On-screen violence

Parents, others react to body cam footage the district attorney says justifies latest Chico police shooting

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey holds up a weapon Tyler Rushing was seen fashioning hours before he was fatally shot. The makeshift spear included a hidden, removable railroad spike.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey holds up a weapon Tyler Rushing was seen fashioning hours before he was fatally shot. The makeshift spear included a hidden, removable railroad spike.

Photo by Ken Smith

Inside the investigation:
The final report on Tyler Rushing's shooting and body camera footage of the incident are available on the Butte County District Attorney's website (www.butte county.net/da/ midvalley main.htm).

In a video posted to Instagram June 4, Tyler Rushing is seen walking along a quiet country road with the early morning sun rising behind him. In the clip, he delivers a message that’s adopted an air of foreboding in light of his violent death in Chico less than two months later: “Have a great life … we’re only blessed with this moment, so don’t take it for granted.”

That video was shown during a press conference held last week (Sept. 28), at which Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey declared that an unnamed private security guard and Chico Police Sgt. Scott Ruppel acted in self-defense when they shot Rushing at Mid Valley Title and Escrow July 23. He succumbed to his wounds, and the incident was investigated by the Officer Involved Shooting/Critical Incident Protocol Team.

It’s hard to tell that the man in the Instagram video is the same person seen in another video shown at the conference—spliced-together body camera footage from the security guard and several CPD officers who responded to the scene.

Footage captured that fateful night includes Rushing’s attack on the security guard with a broken flower pot, which resulted in stab wounds to the guard’s arm and a 9mm gunshot wound to Rushing’s chest. Also shown is the subsequent standoff between officers and the dying man, who retreated to a bathroom inside the business, claimed to have a gun, and was mostly noncommunicative with responding officers. In the final chaotic encounter, Ruppel was stabbed in the neck with a ball-point pen and another officer was bludgeoned with a piece of a broken toilet before Ruppel shot Rushing twice at close range.

Rushing, of Ventura, was a regular attendee at music festivals who hitchhiked to Chico July 19 after his belongings were stolen at the Northern Nights Music Festival in Mendocino County. He spent his short time here living among the local homeless population, and Ramsey’s report details some encounters with people he met in Chico. Some told investigators he had a gentle demeanor, while others said he was—as the report states—“‘extremely high’ and aggressively spiritual.” Rushing reportedly admitted he’d taken psychedelic drugs at the festival, but didn’t say exactly what type.

Three separate toxicology tests revealed only a moderate amount of marijuana in Rushing’s system. A small bag of unidentified seeds found in his possession has been sent to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security for testing.

“Regardless of the current lack of evidence of drugs in Mr. Rushing’s system, investigators believe Rushing was under the influence of an undetected drug(s) given the altered state of reality demonstrated by his behavior …” the report’s conclusion reads. “[T]he bizarre, violent behavior and extraordinary strength and endurance shown by Rushing inside the Mid Valley Title Co. was entirely out of his normal character.”

Ramsey and CPD Chief Mike O’Brien fielded questions at the conference, including several about Ruppel’s level of de-escalation and crisis intervention training (CIT). Ruppel was the lead officer at the scene and the only one who attempted to engage Rushing during the 38 minutes that elapsed between officers entering Mid Valley and breaching the bathroom door.

O’Brien said Ruppel completed an eight-hour, in-house CIT in 2015 and was scheduled to attend a similar class this month. Later in the meeting, he reported Ruppel has retired from the force since the shooting.

Interviewed Monday (Oct. 2), retired Butte County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Andy Duch—who criticized the CPD’s lack of participation in local 40-hour CIT sessions in the wake of the March 17 CPD shooting of Desmond Phillips—agreed the shooting likely was justified.

“The fact that [Rushing] was wounded added a critical time element,” said Duch, who noted he’s read press reports on the justified ruling but hasn’t viewed the report or body cam footage. “Knowing he was probably dying, they couldn’t just wait around. Also, he’d clearly committed felony assault on the security guard and demonstrated dangerous behavior. Nobody can expect officers to deliberately put themselves in harm’s way given those circumstances.”

Erica Traverso, a Butte College English instructor and an organizer with the Justice for Desmond Phillips effort, criticized details of the incident, including a section of video not shown at the press conference. After being shot three times—once by the guard and twice by Ruppel—and bitten by a K-9 unit, Rushing was shot with a Taser and handcuffed to ensure the threat to officers was neutralized. Traverso equated that action to “torture.”

On Tuesday (Oct. 3), Rushing’s father, Scott, said the family has its own team of investigators looking at the body cam footage and investigation results, and will hold its own press conference when that is complete.

“We weren’t surprised at all by Ramsey’s findings,” he said. “Other families of victims told us exactly what [the report] would say, and they were absolutely correct.

“I was struck by how cleverly it was written … but Mr. Ramsey has had some practice,” he added, noting dozens have been killed by Butte County law enforcement in the last 20 years, including three this year alone.

Scott said a memorial on Sept. 23 for his son was attended by more than 250 people.

“We can’t get Tyler back, so everything we’re doing now is to shed light on the fact that something is wrong in Butte County and needs to be fixed. Our goal is to stop this from happening again.”