Central Valley

Officer cleared in swordsman's death

A Modesto police officer was "legally justified in her use of deadly force" when she shot and killed a man carrying a sword during a confrontation in January, Stanislaus County district attorney's officials said Tuesday.

Officer Latisha Leap shot Richard Robles Jr., 45, shortly after 5 a.m. on Jan. 11 in downtown Modesto. He died at a hospital about an hour later.

Robles had been acting "bizarre and unusual" outside the DoubleTree Hotel on K Street near Ninth Street, according to a Modesto Fire Department captain who first spotted Robles that morning. Robles had a history of violent confrontations with authorities.

District attorney officials said Robles raised the sword over his head, advanced toward Leap and ignored repeated orders to stop and drop the wea-pon. Leap requested backup, but no other officers had arrived.

Even after Leap fired three shots at Robles, he continued advancing toward her holding the sword. She fired again, and he collapsed.

"It's clear to us she really had no choice," Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said. "The officer was in great danger."

Wasden said Leap was placed on administrative leave but returned to duty within a week of the shooting. Leap declined to comment Tuesday, said Sgt. Brian Findlen, the police spokesman.

Robles' wife, Annette Robles, said she was disappointed by the report. She said they were legally separated at the time of his death but remained friends. They have a 17-year-old son and were a part of each other's lives, she said.

"We still don't really know what happened that morning," said Annette Robles, who said she was notified by the district attorney's office Tuesday about the report. "Nobody else was in harm's way. We don't understand why she had to shoot."

The shooting happened just east of a blue Dodge pickup, registered to Richard Robles, that was parked on the north side of K Street near the DoubleTree entrance.

Leap arrived alone on the scene after a call from a Modesto fire captain who had reported seeing a man with a sword in a scabbard.

Robles, according to the report, "flipped" off Leap when she used a spotlight to see if anyone was inside the pickup. He ranted at her when she got out of her car. They were 10 to 13 feet apart, the report says.

As Leap called for backup, Robles yelled at her to leave. When she asked him to put down the sword, he pulled it from the scabbard and raised it over his head.

As she drew her gun, Leap ordered Robles repeatedly to stop and drop the sword as he advanced toward her. The officer backed away, yelling for Robles to stop and "drop it." District attorney officials said a civilian witness heard the confrontation and confirmed this to investigators.

When Robles continued to advance, Leap fired three shots at him, according to the district attorney's office. Robles did not stop or drop the sword.

Leap continued to retreat and fired again. Robles then stopped and bent over, but he did not drop the sword. Robles threw the sword at the officer as she continued moving backward. He then collapsed.

Less than two minutes had elapsed from the moment the officer radioed the license plate number to when Robles collapsed. The sword Robles was carrying was found on the sidewalk west of the Dodge.

It was unclear Tuesday night how many shots Leap fired and how many bullets struck Robles. District Attorney Birgit Fladager was not available for comment.

Robles was convicted twice of violent assaults on peace officers, in 1997 and in 2006, according to the district attorney's office.

After each of those incidents, he was found incompetent to stand trial and was committed to state hospitals until he could be returned to court, the district attorney's office said.

In January, Polly Robles said her son struggled with mental illness. She said her son spent about a year in jail after the second conviction and was diagnosed with mental illness then. He was confined to Napa State Hospital, a facility for patients with major mental illness. He was released in May 2007.

"Officer Leap did not know Robles, and therefore she did not know of his prior attacks on police officers or potential mental issues," according to a news release from the district attorney.

District attorney officials said the physical evidence and other witnesses support Leap's account, and she was justified in her use of deadly force in self-defense.

Leap, 34, has worked for the department for three years. Before the shooting, Leap had attended a 40-hour course called "Crisis Intervention Training" designed to give peace officers communication skills to help them deal with mentally ill people.

"Officer Leap simply did not have time to exercise any of those skills," according to the district attorney's news release.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

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