A deputy’s fatal shooting of an 18-year-old schizophrenic Half Moon Bay woman who approached him with a knife in June was justified in using lethal force, the district attorney announced Monday.
Deputy Menh Trieu of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office acted properly in response to Yanira Serrano-Garcia’s actions, District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said in a prepared statement that his office will not be filing any criminal charge against Trieu.
“It is also my belief that the actions of Deputy Trieu may have spared his own life,” Wagstaffe wrote in an Aug. 18 letter to Sheriff Greg Munks alerting him to the investigation’s conclusion.
The shooting came within 30 seconds of Trieu’s arrival at Serrano-Garcia’s home.
Munks called the deadly meeting between Trieu and Serrano-Garcia a “tragic occurrence” and extended his office’s sympathies to the woman’s family. Trieu has returned to full duty but “is still dealing with the gravity of the incident,” Munks said.
Trieu encountered Serrano-Garcia June 3 at 1 Maidenhair Walk Lane after her brother called 911 around 9:21 p.m. to report his mentally ill sister hadn’t taken her medication that day and was “acting” out and “yelling,” according to the four-page letter from Wagstaffe to Munks.
As her brother Lorenzo Serrano stayed on the line, he told the dispatcher his sister had left the home with their father and their mother said she had taken her medication. Minutes later dispatch told deputies she had calmed down somewhat and was inside the home again. But at 9:30 p.m., Lorenzo Serrano told dispatchers his sister had a 10.5-inch kitchen knife.
Trieu was first on scene and, after some trouble finding the residence inside the Moonride Community Housing Development, located the home and tried unsuccessfully to speak with Serrano’s Spanish-speaking mother.
Trieu, standing 14 feet from the door, reported that Serrano-Garcia suddenly came running from the house with a large knife raised above her head and pointed at him screaming “in what can be described as a primal, incoherent and garbled tone,” the letter states.
Trieu retreated backwards between two cars into the street but she continued advancing and closing the gap between then. Trieu ran past his patrol car, saw that his partner was still not on scene, and aimed his firearm at her with an order to stop. She continued to run screaming at him and he fired once, hitting the upper center of her chest, when she was 8 to 10 feet away.
Witnesses later told investigators that Serrano-Garcia yelled in Spanish “You are not going to take me! You are not going to take me!”
Trieu told investigators he didn’t have time to upholster and use his stun gun and that her big sweater might have hampered its prongs anyway. He felt he had no other option than firing his weapon, Wagstaffe wrote.
Although Trieu knew from dispatch that Serrano-Garcia had mental illness, his life was in no less danger, Wagstaffe wrote.
“The swiftness of her potentially lethal attack on the deputy precluded any possibility of handling the threat in a less lethal manner,” he wrote.
Serrano’s shooting led to calls by family and members of the community for an independent review and Wagstaffe held two separate meetings on the coastside with them.
On Monday, the Sheriff’s Office said it also plans to hold a community meeting on the coast in coming week s to discuss the investigation’s outcome and introduce a new pilot program coordinating the office with the San Mateo County Behavioral Health Department. The idea is for an on-call team of specially trained personnel to help those approaching mental crisis with options and resources.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102