PRESTON — A Franklin County sheriff’s deputy has been cleared in the fatal shooting of a 50-year-old Grace man in November.
A Critical Incident Task Force led by the Pocatello Police Department investigated the incident, and based on their findings, Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Vic A. Pearson determined that the use of deadly force by Deputy Kelly Biggs against Raul Antonio Menjivar-Saabedra was justified.
“I have concluded after reading the reports, reviewing the evidence, and conferring with detectives assigned to the case, that there is no evidence to support a criminal charge against Deputy Biggs for the events of November 19, 2019,” Pearson wrote in a Critical Incident Task Force Memorandum released on Friday.
Much of the two-hour incident was captured on surveillance film and body cameras, Pearson said.
The events of that day began around 8:30 p.m. when law enforcement officers responded to a report of a suspicious male, identified as Saabedra, at Stokes Marketplace.
Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Dustin Olsen, who speaks Spanish, was called in at the request of the first responder, Preston Officer Tuyen Nguyen, to help communicate with Saabedra.
Saabedra was originally from El Salvador.
“Deputy Olsen began speaking with Saabedra and it became immediately apparent that he was mentally unstable and was stating that he was going to be tortured and killed by unknown individuals from the Grace, Idaho area associated with the church because he had sinned,” the memorandum states.
At that time, Saabedra was in possession of a 13-inch kitchen knife that he had found at the store, and he showed signs of paranoia. Officials say he pointed at several shoppers saying that they were there to kill him.
Officials say Saabedra had recently been released from a Behavioral Health Unit in Logan, Utah, where he had stayed for a week due to suicidal ideations.
“While inside the store Saabedra stated approximately twenty-five (25) times that people were going to kill him because of the sins he had committed and requested law enforcement kill him approximately eight (8) times so he wouldn’t be tortured and killed by the other people,” according to the memorandum.
Saabedra’s ecclesiastical leader from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived and said he would drive Saabedra back to the hospital for treatment, but Saabedra refused to go with him, according the memorandum.
Officers also tried to convince Saabedra to go, but he would not. They were able to get him to leave the store around 9:30 p.m., but not without the knife.
Things began to escalate after that.
Still armed, Saabedra ended up taking several steps towards Deputy Olsen and Preston Police Chief Dan McCammon, then stopped.
A short time later, he headed towards Deputy Biggs, who had also arrived on scene.
Biggs told Saabedra to “stop right there,” three times, but the suspect did not stop.
Deputy Biggs, Deputy Olsen and Officer Nguyen deployed their tasers, but officials believe the clothes Saabedra was wearing prevented the prongs from attaching and working effectively.
Still, the tasers stopped Saabedra’s approach toward Biggs, and the suspect ended up fleeing toward the nearby V-1 Propane. He then proceeded into the middle of Highway 91.
Officers pursued, and Saabedra raised the knife towards them several times.
Officers tried to talk Saabedra into putting the knife down. Instead, he stepped slowly toward Deputy Biggs then sprinted toward him with the knife raised. The memorandum states that the officer felt he had to take action to preserve his own life at that point, and fired a shot. Saabedra stopped briefly after being struck in the shoulder area, but then continued to rush towards Biggs. The officer subsequently fired two more shots from his weapon and Saabedra fell around 10:30 p.m.
Life-saving measures were started and an ambulance was called to the scene, but officials say Saabedra died from his injuries.
Pearson says the shooting incident could have been avoided if Saabedra’s actions had been different. As they were, he believes Biggs’s use of deadly force was justified under the circumstances and under Idaho laws.
“An officer is justified in using deadly force to overcome resistance when they have probable cause to believe the resistance poses a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officers or other persons,” according to the memorandum. “Saabedra’s behavior that day provided that probable cause. This appears to be a situation where Saabedra was attempting ‘suicide by cop’ and succeeded in his attempt.”