More Details Released on Officer Involved Shooting in South Bend's West Side

Apr 6, 2018


St. Joseph County officials have released more details regarding yesterday’s officer-involved shooting on South Bend’s West Side, which they are calling a “justified homicide.”

Autopsy reports confirmed this morning that 56 year old Rafael Ramirez died due to gunshot wounds acquired after a standoff with authorities yesterday afternoon in South Bend. A toxicology report has not been completed yet.

Three veteran South Bend police officers were dispatched to an apartment complex on West Western Avenue, where Ramirez lived, around 1:30 with reports of a man threatening people with kitchen knives. This was the second time on Thursday that police had been to the same address, after they received complaints of a man hitting doors with hammers. The suspect in question both times was Ramirez.   

St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter said officers who visited the home the first time left Ramirez after family had managed to help him settle down.

The police officers who answered the second call were Officer James Dennin, Sargent Kevin Gibbons and Officer Ernesto Ramirez.

When officers arrived the second time, they met Ramirez outside on a second floor balcony. Ramirez approached officers wielding knives.

Officers confronted Ramirez and told him to drop his weapons, which he refused.

Audio of the confrontation was recorded through a body microphone one of the officers was wearing. A visual recording was only available from inside police vehicle.

In the audio recording of the incident, officers can be heard warning Ramirez with a taser. They also warned him they would shoot him if he didn’t drop the weapons, to which Ramirez responded, “Shoot me.”

South Bend police officer James Dennin then fired two shots, after warning Ramirez again. The two shots struck Ramirez in the chest and abdomen. What appears to be four shots can be heard in the audio of the confrontation, while Shot Spotters in the area were activated by four different sounds. Officials confirmed two of those sounds were echos of the two gunshots.

Cotter said self-defense is contingent on whether a person believes they were in serious danger, and whether a reasonable person would react the same way in the same situation.

“I think those officers, at least based on what I saw, did what we would hope our officers would do,” Cotter said, “they attempted to do two things before discharging their firearms.”

Cotter said the first course of action was to allow Ramirez an opportunity to stop and drop his weapons. He said they then attempted to physically stop him with a “less lethal” method- the taser.

“And you heard him when the officer said, ‘Get back or I’ll shoot,’ he said, ‘Shoot me,’” Cotter said referring to the audio tape, “That was his choice that he made, I can’t get into his head why he made that choice, but that is the choice he made, those officers had to suffer the results of that choice and they had to make a choice to save themselves and other people.”

Cotter said the fact that there were still residents inside the apartment building created a greater urgency for officers to end the confrontation. He said one of the residents who had called the police told them Ramirez had threatened to kill her and had barricaded herself in her apartment.

The investigation is being conducted by the St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit.

This is the second justified officer-involved shooting in the city in less than two weeks.