Authorities have determined that an assistant police chief in south-central Minnesota was “squarely within her rights” when she fatally shot a knife-wielding 20-year-old man after he led officers on a high-speed chase.
The ruling in the Jan. 31 shooting of Gilberto Salas in a St. James convenience store was made by the Washington County Attorney’s Office, to avoid potential conflicts of interest, and was released Monday by the Watonwan County Attorney’s Office.
“The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from this set of facts is that Assistant Chief Rochelle Hanson fired on Salas in self-defense and squarely within her rights,” wrote Washington County Attorney Pete Orput in a letter to prosecutors in Watonwan County.
Orput’s letter detailed the events surrounding the shooting of Salas, of Gaylord, Minn., at Casey’s General Store, 620 2nd Av. S.
About 12:15 p.m., emergency dispatch relayed a report that someone driving a stolen SUV had stopped at Casey’s and had stolen a six-pack of beer. Hanson followed the SUV and recognized the driver as Salas.
At 1 p.m., officers spotted Salas driving the SUV in St. James. He fled at speeds estimated at 60 mph through residential neighborhoods, the BCA said. Officers pulled back but continued to follow until Salas’ vehicle got stuck in a snowbank.
Salas then fled on foot into Casey’s, with the officers right behind. Salas briefly shut himself in an office, then emerged carrying a knife with a 3-inch blade. Officers used a Taser, but Salas ignored commands to drop the knife and advanced toward Hanson.
“Come here, come here,” Salas said to Hanson, who kept backing up. She warned that she would shoot if he didn’t drop the knife.
Moments later, she shot Salas, striking him at least once in the head.
Toxicology tests revealed that Salas had a blood alcohol content of 0.055 percent, below what is considered intoxicated. A presence of methamphetamine also was detected.
The letter from the Washington County attorney said that while “many officer-involved shootings are presented to grand juries for their consideration ... the facts of this case are so clear that it would be a waste of valuable public resources to convene a grand jury in this matter. ... There is no question that the actions of [Hanson] in this matter were wholly justified.”
Vanessa Naveunxay, mother of Salas’ two children, said Tuesday, “I just don’t understand how he supposedly trapped her in a corner with a knife with two other officers in the store. A lot of what they said just doesn’t add up to me.”