FINDINGS OF DISTRICT ATTORNEY JOSEPH D. EARLY, JR. REGARDING TROOPERS INVOLVED IN THE FATAL SHOOTING OF JORGE ZAMBRANO ON MAY 22, 2016 IN OXFORD
The Worcester County District Attorney’s Office, the Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office along with the Auburn Police Department and Oxford Police Department have concluded the investigation into the fatal shooting of Jorge Zambrano, age 35, of Worcester, by Massachusetts State Police at 31-33 Watch St. in Oxford, on May 22, 2016.
A thorough investigation was conducted into the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of Jorge Zambrano. State Police Troopers were attempting to arrest Jorge Zambrano. After failing to surrender himself peacefully, Jorge Zambrano shot and wounded Massachusetts State Trooper A.J. Kardoos and then was fatally shot by the State Police. Under the circumstances the Troopers acted reasonably and lawfully.
The District Attorney’s Office, by statute, has the duty and authority to direct and control all death investigations within Worcester County. As such, the primary goal of this investigation was to determine if any person bears criminal responsibility in connection with Jorge Zambrano’s death. I designated my Senior First Assistant District Attorney, Jeffrey Travers, First Assistant / Chief of Appeals, Jane Sullivan, and Chief of Homicide, Terry McLaughlin, to direct the investigation.
During the course of our investigation, we reviewed all relevant information including but not limited to witness statements, police reports, State Police reports, crime scene reports, crime scene photos, video surveillance, cell phone information, DNA analysis, autopsy reports, autopsy photos, toxicology reports, firearm history, and death certificates.
II. Applicable Law:
The analysis of whether the actions of the involved troopers constitute a criminal act was guided by applicable case law and legal precedent on the use of force by law enforcement. In order for use of deadly force to be lawful, the actions of the troopers must have been objectively reasonable in light of all circumstances confronting them at the time.
As stated by the United States Supreme Court, in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396-397 (1989), “The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” The reasonableness of an officer’s use of deadly force “must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Graham, 490 U.S. at 396. Massachusetts courts “do not ‘second-guess’ officers, even if, in retrospect, a situation could have been handled differently.” Natal v. City of New Bedford, 37 F.Supp. 2d 74, 76 (D. Mass. 1999). A police officer’s use of deadly force is reasonable and lawful when the officer “has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others.” Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 11 (1985). Moreover,
“[a] police officer has an obligation to protect his fellow officers and the public at large that goes beyond that of an ordinary citizen, such that retreat or escape is not a viable option for an on-duty police officer faced with a potential threat of violence.” Commonwealth v. Asher, 471 Mass. 580, 589 (2015).
III. Investigative Findings:
Homicide of Police Officer Ronald Tarentino, Auburn:
On Sunday, May 22, 2016, at approximately 12:26 a.m., Officer Ronald Tarentino of the Auburn Police Department radioed Auburn Police Dispatch that he was stopping a 1997 Infiniti QX4 Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) bearing a Massachusetts registration of 4PJX80 on Rochdale Street at Zabelle Avenue.
A short time later, Officer Tarentino reported that shots had been fired and that he had been struck.
Arriving officers found Officer Tarentino seated in his cruiser bleeding from at least two gunshot wounds. Officer Tarentino was transported to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester where he was later pronounced deceased.
Investigators identified a witness who was traveling on Rochdale Street when he overheard on his personal scanner the broadcast of shots fired.
The operator reversed direction and headed toward the scene. Before the witness arrived at the crime scene, he observed a white Infiniti SUV traveling westbound on Rochdale Street away from the crime scene at a high rate of speed.
Auburn Homicide Crime Scene Investigation:
Numerous law enforcement assets responded to the scene including Auburn Police, Massachusetts State Police Detectives assigned to the District Attorney’s Office, State Police Crime Scene Services and the State Police Firearms Identification Section. At the scene investigators located at least five (5) spent .45 caliber gold colored shell casings in the area of where the Infiniti should have been parked relative to the position of Officer Tarentino’s cruiser. Investigators also located four (4) spent projectiles in the area of Officer Tarentino’s cruiser.
Investigators learned that the 1997 Infiniti QX4 bearing Massachusetts registration 4PJX80 had been stopped on May 16, 2016 by Trooper Christian Paluk of the State Police Holden barracks. Trooper Paluk identified Jorge Zambrano (D.O.B. 3/14/1981) as the vehicle’s operator. Jorge Zambrano was arrested and the vehicle was towed by Boulevard Towing. The vehicle was later released to HP, who was identified as the girlfriend of Jorge Zambrano.
Search for Jorge Zambrano:
On the same date, May 22, 2016, at approximately 7:45 a.m., Trooper Douglas Grout and Trooper Michael Travers interviewed JS of Worcester. JS is the mother of Jorge Zambrano’s daughter. Investigators also spoke with Jorge Zambrano’s juvenile daughter who advised that she had received a phone call from Jorge Zambrano at approximately 12:30 a.m. It was reported that during that conversation Jorge Zambrano stated that he was sorry and wished that he had been there for her.
On the same date, at approximately 8:43 a.m., Trooper Grout and Trooper Travers responded to a residential address in in Worcester. Investigators were given this address from the Department of Probation who reported that Jorge Zambrano was staying at this location.
Investigators observed Jorge Zambrano’s name on the mailbox for the third floor apartment. Investigators also spoke with neighbors who stated that Jorge Zambrano was at the building sometime around midnight on this date. One neighbor heard a male and a female arguing in the apartment, and she heard Jorge Zambrano leave the apartment. This neighbor reported that Jorge Zambrano drives a white SUV. Around 3 a.m., this same neighbor heard a loud “bang” from the apartment. Worcester Police conducted a protective sweep of the apartment and located HP in the apartment with her son. Jorge Zambrano was not located. HP was brought to SPDU Worcester to be interviewed.
On the same date, at approximately 9:15 a.m., Trooper Scott Driscoll and Auburn PD Detective Eric Dyson interviewed AZ at the Auburn Police Department. AZ is the ex-wife of Jorge Zambrano. She advised that she had received a text message and several voice phone calls from GZ, brother of Jorge Zambrano. AZ did not answer any of these phone calls.
On the same date, at approximately 10 a.m., EB called the Auburn Police and reported seeing a white Infiniti SUV with no plates on it in the driveway of 31 Watch St. in Oxford. EB stated that when he woke up that morning he read about the murder of Officer Tarentino online and observed images of Jorge Zambrano and the vehicle. EB immediately recognized the man in the image as Jorge Zambrano. This morning the vehicle had plastic sheeting partially covering the vehicle. EB and his girlfriend, CB, came to the Auburn Police Department where he was interviewed by Trooper Driscoll and Auburn Detective Dyson. EB advised that he knew that Jorge Zambrano frequented 31 Watch St., operates a white Infiniti with a dog sticker on the back and believed that he is selling crack cocaine to “Crazy John.” EB identified 31 Watch St. as the right side of the duplex with a dark green door with a multi-colored stained glass window. Jorge Zambrano had been frequently seen at the residence and EB identified Jorge Zambrano traveling with a pit bull. EB identified the RMV photo of Jorge Zambrano.
On the same date, at approximately 10:36 a.m., Trooper Michael Leo and Trooper Eric Higgins interviewed JS and his wife, KR, at a residence in Shrewsbury. JS was the previous owner of the 1997 Infiniti QX4. JS stated that he gave the vehicle to Jorge Zambrano approximately six months ago. JS and KR were shown a photo of the Infiniti that was taken while it was parked at 31 Watch St. JS and KR positively identified the vehicle as the vehicle that was given to Jorge Zambrano. KR recalls that the vehicle’s front driver’s side window had been smashed. KR stated that Jorge Zambrano smashed the window out approximately one month ago when he locked the keys inside of the vehicle. JS remembered that there was some right front damage to the bumper.
On the same date, at approximately 10:58 a.m., HP was interviewed at the State Police Detective Unit, Worcester, by Trooper Grout and Trooper Travers. She stated that she got into an argument with Jorge Zambrano the previous evening around 11:30 p.m. at her apartment. She then stated that Jorge Zambrano left the residence in the white SUV with a license plate that might have been hanging off of it. Jorge Zambrano took with him her cell phone, which she identified as (508-XXX–XXXX), a bag of clothes, and his pit bull. She did not know where he was planning on going and he did not come back. Jorge Zambrano was wearing shorts, and a white tank top and black sneakers.
HP stated that she last saw Jorge Zambrano carry a firearm approximately six months ago. She described the firearm as a black pistol similar to those the State Police are issued. She further stated that Jorge Zambrano wears a plastic holster in his waist band and that he kept his ammunition in a blue and white bag. HP had told Jorge Zambrano to stop bringing the firearm into the house and told the officers that he may have been keeping the firearm in the car. HP was in the Infiniti with Jorge Zambrano the day before. She was shown a picture of the Infiniti taken while it was parked at 31 Watch Street and stated that it was definitely Jorge Zambrano’s vehicle.
Attempted Arrest and Shooting of Jorge Zambrano:
As a result of the above investigation, law enforcement sought an arrest warrant, which was issued for Jorge Zambrano for a violation of probation. A Search Warrant was issued for 31 Watch St., Oxford. The residence at 31 Watch St. is a duplex, which shares a common wall with 33 Watch St. The STOP Team (State Police Tactical Operations Team) was activated. Law Enforcement initiated multiple attempts to peacefully draw Jorge Zambrano out of the apartment. Amplified verbal commands were issued by troopers. A robot and chemical munitions were introduced without success. In addition, a police K-9 was introduced without success.
Prior to the STOP Team entering the apartment, a resident of the property exited the apartment complex and was intercepted by STOP Team members. The resident was interviewed and reported that Jorge Zambrano was in the apartment complex and looking for “suicide by cop.”
The STOP Team entered the apartment at #31 and found it unoccupied. A search of the basement revealed that the suspect may have accessed the adjacent apartment through a breach in the common wall.
STOP Team members entered the apartment at #33 and cleared the first floor as described previously. The Team members climbed the stairs to the second floor and three troopers entered the bedroom at the top of the stairs to the left. The room was filled with furniture and mattresses.
The shades were drawn but daylight could be seen. A light mounted on the rifle of one of the troopers was illuminated. Two troopers coordinated to open and clear a closed closet in the bedroom. One trooper opened the closet door while the other illuminated the closet with the light from his rifle. That trooper saw a black handgun between some hanging clothes, which was pointed at the trooper. Almost simultaneously a dog jumped out of the closet and the gun began firing at the troopers. One of the troopers observed a man crouched down on the floor of the closet. As the handgun began firing from the closet, flames were seen coming from the ejection port and muzzle of the gun.
Trooper A.J. Kardoos reported that he was struck by one of the first rounds discharged from the handgun. The other two troopers then returned fire with their Colt M-4 rifles. Trooper Kardoos reported that he took a knee upon being injured and heard at least 4 or 5 rounds of loud pistol fire “cracking” above his head. Troopers observed that Zambrano’s .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol was audibly distinguishable from the Colt M-4 suppressed fire rifles.The two other troopers returned fire with their rifles only after they were fired upon, resulting in the injuries that caused Jorge Zambrano’s death. Trooper Kardoos was carrying a shotgun, which was not fired. Trooper Kardoos sustained a gunshot wound to his arm and was transported to UMass Memorial Medical Center where he successfully recovered from the shooting.
IV. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner:
Autopsy of Police Officer Ronald Tarentino:
An autopsy was performed by Dr. Richard Atkinson, who determined the cause of death to be gunshot wound of torso and the manner of death to be homicide. The autopsy revealed that one bullet entered the left side of Officer Tarentino’s lower back and perforated his left kidney, pancreas, spleen, stomach, left lung and left heart ventricle, and exited the left side of his chest. That bullet penetrated Officer Tarentino’s body from back to front, upward and slightly left to right.
Autopsy of Jorge Zambrano:
An autopsy was performed by Dr. Mindy Hull, who determined the cause of death to be gunshot wounds of torso and extremities with injuries of the heart, lungs, liver and long bones and the manner of death to be homicide.
Toxicology of Police Officer Ronald Tarentino:
The Toxicology Analysis of Ronald Tarentino was unremarkable.
Toxicology of Jorge Zambrano:
The Toxicology of Jorge Zambrano tested positive for Cocaine Metabolite and Cannabinoid.
V. DNA Analysis:
The DNA Analysis in this investigation was unremarkable.
VI. Firearm of Jorge Zambrano:
The Firearm used by Jorge Zambrano was a Smith & Wesson M&P 45.
During a subsequent search of 33 Watch St., specifically the 2nd floor bedroom where the shooting took place, troopers recovered a Smith & Wesson M&P 45 semiautomatic pistol from the hand of Jorge Zambrano. Troopers recovered 8 .45 caliber discharged cartridge casings with the head stamp of “Aguila”.
The 5 .45 caliber shell casings that were found at the scene where Officer Tarentino was shot and killed matched the firearm found in the hand of Jorge Zambrano at 33 Watch St.
The Firearm was reported stolen during a Breaking and Entering on or about Sept. 28, 2014 in Athol.
Our legal analysis of the actions of the STOP Team under the controlling law in the use of force by law enforcement is guided by the standard that an officer’s use of deadly force must be objectively reasonable in light of all the facts and circumstances confronting the officer.
In this case, Jorge Zambrano shot Police Officer Ronald Tarentino multiple times resulting in his death during a motor vehicle stop. Jorge Zambrano made several phone calls to family members suggesting regret and disappointment. Jorge Zambrano fled his apartment to Oxford and concealed the vehicle used in the murder of Officer Tarentino. Jorge Zambrano was known to carry a firearm and a significant amount of ammunition. Law Enforcement was clearly informed he was armed, violent and unstable.
The State Police applied for and obtained an Arrest Warrant for Jorge Zambrano for violating his conditions of probation.
Jorge Zambrano refused to surrender himself peacefully after multiple requests by the State Police, the use of verbal commands to surrender, the use of a robot, the use of chemical munitions and a K-9 dog. The STOP Team methodically employed these techniques in both dwellings. Upon discovering that Zambrano had entered the basement of the second dwelling, the team entered that residence and cleared the first floor. Three troopers entered a bedroom on the second floor at the top of the stairs as additional team members entered a nearby bathroom. In the bedroom troopers encountered a closed closet. Upon opening the closet door, a dog jumped out of the closet. At the same time, a black handgun, camouflaged among hanging clothes, began firing at the troopers. Jorge Zambrano was observed to be crouched down on the floor of the closet firing at the troopers. Zambrano fired at least 4 or 5 rounds at the troopers, shooting one of the troopers in the arm. The two other troopers returned fire, killing Jorge Zambrano.
In these circumstances the use of deadly force was appropriate.