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DA decides not to charge CHP officers for the shooting death of Erik Salgado

Erik Salgado (Courtesy photo/Myspace)

Nate Gartrell, Bay Area News Group

OAKLAND — Alameda County prosecutors won’t charge any of the three officers who shot and killed 23-year-old Erik Salgado, though a report from the DA’s office admitted that key questions remain in the June 2020 incident.

California Highway Patrol Sgt. Richard Henderson and Officers Eric Hulbert and Donald Saputa shot Salgado 18 times on the night of June 6, 2020, later explaining they believed Salgado was about to run over one of their colleagues with a stolen red Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. The CHP initially refused to provide information about the homicide and fought the release of the officers’ names in court, until a federal judge forced the name release last year.

In a 36-page report, released Monday, county prosecutors didn’t wholly embrace the officers’ version of events, but rather stated they’re “unable to refute” the police narrative, because thus far no witnesses have come forward to contradict it. The officers had no body cameras on, the report says; available video footage was shot by civilians who were not very close to the incident, and does not show key details.

“In short, while questions remain as to the use of force in this case, there is a lack of evidence and independent witnesses to proceed with criminal charges,” the report says. “That being said, there is no statute of limitations for a crime such as this, and should more witnesses or evidence come forward, we will revisit this decision,” while keeping in mind prosecutors have an ethical obligation to only file charges they believe they can prove to a jury.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley reviewed the report and signed off on it before it was released, she wrote in a cover letter.

The DA’s decision gives a green light for a federal lawsuit filed by Salgado’s family in 2020 — delayed while prosecutors came to their decision — to proceed. Civil rights attorney John Burris said in an interview they expect to take the suit to trial sometime next year.

Burris said in a brief interview Monday that he was disappointed in the decision not to file charges, but added that “there’s nothing in that report that means we can’t go forward.”

The suit has offered some of the only details to be publicly released about the incident thus far. On the night of June 6, 2020, CHP officers were in Oakland as part of an operation to locate stolen cars. They identified the Hellcat as having stolen license plates and attempted to corner it on Cherry Street.

Police have said in court papers that Salgado tried to get away by driving through a small space between a CHP car and a parked vehicle. Henderson, Hulbert, and Saputa, along with Ofc. Michael Diehl, exited their cars. As Salgado continued to drive, Hulbert, Saputa, and Henderson opened fire, striking Salgado 18 times, including 16 wounds to his torso.

Salgado’s girlfriend, a passenger, was struck by gunfire and wounded.

Henderson later told investigators he believed Hulbert was going to be struck by the Hellcat, while Saputa and Hulbert both said they thought Diehl was going to be run over. Other officers who didn’t fire also told investigators they were afraid the car would strike an officer, the report says.

Salgado’s killing added to an already tense atmosphere in the Bay Area amidst protests and rioting over the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. After the federal suit was filed, the California Attorney General and CHP tried to convince a judge to seal the officers’ names.

When Henderson’s name was made public, it was revealed he shot and killed 19-year-old Pedro Villanueva in an incredibly similar 2016 incident in Southern California. There, Henderson shot at Villanueva 12 times while his partner fired twice, later explaining they were afraid the slow-moving truck would hit and officer.

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