings of the DA:
- It is standard practice to place handcuffs on "suspected felons," even those who have been shot;
- Collender had enough Oxycodone in his system to be really fucked up (not the term prosecutors used), but not enough to die from an overdose;
- The Beretta was found in an upstairs bedroom of the Collender home and later identified as the one used in the robbery by the victims;
- The officer has a constitutional right to protect himself with lethal force if he feels his life is threatened;
- That Collender reaching into his pocket put Neel on the "ultimate edge";
- Neel's actions do not warrant charges of murder or manslaughter against the detective.