Pima County Attorney’s Office investigators have deemed as justified the September shooting of a suspected drug dealer by an Oro Valley police officer.
The county attorney's ruling effectively ends the inquiry into Officer Peter Clegg’s Sept. 24 shooting of 20-year-old Santhiel Bustamante.
Clegg has been with the Oro Valley Police Department for 14 years.
“This is an important part of the process,” Oro Valley Police Chief Danny Sharp said.
The police will conduct an internal review of the incident to determine if Clegg followed department policies and if those policies are adequate when applied to such situations.
On Sept. 24, undercover officers with the Oro Valley Police Department, including Clegg, followed Bustamante to the Wal-Mart parking lot at First Avenue and Wetmore Road after they received a tip that he had sold drugs to a Canyon Del Oro High School student.
Police followed Bustamante into the parking lot and used an unmarked truck to block in his car and make an arrest. Bustamante then rammed the police truck with his car in an attempt to escape. That’s when Clegg opened fire.
Bustamante died at the scene.
Police found 21 grams of heroin and a small amount of cocaine in Bustamante’s car.
County investigators cited state statutes, witness statements, police reports and video of the incident in their exoneration of Clegg.
“The conduct of the suspect in this case clearly gave the officer probable cause to believe that an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon — that being the vehicle — had been committed against him and his fellow officer,” according to the county attorney’s ruling.
Clegg was back to work several days after the incident, Chief Sharp said.
Because of the potential for psychological injury in the aftermath of a shooting, police have an evaluation process for officers who may have killed someone in the line of duty.
“The general public gets a lot of their education on police work from TV and the movies,” Sharp said.
In fictionalized accounts, police officers can easily rationalize the killing of another person as something that just happens in the line of duty. But in reality, Sharp said, officers often struggle with the ramifications of a traumatic event.
“There are not only psychological but physiological impairments in an officer’s life after a shooting incident,” Sharp said.
It wasn’t until the past 30 years that police involved in shootings and other high-stress events were provided the emotional support they needed to cope with the repercussions of a serious ordeal.
Sharp said in decades past it was common for an officer involved in a fatal shooting, for example, to quickly retire or leave the police force after a stressful event.
Breakthroughs in the field of emotional health have helped to change that, Sharp said.
In Oro Valley, officers involved in traumatic events, such as shootings, attend stress-debriefings with mental health professionals. Per department rules, Clegg would have attended such a debriefing.
“We find that if we do what we call ‘inoculating,’ or telling an officer what sort of things to expect, the healing process is much quicker,” Sharp said.
Psychologists are also available to help officers with any lingering issues related to the traumatic event. “We provide them the support that’s necessary,” Sharp said.