SAN JOSE — Prosecutors have cleared four San Jose police officers of criminal liability in the fatal shooting of a man who shot at an officer in January, part of a frenetic sequence in which the man drove wildly across the city, tried to carjack a motorist at gunpoint, and crashed into an unsuspecting driver before getting into a deadly shootout.
A shooting report released Thursday by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office suggested that Robert Seth Carter, 32, “may have intended for police to kill him,” citing a friend of Carter’s who told investigators that he said he would die before going back to prison, where he had last been held two years ago.
The report also details a violent and confused crime scene the evening of Jan. 19 at West Hedding and Park avenues. After crashing into a vehicle with a stolen car, which then burst into flames, Carter is shown on video recorded by a police helicopter firing a handgun at a Officer Aidan Guy, who fired back but missed as Carter ran through a parking lot.
Moments later, Carter was seen pointing his handgun at Officer Alex Gutierrez, who had caught up to Carter; the officer fired one bullet that hit Carter and caused him to fall to the ground.
What followed was a volley of shots from Guy, Gutierrez, and officers Thomas Ortiz and Shayna Nail in a span of 12 seconds, some of them by officers believing that another officer’s gunfire was coming from Carter, according to the report.
After Guiterrez’s first shot hit Carter, he reportedly had partially propped himself up and was still holding the gun, prompting Ortiz to take cover behind a tree and fire nine times at Carter. Nail ran up behind Ortiz, and Carter, sitting back up, appeared to aim the gun at Gutierrez, Ortiz and Nail. Ortiz fired again.
Nail thought that shot was fired by Carter, the report stated, and she fired “at least twice.” Ortiz then “mistakenly believed” that Nail’s shots were also coming from Carter, so he reloaded his firearm. As that was happening, Guy, operating under the belief that the shots from Ortiz and Nail were fired by Carter, also fired at Carter.
Carter reportedly fell again, but because he was still holding the gun, Ortiz, Nail and Guy “simultaneously fired multiple times at Carter.” An autopsy summarized in the DA report stated that Carter was hit nine times from the 51 total shots.
No one else was hit. The confrontation ended after a Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office police dog was ordered to pull Carter away from his handgun, which was still lying near him after the gunfire.
Investigators determined afterward that Carter’s gun — deemed a “ghost gun” because it had components that made it untraceable — had a single round in it, and his friend reportedly told police Carter bought it that way.
After reviewing the shooting, prosecutor Robert Baker stated in the report that “despite having a gun with no ammunition, (Carter) aimed it directly at Officer Gutierrez and ignored warnings to drop it. Once he was hit, Carter still refused to drop his gun. Even after Officer Ortiz fired multiple rounds, Carter propped himself up and raised his arm at the officers again, leading to the final volley that likely ended his life.”
Baker also wrote that “Carter was, regrettably, struggling with mental health issues and drug addiction. These struggles contributed to violent conduct that put the lives of innocent citizens and police officers at risk of death and grievous injury.” The report stated that Carter’s blood showed the presence of methamphetamine.
Carter first attracted police attention around 6 p.m. that evening — about an hour before the shooting — when officers in a San Jose police helicopter spotted a stolen Toyota Camry near Story and King Roads. When patrol vehicles were dispatched to the area and got near the Camry, the driver fled, “driving erratically” including against lanes of traffic.
The patrol officers did not give chase. Instead, the helicopter followed the Camry as it traveled north on Highway 280 toward downtown San Jose before exiting on the Alameda and into Santa Clara. The driver, later identified as Carter, was southbound on Monroe Street when he pulled up to a parked car with a person inside and whose driver-side door was open. Police said Carter approached and pointed a gun at the driver, who then exited the car and ran away as Carter got into the vehicle.
But Carter could not successfully operate the second vehicle, so he got back in the Camry and drove to the intersection where he crashed and was later shot.
In the report, Baker addressed the the contention that people, including possible jurors, could have that “the number of shots fired by the officers was excessive.” But he wrote that the available evidence does not support a criminal prosecution based on that fact.
“Based on a totality of the circumstances, it does not appear reasonably likely that a prosecutor could convince 12 jurors of that for two reasons. First, although 51 rounds were fired, Carter was hit only nine times, and just four shots struck vital organs,” Baker wrote. “As a result, it does not appear reasonably likely the prosecution would be able to prove that Carter died due to an excessive number of shots being fired.”