Juan Manuel Gonzalez, left, and Levi Bautista | Bonneville County Jail
IDAHO FALLS — Prosecutors have determined an Idaho Falls Police Officer justifiably shot a man who held a handgun after getting into a chase with officers.
The incident unfolded Sept. 11 outside Hurricane’s Bar on North Homles Avenue after two rival gangs got into a fight-turned-shootout. One of the suspects, Levi Bautista, 21, got into a chase with officers before the situation escalated into an officer-involved shooting, police said.
“We find that Officer Mitchell Bierma was justified in the use of deadly force against Levi Jesse Bautista on Sept. 11, 2021, and thus do not form the basis of criminal prosecution,” Bonneville County Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Alayne Bean wrote in a document released Friday.
READ THE ENTIRE DOCUMENT HERE
Before the fight broke out, a security guard at the bar escorted Bautista outside after a fight. Security camera footage at the bar shows three men following Bautista outside of the bar and confronting him in the parking lot. According to prosecutors, Bautista told investigators a man yelled: “F*** BWC” which is slang for Budweiser Crew, a gang in the Idaho Falls area.
Bautista claims he told the men he no longer associates with the gang. Bautista continued to talk with the men who followed him outside when — a man later identified in court documents obtained by EastIdahoNews.com as Jose Nery — lifted his shirt and showed a large “13” tattoo on his back. The tattoo is common for MS-13 gang members, which according to police is a rival to the Budweiser Crew.
RELATED | Names released in two related shooting incidents at Hurricanes Bar
Another man, Juan Manuel Gonzalez, 29, walked past the ongoing argument and grabbed a gun from a car, police said. Bautista then went across the street toward the Elk’s Lodge, and Gonzalez allegedly fired his gun at least once. Bautista started shooting back, according to reports.
Gonzalez then handed the gun off to Nery, who got into a car with Cooper Allison, 21. Neary and Allison then drove away from the bar.
As the shooting unfolded, Officer Bierma was at the College of Eastern Idaho parking lot with another officer talking about a traffic stop they had recently finished, according to prosecutors. A call then came in to 911 with people reporting multiple gunshots at the bar’s parking lot.
Before officers got to the bar, Bautista got into a silver Chrysler 200, which dispatch told police to be on the lookout for. The silver car then ran a stop sign near the bar and was driving back toward the parking lot of the shooting. Investigators say 30 to 100 people were in the parking lot.
Bautista did not stop and drove the streets and parking lots around the bar at high speeds, police said. A police supervisor then gave Bierma authorization to use a PIT maneuver to stop the suspect. When Bierma tried to stop Bautista, it failed and another officer was directly in the path of the Chrysler. This officer rammed his car into Bautista.
With the car pinned in by police, Bautista got out of the Chrysler, and an officer spotted a black handgun in Bautista’s right hand. The officer saw the gun pointed in his direction when Bautista turned toward Bierma. Bierma told investigators he saw the gun himself with a “high capacity” magazine and fearing for his life, he ducked behind his patrol SUV’s door and pulled out his own handgun.
“Officer Bierma (believes) Bautista intended to fire upon him or (the other officer), who he knew was nearby,” prosecutors say. “Officer Bierma fired four rounds at Bautista.”
Bautista dropped to the ground along with the gun he held — a Glock 19 with a 40-round, 9mm magazine. The gun had been loaded with 30 rounds of ammunition, according to reports.
RELATED | Suspect in critical condition following early morning shooting in Idaho Falls
Bautista had been shot twice in the lower back and once in the shoulder. He was rushed to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, where he underwent surgery. The latest reports from prosecutors are Bautista still has not regained feeling in one of his legs.
Jose Nery, left, and Cooper Allison | Bonneville County Jail
The East Idaho Critical Incident Task Force was called in to investigate the officer-involved shooting. According to prosecutors, Bautista told investigators he “got out of the car, took off running and since I had a gun in my hand, they shot me,” according to Friday’s report.
While Bautista claimed to have not fired the gun other than at the bar, investigators found another silver Chrysler 200 with bullet damage at a dealership on Northgate Mile. At the scene, investigators found six shell casings matching the ammo found in the Glock.
RELATED | Two more arrested in connection to shooting incident at Idaho Falls bar
Bautista is a convicted felon and not allowed to have a gun. Investigators learned the Glock belonged to the woman who loaned Bautista the Chrysler. The woman told investigators the gun had been left inside the car.
“Officer Bierma was reasonable to conclude that he needed to stop Bautista before he could seriously injure or kill him, another responding officer, or innocent members of the public,” prosecutors say. “… Even though we now know that Juan Gonzalez fired upon Bautista, Bautista’s subsequent actions, as reported to dispatch and observed by law enforcement, looked to be those of the person who had been the aggressor (and) … was returning to finish the job.”
Prosecutors alleged Bautista played a “dangerous game” with rival gang members the morning of the shooting. They also say Bautista had numerous chances to end the encounter peacefully but instead continued “to be a threat by making a conscious choice to grab a dangerous weapon” that could harm everyone around him.
“Ultimately, the responsibility for Officer Bierma shooting Bautista rests with Bautista,” prosecutors write in their letter clearing Bierma criminal of wrongdoing.
Gonzalez was arrested after prosecutors charged him with felony aggravated battery and aggravated assault. Nery was arrested for felony aggravated battery, aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a firearm. Allison was arrested for felony accessory to aggravated battery and harboring a person who committed a felony.
“Bautista will have to address charges that he possessed a firearm as a felon and eluded police.” prosecutors say.
Idaho Falls Police gave thanks in a statement to the prosecutor’s office for their thorough and timely review of the officer-involved shooting. They also thanked the Idaho State Police and the other critical incident task force members who investigated the incident.
“Just as the law has a high standard for the use of force, and indeed deadly force, by police officers, so does our agency. Use of force may at times be necessary, but is never taken lightly by our officers or department,” Police said in the statement. “In the coming days, per our established policies and procedures, IFPD will convene a Use of Force Review board that involves both members of our agency and community members trained to review these incidents. This review will be to determine if all department policies were followed during this incident, and what, if any, opportunities there are for our agency to improve as we endeavor to best serve and protect the people of Idaho Falls. We expect to share the results of that review when it is completed during the later-half of November.”
The post Prosecutor says officer was justified in shooting after gang fight in Idaho Falls appeared first on East Idaho News.