February 20, 2004 - The San Jose Mercury News (CA)

Police Say Drug Agent Shot Man In Self-Defense

By Crystal Carreon and John Woolfolk, Mercury News

San Jose police on Thursday said the state drug agent who shot a 43-year-old man near a downtown retirement home acted in self-defense after the man allegedly gestured in a way to suggest he was armed.

"The involved officer was trying to protect himself," said homicide Lt. Glenn McCourtie. "He perceived he was in imminent danger, and the suspect did, in fact, have what he perceived was a weapon. He believed the suspect had a firearm."

The state Department of Justice is withholding the name of the agent involved in Tuesday's shooting.

A law enforcement source familiar with the investigation said Rodolfo "Rudy" Cardenas twisted around Tuesday afternoon as he fled from the uniformed agent and was holding a digital scale as if to simulate a pistol. Cardenas was misidentified as a parolee the agents wanted.

The source said Cardenas, a father of five, indicated to relatives he would rather die than go back to prison, and might have deliberately provoked the agent to draw his gun -- an account Cardenas' family and an eyewitness dispute.

"I think they're trying to cover themselves," said Cardenas' brother Alfred Cardenas on Thursday night while relatives gathered for a candlelight vigil. "He was very happy, happy about starting a new job and working through problems with his wife."

Dorothy Duckett, a 78-year-old resident of Shires Memorial Center, looked out her fifth floor window after hearing a gunshot and, she said, saw Cardenas pleading for his life.

"I watched him running with his hands in the air. He kept saying, 'Don't shoot. Don't shoot,' " Duckett said. "He had absolutely nothing in his hands." No weapon was found with Cardenas.

Karyn Sinunu, Santa Clara County assistant district attorney, would not confirm or deny the claim Cardenas provoked the shooting.

"Obviously, it's a complex story," Sinunu said. "There's got to be a reason why he was running. I've heard a ton of rumors. I'm not commenting on anything like that. It's too early to comment on the facts of the case."

Thursday evening, more than 150 mourners, including friends and relatives of Cardenas held a candlelight vigil at the lot where he was shot. They wept, prayed, recited poetry and sang hymns and Latin-American folk songs as they denounced his death and called for justice.

"All they did was shoot and ask questions later," said Jesse Villarreal, Cardenas' nephew.

"We're all angry," said Raul Cardenas, who attended his brother's vigil wearing a yellow jacket inscribed with a bull's-eye and the words "Police target."

Cardenas had a criminal history that included a mid-1990s stay in Pelican Bay State Prison on drug and assault charges, and misdemeanor arrest warrants for failing to appear in court on a 2001 speeding ticket and a d0omestic violence complaint.

Reached earlier this week, Cardenas' wife said she and her husband were working through their problems.

Cardenas became the target of a police pursuit at midday Tuesday after he was seen speeding from state agents who had been staking out a duplex on North 14th Street where Cardenas' friend David Joseph Gonzales had been staying.

The agents were after Gonzales for a parole violation.

Gonzales, 37, had been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in 1995 and had prior convictions for assault and possession for sale of the drug PCP.

Justice Department agents -- with their lights and sirens on -- chased Cardenas as he fled in a Dodge van.

On North Fourth Street, just south of St. James Street, Cardenas stopped his van and ran into an alley with a state narcotics agent following. "Stop running. Get down. Get down," neighbors heard the agent say.

Cardenas then hurdled a 5-foot chain-link fence and continued to race across a parking lot, while the agent stopped at the fence and angled his gun through the fence before firing.

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