Lancaster County DA: Officer was justified in using lethal force in Sept. 16 police-involved shooting in Lancaster

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Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman

LANCASTER — The Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office determined that the police officer who shot and killed Ricardo Avenia on Sept. 16 was justified in using lethal force, District Attorney Craig Stedman said in a press conference Friday.

Avenia had been seen holding a gun to a woman’s head inside a home on the 500 block of Pershing Avenue. The officer who fired from the front porch and struck Avenia was justified, Stedman said, because he could reasonably conclude Avenia would have shot the woman if the officer had not acted immediately.

Avenia, 28, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Stedman would not identify the officer who fired the shot at Friday’s press conference, citing concerns about potential threats to the officer’s safety.

He said witnesses told police Avenia was holding a gun to the woman’s head, which officers confirmed upon arrival. Police could clearly see Avenia holding a gun to the head of the victim.

Officers responded to the home after the woman’s children told a neighbor that Avenia was beating up their mother and was going to kill her. The neighbor called 911 and relayed that information to police, Stedman said.

Lancaster County Detectives investigated the incident and provided all reports, evidence and all other information to Stedman, who determined that not only was the shooting justified, but that police had no other viable choice.

Stedman noted that had the police failed to act, it would have almost certainly led to the loss of the life of the victim, as well as risked the lives of the children, the police, and anyone nearby who could have been hit had an exchange of fire ensued.

At the press conference, Stedman noted the following key factors which led to his determination:

  • Avenia was holding a gun to the woman’s head as the officer fired.
  • The woman’s children told a neighbor that daddy was going to kill mommy; that information was relayed to a 9-1-1 dispatcher, who relayed the information to police responding to the scene. The above indicated the woman was in immediate risk of death.
  • Physical evidence, to include the woman’s hair on Avenia’s pistol, indicated she was physically abused, beaten, and her pants ripped off prior to police arrival. This evidence was further substantiated by what the officers on scene had observed: Avenia had the gun to the female’s head.
  • County Detectives interviewed numerous people and statements from several individuals close to the woman indicated Avenia had been abusive and threatening to the woman for some time, that they had an acrimonious relationship, and that he presented a real, substantial threat.

Stedman said that he, along with lead investigators from the County Detectives Division, met with Avenia’s family to explain the determination — presenting them with all relevant video/audio evidence — prior to Friday’s public announcement.

The following is a narrative of the incident, according to Stedman:

  • At 9:59 p.m., an anonymous female called 911, reporting two small children were hanging out a second-floor window of the home, yelling that their father is going to kill their mother. The caller was a neighbor. The child told the caller, the male (Avenia) was “beating up her mom real bad and he’s going to kill her.”
  • At 10 p.m., officers were dispatched to the home.
  • At 10:03 p.m., the first officers arrived at the scene. One of the first arriving officers relayed over radio that the subject (Avenia) was believed to be armed and then the officers confirmed this, after they looked into the home, through a first-floor window and saw a male (Avenia) holding the gun to the female’s head.
  • That officer relayed all of this information, via his radio, to others on scene, as well as additional officers who were responding and arriving.
  • At 10:07 p.m., an officer fired a single shot from his patrol rifle through the first-floor front window, into the kitchen, striking Avenia in the head.
  • 19 seconds later, an officer radioed that one person is down and in need of EMS. EMS were dispatched to the scene, and responded immediately.

A Lancaster city police sergeant and two other officers were at the scene, in close proximity, when the shooting happened.

No shots were fired at police.

The District Attorney’s Office took over the investigation immediately, interviewing witnesses, collecting information and evidence which ultimately factored into Stedman’s determination.

The police officers who were directly involved and in immediate proximity of the shooting officer were interviewed by Investigators, as were a number of other witnesses.

The gun, determined to be loaded when handled by Avenia, was recovered at the scene.

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