Local News

Tuesday, Jan 24 2012 09:37 PM

Family questions deputies' shooting of teen

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Paul Chavez, 26, came to Buttonwillow, Monday when he found out his younger brother, Christian Chavez, 18, was killed earlier Monday afternoon in Buttonwillow Park. The house, left, behind Chavez is where Christian lived.

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    Christian Chavez. Photo provided by his family.

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BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer rcook@bakersfield.com

BUTTONWILLOW -- The day after Kern County Sheriff's Department deputies shot and killed 18-year-old Christian Chavez in Buttonwillow, the Sheriff's Department and the young man's family gave conflicting accounts of the event that ended in his death.

A Sheriff's Department news release said Christian tried to stab a deputy, prompting deputies to fire their guns. But his family said the suicidal man pointed the blade at himself.

"He pointed (the knife) into his chest basically saying, 'If you try to do something to me, I'm gonna kill myself,'" said Paul Chavez, 26, a man who was Christian's uncle but considered the teen his brother. Chavez said Christian was his mother's adopted son, the child of one of her own sons. Chavez wasn't there when the shooting happened, but relayed what his family members observed.

On Tuesday, Chavez said the family was still in shock. He described his brother as a good teen who struggled with mental illness. Chavez said the Sheriff's Department's description of Monday's shooting didn't match with what his family had heard.

"It's just two sides of the story (and) they don't match," Chavez said.

A Sheriff's Department news release sent Tuesday morning said Deputy Jeremy Storar and Deputy Tommy Robins were dispatched at about 4:26 p.m. to a Buttonwillow park at 556 Milo Ave. for report of a suicidal person. Sheriff's Department spokesman Ray Pruitt said Christian's caseworker called authorities.

Chavez said Christian and his caseworker were having a regular meeting on Monday, which they did several times a week, when they went to the park nearby with his mother.

Christian began talking about feeling suicidal and the caseworker called 911 for help, the news release said.

Storar and Robins spoke with the caseworker when they arrived and then Christian, who was in the caseworker's car.

The news release said deputies asked Christian to step out of the car so they could search him for weapons for their safety. Christian got out of the car.

According to the Sheriff's Department, that's when Christian suddenly pulled a knife from his pants' pocket and tried to stab Storar as the deputies searched him.

Chavez said the caseworker and his mother gave a conflicting account of what happened, and that the teen turned the knife on his own chest.

No one was available at the Sheriff's Department Tuesday evening to speak to the discrepancy.

The sheriff's news release said "both deputies immediately recognized the threat and fired their duty pistols" at Christian, who fell to the ground, dropping the knife. The deputies called for medical help, but Christian was pronounced dead at 4:35 p.m.

Pruitt said the Sheriff's Department is investigating the shooting. Storar, a 7-year veteran of the department, and Robins, a 9-year veteran of the department, are on administrative leave, as is routine, until the Sheriff's Office Lethal Force Review Board reviews the shooting, the news release said.

An autopsy will be preformed Wednesday and the family hopes to have Christian's funeral Friday.

"We're destroyed. We still can't believe it," Chavez said. "We think it's like a nightmare that we wish to wake up."

He said the family spoke with a Bakersfield attorney.

"It's just not fair the way they did it. There's no explanation for how can you take someone's life away when he was barely about to start to live life," Chavez said. "Instead of helping him, instead of protecting and serving they killed him."

Chavez said Christian grew up in the San Fernando Valley but the family moved to Shafter about a year and a half ago.

"My mom wanted a better life for him," Chavez said.

Christian struggled with depression and schizophrenia, his relatives said. He was on medication, according to Chavez.

Despite his problems, Christian was an outgoing kid who loved sports, especially soccer, Chavez said. Christian had attended Shafter High School but was being home schooled.

"He was about to graduate; he was a senior already," Chavez said. "He was very happy for graduating. He's like, 'My goal is to be a therapist so I can help people like me.'"

However, Chavez said Christian had been having trouble coping since a Christmas Eve fire displaced the family from their Shafter house. The family was staying in a crowded pink house with relatives in Buttonwillow.

"He was just feeling so depressed. He needed his own space he couldn't have," Chavez said. "He understood why, but I guess it just got to him."

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