When Rico Robles bailed out from a stolen pickup and travel trailer at the end of a police pursuit through a rural canyon east of Temecula, two sheriff’s deputies fired their weapons before Robles and another man disappeared into dense vegetation.
A subsequent search over the next 36 hours — using police dogs, a helicopter, drones and deputies on foot — failed to turn up any sign of the men and the search was called off.
Two days later, however, Robles’ mother and sister visited the area and found his body just a couple hundred yards from where the shooting occurred on a dirt road in rural Aguanga, a rocky area in the San Jacinto Mountains southwest of Anza.
Now, the mother, Laura Scott, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against Riverside County and the two deputies, identified only by their last names of Zaborowski and Hansen.
The two deputies chased Robles, 28, of Aguanga and his unidentified companion for nearly 30 miles from Temecula beginning at about 7 a.m. on April 1. The stolen truck became stuck in the dirt on Tule Peak Road, just west of Eastgate Trail.
Just after the truck stopped, a female deputy identified only as Zaborowski got out of her patrol car and yelled, “Driver, show me your hands! Turn off the vehicle and show me your hands!” The stolen truck and travel trailer started moving backward toward the patrol vehicle, then stopped. Robles and his passenger jumped out of the pickup and ran off into the canyon.
Zoborowski fired two shots from her service weapon. Seconds later, Hansen fired a single shot from his weapon, according to a video of body camera footage released in May by Sheriff Chad Bianco. The deputies, however, did not know Robles had been struck by gunfire and believed the two men had escaped on foot.
Until the department was contacted by Robles’ mother.
“Within about 30-45 minutes of arriving to that location, plaintiff and her daughter found (Robles) laying on his right side, deceased from gunshot wounds, approximately 200 yards down the road and slightly to the right of the location of the shooting,” states the lawsuit, filed Dec. 3 on behalf of Scott in U.S. District Court in Riverside.
No explanation for futile search
The Sheriff’s Department has declined to release the deputies’ first names. Sgt. Albert Martinez, a department spokesman, said Friday that the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Investigators also did not respond to emailed questions asking why deputies failed to find Robles’ body and why the Sheriff’s Department never disclosed who found the body.
Martinez said the man with Robles on April 1 has been identified, but was not arrested and is not a suspect,
“We did identify a passenger which was interviewed and we documented his statement,” Martinez in an email Friday. He did not release the man’s name and declined further comment.
No intent to hurt deputies
Scott’s attorney, Jeremy Jass, said in a telephone interview Friday that Robles was unarmed and was not trying to ram the deputies’ patrol vehicle with the toybox-style travel trailer. The vehicle just rolled backward briefly after becoming dislodged from the dirt, before Robles could stop.
Jass said the stolen pickup and trailer were at a complete stop before the shooting, that the deputies were standing on dirt mounds to the side and not in harm’s way, and that Robles and the other man were running from deputies when they were shot at.
Robles died from a gunshot wound to the back, according to his death certificate.
“To me, it doesn’t seem there was an imminent threat to life that would justify the use of deadly force,” Jass said. “You can’t just shoot someone and leave them out in the desert for two days. They should have been able to locate Mr. Robles and should have probably been providing medical aid to him.”
Robles, according to the lawsuit, was unarmed and suffered “unreasonable, unnecessary, and excessive force.”
“The defendants’ brutal treatment of (Robles) caused him to fear for his life and caused plaintiff serious physical injury, lack of medical care, and to suffer his last moments alone in the desert in agonizing pain,” the lawsuit said.
Zaborowski and Hansen were placed on leave following the shooting. The investigation is ongoing.
Source: Orange County Register