PACIFICA -- The officer-involved shooting death of a 34-year-old man Pacifica man in March was deemed justified by the San Mateo County District Attorney, ending the investigation into the case.
Errol Chang was killed March 18 in his home in the 300 block of San Pedro Avenue after Pacifica and Daly City SWAT officers responded to his family's call for help. The bipolar and schizophrenic man, who his father said "had been acting like a gorilla" in the backyard with an ax he treated like a "security blanket," was shot after he stabbed a Daly City SWAT officer who was trying to come in and subdue him.
"The homicide of Errol Chang, while tragic, was legally justifiable homicide," said District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. "The use of lethal force was absolutely necessary to save the life of Officer (Mario) Busalacchi. ... The conduct of (Busalacchi and Officer Stephen Woelkers) can only be described as exemplary, and the community was well served by their actions."
Through the course of his office's investigation, Wagstaffe said he learned both Busalacchi and Woelkers "likely" fired eight shots into Chang's chest. The two Daly City SWAT officers were assisting Pacifica officers.
Chang's mother called 911 at 11:52 a.m. and said her son, who had not slept in three days, had a "little ax" in his pocket. Several Pacifica officers responded to the home, four of whom were trained in crisis intervention (CIT), Wagstaffe said.
The officers found Chang sitting and yelling atop a backyard wall and joined his father and brother in trying to calm him down. The man, who had become "unbalanced, angry, aggressive and mean," told officers he would chop their heads off and repeated paranoid assumptions that police and President Barack Obama were trying to kill him.
Chang removed the ax from his pocket and raised it over his head, prompting Pacifica officers to point their weapons at him.
Officers told investigators Chang would lower his ax each time they raised their guns, the up-and-down of weapons continuing several times on each side.
At one point, Chang fell into his brother after being Tased by two officers, but he righted himself, pulled out the prongs and ran into the house, Wagstaffe said. While the Chang family's attorney, Russell Robinson, said police missed a "golden opportunity" to de-escalate with their Tasers, Wagstaffe maintained the "less-than-lethal" weapons had "little effect on him."
Thomas Chang told officers he was afraid his son would find a .22-caliber rifle and ammunition hidden separately in the house.
Officers reached out to the man's doctor for assistance, but the physician did not respond in time to be of help, Wagstaffe said. A series of flash bangs forced Chang to the front windows where authorities could see him, and he broke a window and thrust himself through yelling, "Go ahead and shoot me in the head" and, "I'm dead already."
Photos taken by neighbors show Chang in what looked like a sign of surrender, his hands in the air with no weapon in sight. Officers told investigators they debated pulling him through the window, but they were afraid he would be seriously hurt by the protruding glass shards.
The SWAT team entered about 6:30 p.m. after deciding the impending darkness would compromise safety, Wagstaffe said. The plan was to go in through the back while Chang was in the front window, then throw in a flash bang to disorient him long enough to subdue him.
The team threw a flash bang but were unable to move a barricade of furniture and mattresses in front of the back door, Wagstaffe said. Officer Busalacchi scaled the barricade by himself as Chang emerged from the smoke and began attacking him.
Busalacchi tried to back off as he noticed a knife in Chang's right hand, but he was unable to get off the barricade. Woelkers came up behind Busalacchi and saw the knife, which had a brass-knuckle spiked handle and a large blade.
Chang brought the knife down toward Busalacchi's face, and the officer was stabbed in the arm when he put it up to block the strike, Wagstaffe said. When Chang raised the knife to strike again, both Busalacchi and Woelkers fired at his chest.
Chang fell to the ground, and was pronounced dead at the scene. Busalacchi was taken into surgery at San Francisco General Hospital, where he required a second surgery weeks later.
An autopsy revealed Chang had been shot "about" eight times, twice by Busalacchi and "likely" six by Woelkers, Wagstaffe said. Marijuana was found in the Chang's system.
Thomas Chang told investigators he believed his son was trying to commit suicide by cop.
"He knew there was a high probability they would kill him," Thomas Chang said in an April interview with this newspaper.
"There are plenty of people to blame, but ultimately it's a tragedy," Robinson said in a separate interview. "A man was shot and killed that didn't have to die that day -- a man who so desperately needed our help."
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