Sheriff’s department releases video, dispatch audio from April 1 shooting in Aguanga

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Body-worn camera footage from a deputy-involved shooting in Aguanga last month shows a driver reverse toward a deputy, then come to a stop before the deputy opens fire. Valley News/Riverside County Sheriff's Department courtesy photo

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department on Wednesday released a video containing body camera footage and audio of communications between deputies and dispatchers from a pursuit that ended with a deputy-involved shooting in Aguanga last month.

The video also includes an explanation of the April 1 incident from Sheriff Chad Bianco, as well as a map and other visual aids.

Rico Robles, 28, of Aguanga, was killed in the shooting, though his body was not found until two days after the incident occurred.

The sheriff’s department says Robles fled from deputies after they spotted him around 6:15 a.m.  in Temecula pulling a trailer that had been reported stolen. 

In the video, radio traffic indicates the vehicle Robles was driving, a Dodge Ram pickup truck, was first spotted by a community services deputy, who is not sworn but is tasked with patrol duties, in a neighborhood north of La Serena Way, and when deputies tried to pull him over, he ran the red light at Rancho California and Margarita roads. Robles also had one other passenger in the vehicle at the time.

The chase continued down Margarita Road, with Robles allegedly running a red light at Dartolo Road, driving through a shopping center parking lot, then running another red light at Camino del Sol and Temecula Parkway before continuing east out of Temecula, according to the video.

In the radio traffic released in the video, a deputy can be heard describing the suspect as traveling into oncoming traffic and driving at speeds as high as 70 mph heading into Aguanga on state Route 79 and state Route 371.

The suspect eventually ended up turning off onto Tule Peak Road, a dirt trail. The chase ended just east of Eastgate trail when the suspect’s pickup truck became stuck.

In the video, Bianco describes the moments leading up to the shooting, which is later shown in body-worn camera footage.

“As you will see in the body-worn camera video, after becoming stuck on the dirt road the driver of the truck backed up in the direction of the pursuing deputies who were now standing outside their patrol cars,” Bianco says. “In response, one deputy fired two rounds from her service weapon. A second deputy then fired one round.”

The sheriff’s department identified the two deputies who fired their weapons only as Deputy Zabrowski and Deputy Hansen.

Body-worn camera footage from Zabrowski shows the pickup and trailer reverse toward her, then stop.

“Driver, turn off the car and show us your hands,” Zabrowski shouts, and the pickup backs up toward her patrol vehicle but stops short of hitting it.

The vehicle was at a stop when Zabrowski can be heard firing two shots. Hansen, who was not wearing a camera, appears to fire a few seconds later as Robles and his passenger bail out and run south.

The backup deputy who arrived just as the shots were fired was wearing a camera but did not capture any of the gunfire.

In a brief segment later in the video, Zabrowski can be heard stating, “I thought they were going to ram me with the trailer.”

Sheriff’s deputies were unable to locate either Robles or his passenger after the shooting. At the time, it was unclear whether either man had been shot, but Robles’ body was found two days later with a gunshot wound, roughly 500 feet southeast of where his pickup became stuck. The other man’s whereabouts remain unknown.

 “This incident will be ultimately reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office,” Bianco said. “Additionally, our department will internally review and evaluate the actions of the deputies to ensure that they acted within policy and training standards.”

The sheriff’s department said because an investigation into the shooting was ongoing, the department was unable to offer any further information on the incident, including whether Robles was armed at the time of the shooting.

Riverside County District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Hall said it will likely be “several months” before the shooting is reviewed by the DA’s office.

“…our review is only to determine if there is any criminal culpability on the part of any involved officer and/or deputy,” Hall said in an email. “We do NOT review these to determine if they followed department policies etc. That is done by the involved agency or agencies. The review by our office typically does not take place for many months after the incident as we do not conduct that review until we have received all aspects of the investigation.”

Sheriff’s officials said Zabrowski and Hansen were placed on paid administrative leave immediately after the deputy-involved shooting. The sheriff’s department did not release their current duty status.

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.