State won’t file charges against four Antioch police officers who fired 45 times in fatal shooting of agitated resident

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

State authorities will not file any charges against any of the four Antioch police officers who fired their guns in the fatal police shooting of an unarmed 55-year-old Antioch resident in 2021, including one awaiting trial on civil rights violations tied to the department’s racist texting scandal.

Authorities said officers Ryan McDonald and Eric Rombough fired the majority of the 19 shots that hit Guadalupe Zavala on Dec. 10, 2021, as he ran in the direction of a Pittsburg police armored car a few feet from his burning Antioch home in the 3800 block of Dove Court. The two combined to fire approximately 45 times, the state’s Department of Justice said in its official report on the shooting.

Rombough is currently awaiting trial on multiple charges against him involving alleged civil rights violations by him and two other members of the Antioch Police Department.

Antioch police Officer Scott Duggar and Sgt. Theodore Chang also fired during the standoff, according to the report. Police shot at Zavala twice, hours apart. He was killed in the latter shooting.

The officers’ gunfire ended a six-hour standoff that started about 1 p.m. when neighbors called 911 to report a “tweaker” was firing a rifle at pine cones and vehicles.

“Loss of life is always a tragedy,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. He added that Antioch police could’ve communicated better, both among themselves and with other agencies, during the incident.

Officers from Oakley, Pittsburg and Brentwood police all responded, as did deputies from the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office. They helped to evacuate most of the residents in the area, although the danger of the situation forced residents in two nearby houses to shelter in place through the standoff.

The officers who fired told investigators that they were going off what turned out to be bad information from a surveillance helicopter that Zavala appeared to be holding a pistol as he emerged from the home.

“APD should evaluate its communication systems including radio department-issued cell phones, to ensure that officers can communicate with each other throughout the region covered by APD,” the report stated. “Due to the hilly terrain of the area, many of the officers’ radios and cell phones did not work properly.”

According to the report, Zavala fired on more than one occasion during the standoff and was armed with a rifle while wearing camouflage and a ballistic helmet. He walked around the front of the one-story house shooting randomly, authorities said.

At a September 2022 inquest hearing, one 84-year-old woman said a bullet nearly struck her as she stood next to the Christmas tree in her living room. She rushed over to her 13-year-old granddaughter and hunkered down in another part of the building until officers evacuated them. Another neighbor said he felt a bullet whiz past his head after he peeked into Zavala’s yard to see where “explosions” were coming from, according to investigators’ testimony.

At one point, Zavala asked crisis negotiators how many people he’d shot. Told that no one had been hurt, he responded: “I missed my targets?”

Authorities said they used the crisis negotiators, as well as loudspeakers and drones, to reach Zavala. They surrounded the house at a distance and gave him room to surrender, according to the report. Authorities said he responded by cutting off negotiators and shooting down a drone.

He also ignored his family, who wanted him to leave and described him as paranoid, acting erratically and on methamphetamines, authorities said. Zavala’s brother told police that Zavala had 100 rounds of ammunition, at least one rifle and a pistol but that he wasn’t a good shot.

According to the report, about 4:50 p.m., two officers saw Zavala emerge from his front door with what one officer called a “full AR-15 style rifle.” The officers said Zavala moved “tactically” and that when he appeared ready to take aim and fire. Either Duggar or Chang fired a shot that knocked Zavala over but didn’t appear to harm him. Zavala then went back into the residence.

Two hours later, Chang saw fire coming from Zavala’s garage, spreading quickly and threatening the neighbors who had been unable to escape and were sheltering in place, the report said. The threat of the situation also affected fire crews’ ability to get to the blaze, and further escalated the danger, according to the report.

Five minutes later, officers observed Zavala running from the residence with what appeared to be a rifle. Zavala went down when a window exploded from the fire, then got up and began running after appearing to drop the rifle, the report said.

He later dropped his bullet-proof vest and ran toward the armored vehicles, and the gunfire erupted. The report said Rumbough fired approximately 31 times and McDonald approximately 14.

According to the inquest hearing, Rombough and McDonald later told investigators that they fired at Zavala as he ran toward where Pittsburg officers were attempting to batter down his backyard fence with an armored vehicle. They later said they believed he intended to shoot the officers or run to a nearby home to take hostages. Both officers said they fired a second volley at Zavala after he fell to the ground because he appeared to be moving or “playing possum.”

The two residents who were forced to shelter in place were able to get out of their houses and escaped unharmed, according to authorities.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.