Justified: Chico officers cleared in shooting death of Desmond Phillips

Mike Ramsey

CHICO, Calif. - The Butte County Officer-Involved Shooting/Critical Incident Protocol Team, under the authority of Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, determined that there is "no criminal liability on the part of officers Jeremy Gagnebin and Alex Fliehr" of the Chico Police Department in the fatal shooting of 25-year-old Desmond Phillips on March 17 inside an apartment at 725 West 4th Avenue.

Both officers are eligible to resume active duty immediately.

At a news conference Thursday morning, Ramsey laid out the case for why he believes the shooting, while heartbreaking, was also justified.

Included in the presentation were dispatch calls from the father of Desmond, David Phillips, who at 7:13 p.m. asked for medical assistance as his son was suffering "an episode." Phillips had several violent episodes over the last year in Sacramento and Chico which required treatment and police intervention.

Chico Fire and Butte County EMS responded to the initial call from David Phillips. The report says that the younger Phillips "suddenly became animated with punches and swings of his arms and hands."

Chico Police was called to the scene. When officers arrived the report says that Phillips was pacing with two knives in hand, one with a 4 1/2-inch blade and the other with a 6-inch blade, which Ramsey displayed at the news conference. Ramsey said that David Phillips and his younger grandchildren were hiding in another room in the apartment.

"David was locked in a room and couldn't get out," Ramsey said. "And (David Phillips) further said that his grandchildren were also in the other room and could not get out."

David Phillips is heard on the dispatch recording, played during the press conference."He's trying to stab me now, come through the window!"

The officers felt the other lives were at risk, and entered the apartment. In the report, Desmond Phillips "rapidly and aggressively advanced on (the officers) swinging his arms in a windmill fashion as he ran toward them."

The report says that Phillips charged the officers with what Fliehr believed to be a knife. Another officer fired a Taser, which had the desired effect.

"(The officers) saw Desmond's body tense," Ramsey said.

Phillips got up and officers tried to reuse the Taser, but it didn't operate properly.

"We use the best cartridges and the best probes with the best technology," said Chico Police Chief Mike O'Brien. "But it is not foolproof."

Ramsey said that the officers were confined to a tight space in the apartment and continued to hold the object noted by Fliehr, which turned out to be the front door jamb with the attached metal deadbolt faceplate (see photo).

The report says that Phillips charged toward Gagnebin and Fliehr with the object in hand. They fired 16 shots, 10 of which hit Phillips, one in the heart.

Ramsey described the shooting as heartbreaking but justified.

"The officers weren't shooting recklessly," Ramsey said. "They were shooting to stop a deadly threat to them and the others."

According to Ramsay, the father declined to be interviewed twice for the investigation.

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