For Immediate Release
Contact: Michelle Bays
775.321.4307 (o); 775.771.6049 (c)
Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks has released his findings on the February 23, 2017 Officer Involved Shooting (OIS) incident involving the Reno Police Department (RPD) and Steven Valenzuela. On that date, RPD patrol officers responded to a citizen report of a possible robbery that had just occurred in downtown Reno. The citizen provided descriptions of the victim and three suspects, one of which was identified as Valenzuela. A search took place involving multiple RPD patrol officers who quickly caught sight of Valenzuela entering the Eldorado Casino. Valenzuela was initially confronted inside the busy casino, where he pointed a gun at two responding RPD officers before fleeing the area. He was then located by an RPD Officer in a casino elevator. The officer gave Valenzuala multiple commands to surrender. Valenzuela responded by pulling out a gun and pointing it at his own head. The RPD officer continued to give commands to drop the weapon and surrender, while Valenzuela made challenging statements to the officer to shoot him. As the RPD officer retreated and ordered nearby civilians to take cover, Valenzuela moved behind a nearby trashcan and began advancing on the officer. Fearing for his life and the lives of civilians in the area, the RPD officer fired at Valenzuela. Valenzuela was declared dead on scene and the OIS protocol was initiated. Once completed, the investigation was forwarded to this office for a determination of whether the shooting was legally justified and not a criminal act.
Finding that the shooting was justified under Nevada law, District Attorney Hicks has released a detailed 48 page report of his conclusions and the legal analysis applied to the case. A copy of the report will be made available on the WCDA’s Office’s website at https://www.washoecounty.us/da/newsroom/reports.php
Valenzuela was arrested in Utah in December of 2016 for Aggravated Robbery, Intoxicated Person with a Weapon, and Assault. After being bailed out, he fled Utah in February intending to skip his court date for fear of going back to prison. After a short stint in Las Vegas, Valenzuela moved on to California where on February 19, 2017, he committed an armed carjacking after crashing his own car. He then fled to Reno in the carjacked vehicle where he met up with fellow Norteno gang members.
On February 23, 2017, at approximately 10:42 a.m., RPD officers were hailed by a Whittlesea Checker Taxi driver in downtown Reno. The driver told the officers that three males may have just committed a robbery and that one was armed. The driver provided descriptions and a direction of travel of the suspects. The armed suspect was Valenzuela.
Nearly immediately thereafter, the two officers spotted the three males. The officers alerted incoming patrol units and immediately began running toward the suspects. Additional downtown RPD officers also heard the radio transmission and responded to that area. Upon seeing the multiple officers, Valenzuela ran ultimately entering the Eldorado Casino. Responding officers organized a perimeter around the exterior of the casino and entered the Eldorado.
Valenzuela was located by two RPD officers near Brew Brothers Restaurant. He was given commands to stop but responded by pointing a firearm at the officers and continuing to flee through the casino. Through surveillance footage, Valenzuela was seen fleeing through the Eldorado and neighboring Silver Legacy Casino while manipulating his firearm. He then enters an Eldorado elevator.
Meanwhile, RPD Officer Thomas White had heard the earlier radio traffic and also responded to the Eldorado to assist. Hearing radio traffic about Valenzuela’s flight through the casinos, Officer White went to a set of elevators where he immediately encountered Valenzuela.
Officer White placed him at gunpoint while also giving him verbal commands to drop the weapon. Valenzuela responded by pulling a revolver from his pocket and pointing it at his own head saying, “Shoot me!,” “Kill me!,” “Why haven’t you shot me yet?” and then stated, “I’m going to shoot myself!” Officer White took several steps back while repeatedly ordering Valenzuela to drop the gun, saying, “Don’t do this!” and “It’s not worth it!”
Valenzuela continued to keep the gun pointed at his head. He laid on the ground and crawled out of the elevator and across the floor toward a nearby trashcan. Once behind the trashcan, Valenzuela, still armed with the weapon, began advancing toward Officer White saying, “I want to die, are you ready?” Fearing for the safety of himself and the safety of the citizens behind him in the casino, Officer White fired two rounds at Valenzuela, immediately incapacitating him. Shortly after the shooting, multiple officers arrived and rendered medical aid to Valenzuela until REMSA paramedics declared him dead on scene.
Consistent with the regionally-adopted Officer Involved Shooting Protocol, the Sparks Police Department (SPD) led the investigation into the shooting of Valenzuela. The Washoe County Sheriff’s Office provided secondary investigative support, the Washoe County Crime Laboratory provided forensic services and the Washoe County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted the autopsy. The investigation included interviewing witnesses, collecting physical evidence, photographing the shooting scene, forensically testing collected evidence, and interviewing the officers involved in the shooting.
All investigation reports along with WCCL forensic reports, photographs, and recorded interviews were then submitted to the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office in May of 2018 for a determination of whether the shooting of Steven Valenzuela was legally justified. No criminal charges were recommended by SPD. The District Attorney’s evaluation included reviewing over 1,000 pages of reports and documents, which included interviews of police and civilian witnesses, photographs, diagrams, video surveillance and examination of the scene of the shooting.
Conclusion by the District Attorney:
Based on the available evidence and the applicable legal authorities, it is the opinion of the District Attorney that the shooting of Steven Valenzuela by RPD Officer White was justified and not a criminal act.
Following initial contact with Valenzuela, Officer White repeatedly tried to deescalate the situation. Nevertheless, a desperate and dangerous Valenzuela took a concealed position and began to advance on the officer with a firearm in his hand. In that moment, it was entirely reasonable for Officer White to believe that he was in imminent danger of great bodily harm or death as were the numerous Eldorado employees, guests, and patrons in the area. It was therefore necessary to use deadly force against Valenzuela in order to preserve his life and the lives of others.