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Toxicology in on Man Shot by ECPD, Not Released
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Toxicology Report in on Man Shot by ECPD, But Not Released

EL CENTRO — The Imperial County Coroner’s Office has received a toxicology report on the local man shot by El Centro police in December after he reportedly charged them while armed with a knife, an agency official reported.

However, the Sgt. Michael Mistriel, who heads the office, is not yet releasing the toxicology results on the tests done on the remains of Manuel Gonzalez Verdugo, 50, of El Centro, a coroner’s clerk said.

Verdugo was shot Dec. 29 by officers in the parking lot of the Rite Aid drug store at Imperial Avenue and Main Street. An autopsy was performed and toxicology tests to determine what, if any, foreign substances were in Verdugo’s system are standard practice in deaths suspected of not being naturally caused.

The autopsy results have also not been released.

The matter is being investigated by the El Centro Police Department and the Imperial County District Attorney’s Office. Neither has commented in any detail, though a D.A. official did issue a brief statement on Feb. 19.

“Our investigators are investigating it but it hasn’t been submitted to the (D.A.) attorneys yet,” said Kevin Cayton, a senior deputy district attorney.

Attempts to learn the status of the investigation have previously resulted in a bit of back and forth between the police and the D.A.’s office.

Any press release or the disclosure of information should be handled by the jurisdictional agency, explained Cmdr. Carl Armstrong, a D.A. investigator.

“In this case, it will be the El Centro Police Department,” he said. “When the investigation is concluded the decision will be made as to whether any criminal culpability lies with the officers.”

El Centro police Cmdr. Ray Bonillas responded to a press inquiry the first week of January with an email of an official news release. When contacted on Feb. 5 for an update, Bonillas stated the D.A. is the appropriate source.

“I am again going to refer you to Cmdr. Carl Armstrong with the Imperial County District Attorney’s Office, Investigations Division,” Bonillas stated in an email. “Mr. Armstrong may be able to assist you. We do not have the answers to many of your questions and a few of them we cannot answer because this is still an active investigation.”

The incident began with a 911 call about a subject who entered the Rite Aid, allegedly shoplifted several knives and told store employees to call the police because he intended to kill an officer, Bonillas previously said.

Police responded and saw Verdugo still in the Rite Aid parking lot, he added.

According to the police press release, the shooting occurred after Verdugo refused to comply with the officers’ commands to drop the knife, brandished it and charged officers.

One of the officers deployed a beanbag shotgun round but it had no effect. As Verdugo continued to advance toward the officers they feared for their safety and opened fire.

Verdugo was pronounced dead at the scene. Deputy Coroner W.B. Caldwell said recently Verdugo was not a transient as originally speculated but resided at an address in El Centro he added he was unable to provide. Caldwell also disclosed Verdugo did have a prior arrest record but did not provide further detail.

This story is featured in the Feb 20, 2020 e-Edition.

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