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Ventura County Focus / West | MEINERS OAKS

Court Told Aguirre Followed Procedure

January 14, 1998|HILARY E. MacGREGOR

Sheriff's Deputy Peter J. Aguirre did exactly what he was trained to do when he responded to a domestic-disturbance call that ended costing him his life, a police expert witness testified Tuesday.

Sgt. Mike Delosantos, who has worked for the Ventura County Sheriff's Department for 24 years and has trained new officers--including Aguirre--in police procedure, was called by prosecutors as an expert witness at the trial of Aguirre's accused killer, Michael Raymond Johnson.

At issue is whether Aguirre erred when he walked alone into a dark house where an armed suspect could have been hiding. An expert witness called by the defense last week said the 26-year-old deputy should have immediately warned his partners and drawn his gun.

Prosecutors called Delosantos to refute that view.

"Would a reasonable police officer think, based upon the facts, that he had the right to enter?" Deputy Dist. Atty. Matthew Hardy asked. "Did he believe immediate entry was necessary?"

"Yes, definitely," Delosantos replied, noting that the deputies' help had been summoned.

Delosantos went on to testify that Aguirre's actions followed his training. His partner was in danger, he said, so he tried to protect him. He could not see, so he entered the house where his eyes could adjust to the light, Delosantos said, adding that Aguirre did not want to escalate the violence, so he did not draw his gun. Retreating was not an option, he said.

Johnson is facing charges of murder and attempted murder for shooting Aguirre and shooting at another officer. He also faces charges of kidnapping and spousal rape for allegedly holding his wife hostage before the shooting.

The defense has also suggested that while responding to the disturbance call in Meiners Oaks at the home of Johnson's estranged wife, Aguirre made mistakes that a reasonable officer would not have made.

The issue is significant because Johnson faces an allegation that he murdered a police officer engaged in the performance of his duties. If the jury is so convinced, that allegation paired with a first-degree murder conviction would make Johnson eligible for the death penalty.

The case will resume today at 10 a.m.

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