“Hanson later told BCA investigators that she had never been so afraid as she was in that store. She stated that she thought she was going to die that day.”
That was part of a letter written to Watonwan County Attorney Steven Lindee on Monday about 7 months after the fatal officer involved shooting at Casey’s leaving Gilberto Salas dead.
The letter written by Washington County Attorney Pete Orput and Criminal Division Chief Fred Fink Jr. outlines the reasoning for declining to charge St. James Assistant Police Chief Rochelle Hanson with any crimes.
On Monday the County Attorney received information stating why Washington County would not be moving forward with charges in the case.
According to a letter to Lindee from the Washington County Attorney, on January 31 the Assistant Chief was informed that a male driving a gray SUV in St. James had just stolen a 6 pack of beer from Casey’s.
During this time she located the vehicle northbound on County Road W and turned her flashing lights on. Hanson continued to follow the SUV without it stopping.
Eventually the vehicle began to reach 60 mph going through town and Hanson turned off her lights.
Hanson continued to follow the stolen SUV and it slowed down. Hanson recognized the driver from prior contacts as Gilberto Salas. Hanson next saw Salas and the SUV at Casey's after he had taken a circuitous route through town. Salas was getting gas, finished and got back in the SUV.
Hanson tried to box him in with her squad, but Salas drove right for her and she had to swerve to avoid a head-on collision. The SUV driven by Salas continued through town, sliding into and then out of a snow bank. Ultimately Salas stopped the car and started running through yards, ultimately climbing over a fence at the back of Casey's and then ran into the store. Hanson observed this, jumped a curb with her squad car and drove into Casey's parking lot.
Hanson got out of her car and went into the store. She saw Salas at the edge of the cigarette case with a pack in his hands, unwrapping same. Hanson pulled her Glock 23 .40 caliber and ordered Salas to the ground. By this time, she was joined in the store by Sgt. Barry Gulden of the Watonwan County Sheriff s Office . Salas was now near the office in the store. Both officers were shouting commands for Salas to get on the floor. He did not heed the commands. Hanson had holstered her gun at this point.
Gulden used his Taser on Salas giving him a full 5 second burst. Salas fell back into the office's chair, but then stood up and slams the door. He had not said anything to the officers.
After about 30 seconds Salas came out of the office with a pocket knife with about a 3 inch blade exposed in his right hand. Minnesota State Trooper Jacob Ruppert had now joined the other officers. Ruppert used his Taser on Salas with little effect as he continues to walk at the officers. The knife can clearly be seen in his hand on Taser video.
The letter goes on to state that Hanson then used her tasser on Salas. He then crashed into a display but maintained on his feet, ignoring commands to get on the floor.
At this point Hanson unholstered her gun Salas was at the end of an aisle. Ruppert peeled off and went down another aisle. Hanson was in the first aisle removed from the cooler case. Salas walked toward Hanson as she was continually telling him to drop the knife and get on the floor Salas was about 3-4 feet from Hanson as she was backed up in the aisle. As Salas came at her he said, “Come here, come here."
As Hanson continued to back down the aisle with Salas continuing to approach her with the knife out and pointed at her, she told him at least twice that she was going to shoot if he did not drop the knife. Hanson by this time was at the end of the aisle and turned into the next aisle next to the cooler case. Salas was still coming at her with the knife drawn. According to Gulden, Salas was closing the distance between the two.
Hanson continued to back up, telling Salas he would be shot if he did not drop the knife.
Hanson at this point was nearing the end of the aisle. The end of the aisle was partially obstructed by store equipment and Hanson did not want to turn around to see which way to go for fear of Salas lunging at her with the knife. Hanson shot Salas, expending 2 rounds. Hanson states that the 2 shots did not seem to phase him so she fired 2 more. Salas fell onto the floor, bleeding. Hanson holstered her gun and was led out of the store.
The letter also notes that according to a toxicology report Salas had a blood alcohol content of .055 and also determined the presence of Methamphetamine in his system.
Hanson later told BCA investigators that she had never been so afraid as she was in that store. She stated that she thought she was going to die that day. She answered all questions posed to her. Other officers, including Ruppert and Gulden were also interviewed. The statements of all three corroborate each other and are further corroborated by Taser video. The BCA Crime Scene Unit was called to the scene. Blood was drawn from Hanson, processed by the BCA lab and found to be negative for blood alcohol and negative for drugs.
One part of the letter to the Watonwan County Attorney also outlined the conclusion as to why they are declining to charge the Assistant Police Chief with any crimes stating the following.
This office is declining to issue criminal charges against Assistant Chief Rochelle Hanson involving the death of Gilberto Salas on January 31,2018. It is declining to do so because of the belief that Hanson was justified in using deadly force against Gilberto Salas on this occasion. The officer, in the line of duty, reasonably felt the need to protect herself from apparent death or great bodily harm at the hands of Gilberto Salas.
Hanson was responding to a chase and car theft and found the suspect Salas at Casey's in St. James, MN.
After announcing police presence, Salas was told to get on the floor. He did not. He was ultimately subjected to the non-lethal force of a Taser 3 separate times and still did not comply. Salas had an unfolded knife in his hand and was flashing it.
Salas backed Hanson down almost 2 aisles of the store with the knife drawn, advancing all the while.
He did this despite Hanson warning him multiple times that she would shoot him if he did not drop the knife.
She then fired her service weapon 4 times until Salas went down.
The fact that officers repeatedly warned Salas to drop the knife and get on the floor is corroborated by civilian witnesses as well as the Taser audio recovered.
The letter concludes by stating, “The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from this set of facts is that Assistant Chief Rochelle Hanson fired on Salas in self defense and squarely within her rights under the cited statute. V/hile many officer involved shootings are presented to grand juries for their consideration, it is the considered opinion of the Washington County Attorney's office that the facts of this case are so clear that it would be a waste of valuable public resources to convene a grand jury in this matter. While the death of an individual by deadly force is never to be taken lightly, there is no question that the actions of Assistant Chief Rochelle Hanson of the St. James Police department in this matter was wholly justified.”
According to the letter the law in a case like this states, Use of Deadly Force, states that " the use of deadly force by a peace officer in the line of duty is justified only when necessary: to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm;"
On Monday the Watonwan County Attorney’s Office released the following press release.
On June 29,2018, this office received the investigation materials from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension after it concluded its investigation into the death of Gilberto Salas on January 31 2018, after an officer-involved shooting. On July 9,2018, the case file was forwarded on to Washington County for review in order to have a completely independent assessment of the situation.
On August 6,20I8, this office received the attached letter from Washington County, which declined to charge Assistant Chief Rochelle Hanson with any crime as a result of what transpired on Januar y31, 3018 for the reasons stated therein.