In the moments before the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office crime scene investigators took over the processing of evidence at the scene of an officer-involved shooting, Calexico police conduct interviews and start collecting evidence at the bus stop at Third Street and Paulin Avenue in the downtown on June 14. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO
CALEXICO — More than a month after a 65-year-old homeless was shot by a Calexico police officer in the downtown, sheriff’s investigators have identified the man as Manuel Rojas Barajas following a lengthy notification of his family that occurred over the weekend.
After working with Mexican consulate officials and utilizing a network of contacts among the local homeless community and in Mexico, a relative who lives in Mexicali came forward on Sunday, July 18, to identify Rojas Barajas, according to Imperial County Chief Deputy Sheriff Robert Benavidez.
Additionally, sheriff’s investigators met formally with the Calexico Police Department and the Imperial County District Attorney’s office to advise both that the Sheriff’s Office would be submitting its findings in the officer-involved shooting investigation to the DA’s office soon.
Benavidez declined to say when that would be or the nature of the findings.
Calexico police and the Sheriff’s Office have been handling separate areas of investigation on this case, with sheriff’s officials handling the crime scene and interviewing witnesses and the Police Department leading its own internal probe.
On the identification of the Rojas Barajas, it wasn’t completely clear whether the consulate ultimately aided in the contact, but Benavidez said last week that an acquaintance living in Mexicali had spoken to sheriff’s investigators and informed them he would reach out to Rojas Barajas’ family.
Even getting in contact with that acquaintance was a long process, said Benavidez, who also indicated that investigators had come up with multiple dead ends in trying to find next of kin.
“The victim didn’t have a lot of formal contact with family,” the chief deputy said.
Alive at the time Calexico fire first responders arrived, Rojas Barajas was pronounced dead at El Centro Regional Medical Center.
Rojas Barajas had been in a fight with another homeless man at the bus stop around 6 p.m. that evening when it appears an Imperial Valley Transit bus pulled up to the curb as the fight was happening, the driver possibly called police while also enacting electronic signage on the outside of the bus to call 911, Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo said previously. Police responded soon after.
The shooting occurred just after 6 p.m. in a sequence of events that still has not been made clear by either the Calexico Police Department or the Imperial County Sheriff’s Department.
Gerardo was not immediately available for comment on Monday afternoon, July 19, and Benavidez said the probe is ongoing, adding that witnesses were still being interviewed last week.
At one point, Gerardo said as many as 13 to 14 separate people had to be interviewed and reinterviewed as part of the probe. The shooting happened at a busy time of the evening at that intersection. It was a Monday evening, there were passersby on foot, in vehicles, and a number of people on the bus that pulled up as the incident was unfolding.
It wasn’t available if the police officer is still off duty, but Gerardo had said a few days after the shooting that out of an abundance of caution, the officer would likely not return until the investigation is complete.
Some of what is known is that witnesses and authorities have said during the fight the preceded the shooting, a younger Hispanic man was getting the best of Rojas Barajas when Rojas Barajas pulled out a knife and slashed the other man across the forehead. That man was not seriously injured.
Two police officers, both equipped with body-worn cameras that Gerardo said recorded the confrontation, arrived at the area and at some point one officer shot more than three times at Rojas Barajas — three shells were counted at the scene but the Gerardo confirmed Rojas Barajas was shot “at least” that many times.
By law, the Police Department has less than 30 days left from July 19, to release the body-cam footage of the shooting, but to the extent it could hinder an investigation, an extension to that period can be sought, Gerardo said last month. That extension could last up to 180 days.