Avenal officer shoots, kills man police say was holding replica gun

AVENAL, Calif. - The Avenal Police officer who shot and killed a man on tribal land near Tachi Palace Casino & Hotel on Friday is said to be a three-year veteran of the department, being a police officer for four and a half years total.

The officer, whose name is being released as "Officer Rivera," also never fired his weapon while on the line of duty before this incident.

On Friday, officers and deputies tracked David Phoenix, 25, after numerous reports he was pointing his gun at people around the entrance of Santa Rosa Rancheria on 17th Street. Phoenix was shot by Rivera after pointing a gun at him.

Phoenix was transported to a local hospital and died from his injuries. Making this the first fatal officer-involved shooting for the Avenal Police Department.

Avenal Police Chief Russell Stivers said Rivera had little to react to, after seeing what looked to be a handgun pointed at him. The gun is said to be an Airsoft or BB gun.

"I think everybody in this room would assume this looks like a real handgun," said Stivers as he held up a picture of the gun at a press conference Monday. "Now and in the moment."

Rivera is on administrative leave with pay and a criminal investigation is underway. After that, an internal police department investigation will happen.

Stivers is optimistic about the pending investigations.

"Based on the witness interviews, which included numerous officers, Rivera's statement, and evidence collected at the scene -- (I believe investigators will) reasonably conclude in the near future that this was a justifiable shooting per APD policy," he said.

Authorities are looking into whether Phoenix was under any kind of influence during the incident. Kings County assistant sheriff Dave Putnam said during previous encounters Phoenix had with law enforcement, narcotics or alcohol was involved.

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