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Federal lawsuit questions use of deadly force in 2017 officer-involved shooting

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In the early morning hours of Jan. 24, 2017, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office deputies Jonathan Calvert and Greg Roach pulled over 34-year-old Josue Gallardo on southbound Highway 101 near the Santa Barbra Road exit in Atascadero. Moments later, Gallardo was dead, shot to death by the two officers.

While those facts are indisputable, what happened in the short time between them, and why it happened, are up for debate. A recent federal lawsuit filed by Gallardo's widow challenges the Sheriff's Office's official story about the circumstances that led up to Gallardo's death. The suit also accuses the two deputies of violating Gallardo's constitutional rights by unnecessarily using excessive and lethal force in their encounter with him that night.

"The killing of [Gallardo] by deputies Calvert and Roach and their conduct ... were unreasonable, unjustified, and offensive to human dignity," the lawsuit, filed in late November, stated.

At the heart of the dispute is whether Gallardo posed a threat to the deputies. Accounts from multiple press releases distributed by the Sheriff's Office in the wake of the shooting stated that Calvert and Roach approached the vehicle, opening fire after Gallardo reportedly pulled a gun on them.

The lawsuit alleges that the deputies approached Gallardo "aggressively" with their guns already drawn and aimed at the 34-year-old father of two.

"Gallardo was still, seated in the driver's seat of his vehicle, obeying and complying with every command made by the deputies," the lawsuit claims.

According to the lawsuit, Calvert engaged Gallardo and holstered his weapon, an action it argues indicated that the deputy determined that Gallardo wasn't a threat. Despite the fact that Gallardo was reportedly complying with all the directions given to him by the deputies, the lawsuit claims that Roach then opened fire, discharging multiple rounds into Gallardo.

"The lack of warning and justification for these shots are evidenced by the fact that Deputy Roach's shots almost struck his partner, Deputy Calvert, in the process, who was positioned next to [Gallardo] at the time [Roach] fired his service weapon," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit does not mention whether Gallardo was in possession of a gun at the time of the shooting, nor if he brandished it at the deputies. Attorneys Justin Sterling and Erin Darling, who are both listed as representing Gallardo's widow, Frances Gallardo, declined to answer questions about the issue from New Times, noting that it was still very early in the lawsuit proceedings.

"The investigation is still ongoing, but that issue will absolutely be addressed," Sterling said.

Roach and Calvert are both named as defendants in the lawsuit along with SLO County and the Sheriff's Office. Statements released by the Sheriff's Office in the wake of the shooting characterized both deputies as experienced officers, each with more than 10 years of law enforcement experience. In the statement issued on Jan. 25, 2017, the Sheriff's Office said the circumstances surrounding the shooting would be reviewed, including a criminal investigation and a parallel investigation by the Sheriff's Office Professional Standards Unit.

"Once the criminal investigation is complete, the case will be submitted to the District Attorney's Office for independent review," the statement read. "The investigation will include the criminal actions of the suspect as well as the actions of the deputies."

The Sheriff's Office representatives declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit, as well as the results of its internal investigation of the shooting, citing the ongoing litigation. SLO County Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth told New Times that the DA's Office did review the shooting, and determined that the use of deadly force by both deputies was lawful.

Despite the DA's determination, the lawsuit alleges that the Sheriff's Office had inadequate training and policies regarding the use of deadly force.

"There's a concern that there is a structural problem," Darling said, "that the sheriff's department has not done enough to prevent this tragic death."

Incidents of lethal use of force involving SLO County Sheriff's Office deputies are rare. According to data from the California Department of Justice, Gallardo's death was the first and only reported fatal officer-involved shooting within the Sheriff's Office in the last 13 years.

The lawsuit remains ongoing in federal court. The county, Sheriff's Office, and other defendants listed in the suit have until Jan. 25, 2019, to file a response, according to court records. Δ

Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at cmcguinness@newtimesslo.com.

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