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Injured officer justified in shooting suspect, investigator testifies

A traffic stop over a non-working headlight led to an intoxicated passenger running from the car, then shooting and injuring a pursuing police officer, who used deadly force in killing the gunman, a police detective said Wednesday.

Metropolitan Police Department Detective Gilberto Valenzuela testified at a public fact-finding review hearing that Officer Tierney Tomburo was in her right on Sept. 10 to fire at suspect Gabriel Charles after she suffered a wound that broke her pelvis and required a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

Valenzuela, lead case agent in the police probe of the officer involved shooting, responded to questions from Ryan Helmick, acting as ombudsman during the cross examination phase of the hearing at the Clark County Government Center into what occurred before Charles’ death from a wound to his torso from Tomburo’s gun.

“What is the procedure,” Helmick said, “in regard to shooting someone who has begun to start to run away?”

“Well, being that she was shot, that she was in a deadly force situation, that’s why she chose to fire her weapon,” the detective responded.

Helmick asked: “If an officer gets shot, does that immediately give them leeway to shoot an individual, no matter how far away they are?”

The detective replied: “Well, we go through the elements of deadly force, which are ability, opportunity, I mean in jeopardy, and preclusion. And all those were covered in this incident.”

Valenzuela declined to say whether Tomburo committed any errors in shooting Charles.

No other witnesses were called at the 32-minute hearing, nor did anyone from Charles’ family come forward to make a statement during the public proceeding attended by a handful of people.

Fact-finding reviews of police shootings are conducted in public when the District Attorney’s office makes a preliminary decision not to prosecute the officer or officers involved, according a county government release.

At the outset of the hearing, Deputy District Attorney Madilyn Cole asked Valenzuela, a member of the department’s Force Investigation Team that conducts criminal reviews of police shootings, to summarize the events leading up to the exchange of gunfire.

At 1:12 a.m. Sept. 10, Tomburo was driving a patrol car with her officer partner when they pulled over a small car, with the left front headlight out, outside an apartment complex at 3933 University Center Dr., several blocks north of East Flamingo Road near UNLV.

Charles was one of two passengers with the car’s driver, who did not have a driver’s license and was asked to leave the car.

With the driver detained, Charles and the other passenger exited the vehicle, before Charles took off running and Tomburo ran after him, yelling for him to stop. Charles then turned and fired a round from his 9mm handgun, wounding the officer, the detective said.

While on the ground, Tomburo fired several shots from her Sig Sauer 9mm handgun, striking Charles in the foot and torso. Her partner applied a tourniquet to her left thigh.

Police later learned that Charles’ gun had jammed, preventing him from using the other 14 rounds in the magazine, Valenzuela said.

Charles died at a hospital while Tomburo later recovered from surgery.

On May 12, Tomburo received a national “Top Cop” awarded in Washington, D.C., as part of National Police Week, for her bravery while critically wounded and returning fire during the shooting.

An autopsy later found that Charles, 27, of Las Vegas, a convicted felon who possessed a gun illegally, had at the time of the altercation a blood-alcohol level of 0.27, more than triple the legal limit for driving, the detective said.

Officer body camera videos were also shown at the hearing, depicting the moment when Tomburo was shot, her shooting Charles, her screams of pain while also speaking on her police radio and her request for a tourniquet.

Contact Jeff Burbank at jburbank@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0382. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on Twitter.

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