VENTURA — A "violent life-or-death struggle" ensued when William Anthony Ramos wrestled a police officer to the ground and grabbed for his pistol, prompting another officer to fatally shoot Ramos, police said Sunday.
But two of Ramos' sisters, Connie Cardella and Cindee Ramos, rejected the official version of Saturday's events as they placed a cross adorned with a dozen red roses, candles and a poem on the Telephone Road sidewalk where their brother was shot.
The two contend that their 29-year-old brother, who had a history of weapons violations and drug and alcohol abuse, was mentally ill and likely resisted arrest. But they believe that he could have been subdued without the use of deadly force.
They said they will investigate taking legal action against police.
"I want an explanation; I want them to tell me why they had to kill my brother," said older sister Cindee Ramos, 36. "You shoot people who have a weapon, not people who are unarmed."
Except to confirm that he was shot three times in the abdomen, the medical examiner's office declined to reveal details of Ramos' autopsy conducted Sunday. The results will be included in a report to be reviewed by the district attorney's office for its own investigation, a spokesman said.
Lt. Carl Handy also declined to discuss specifics of the shooting that left one of the officers involved with a gunshot wound to the hand, citing ongoing criminal and internal investigations of the incident.
But authorities did reveal some details that painted a clearer picture of what is the third fatal shooting this year of a Ventura County resident by police. The bottom line, Handy said, is that the officers involved believed that their lives were in danger because of Ramos' actions.
"It doesn't matter at this point in time whether he was mentally ill or not," Handy said. "What we have is an individual who was shot while he was trying to disarm a police officer. . . . The only reason a person tries to take a gun away from a peace officer is to use it against him, and that makes it a life-or-death [situation]."
Officer Chuck Watson, 32, a 10-year department veteran, saw Ramos about 9:25 a.m. Saturday walking in the traffic lanes of Telephone Road in front of the 101 Drive-In, Handy said. After Watson approached Ramos, the officer was allegedly "overpowered" by him, Handy said. The pair ended up on the ground, struggling in bushes next to the sidewalk as Ramos tried to get control of Watson's gun, which was in his holster, Handy said.
During the struggle, Officer Chris Davis, 31, a seven-year department veteran awarded the Medal of Valor in 1995, arrived and shot Ramos three times with his department-issued, .45-caliber pistol.
One of the shots struck Watson in his left hand. He was released from Ventura County Medical Center on Sunday after treatment for the injury. Davis will be on administrative leave for at least the next week, pending an internal investigation, Handy said.
Department regulations specify that the internal inquiry must be completed within 10 days.
Handy had no comment about the family's claims that they had repeatedly called police the day before the shooting to request that Ramos be taken into custody for his own safety. Family members said Ramos had stopped taking prescribed medication and had been acting erratically.
Police are attempting to reconstruct Ramos' movements the last few days, he said.
But Keith Brovold, a Ventura boat captain, said he saw a man matching Ramos' description walking along Main Street near the Ban-Dar nightclub about three hours before the shooting and called 911.
"He was out of it," Brovold said. "He wasn't reacting to cars. He wasn't showing any fear. He was oblivious of the cars coming right at him. It was almost as if he was in his own world."
Handy said Ramos was well-known to officers in the department, and had a history of arrests for weapons violations and drug abuse. Ramos' family members confirmed that their brother had been arrested for brandishing a firearm at police and was on probation for being under the influence of methamphetamines.
Still, Cindee Ramos believes that police overreacted. Family members declined to talk to police Sunday about the incident.
"They killed him," she said. "They could have stunned him or Maced him. They could have done something other than kill him. . . . He didn't even have a weapon."
The shooting by Ventura police follows a January incident in Oxnard when a SWAT team sharpshooter shot and killed 36-year-old Larry Pankey after a domestic dispute. The unarmed auto mechanic, who had had previous run-ins with authorities, was reaching for his waistband as if going for a weapon when he was shot, police said.
That same month, off-duty Sheriff's Deputy Steven Lengyel shot and killed 26-year-old student Jack D. Sexton after he entered a neighbor's home in Port Hueneme. Police said Sexton was drunk and combative at the time.
Staff writer Kate Folmar and correspondent Coll Metcalfe contributed to this story.