Pubdate: Sat, 30 Sep 2000
Source: Dallas Morning News (TX)
Copyright: 2000 The Dallas Morning News
Contact:  P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, Texas 75265
Fax: (972) 263-0456
Author: Connie Pilota


Language barrier cited; police say he pointed gun

A 60-year-old man shot and killed by Irving police serving narcotics search
and arrest warrants at his West Dallas home thought officers were burglars
trying to force their way inside, members of his family said.

But Irving police said they think Juan Mendoza Fernandez understood that the
officers wanted to come inside. They said Mr. Fernandez pointed a gun at the
officers who were trying to serve the warrants.

Mr. Fernandez, who had retired a year ago from a Mesquite sofa manufacturer,
died from gunshot wounds in his chest, according to the Dallas County
medical examiner's office.

Family members said Mr. Fernandez and his wife, Josefina Fernandez, 64, are
not fluent in English and didn't understand officers' instructions shortly
before midnight Thursday. Mr. Fernandez spoke and understood some English
but was not fluent, and Mrs. Fernandez does not speak English, family
members said.

"They were screaming and banging on the door, and we thought they wanted to
come in and kill us," Mrs. Fernandez said in Spanish to a reporter. "We
didn't know it was the police."

Police said they were unsure whether any of the officers spoke Spanish.

Two tactical officers shot Mr. Fernandez after he pointed a gun at them,
said Officer David Tull, a spokesman for Irving police.

"He pointed a large-caliber handgun at very close range, and that's why they
fired," Officer Tull said. "When he fell to the ground, the man was still
holding the weapon and pointing it at the officers. That's when they fired

The couple's 11-year-old granddaughter, who was home at the time of the
raid, speaks English fluently but was sleeping when the officers tried to
gain entry into the home, family members said.

The family contends Mr. Fernandez was not carrying a weapon.

"He didn't have a gun," the girl said Friday as she hugged her mother. "When
he turned around, they shot him. Then they got down and shot him, I think,
four more times."

"We have a picture of a man holding a gun in his hand," said Irving Lt.
Ronald Ramsey, a supervisor in the narcotics unit. "We don't go around

Investigators said they found almost a pound of methamphetamine, an ounce of
cocaine and 5.2 grams of marijuana. Several guns were found in the house.
The street value of the drugs is about $41,000, Lt. Ramsey said.

"We strongly believe they are active participants in the sale of drugs in
Irving," Lt. Ramsey said. "They are pumping the drugs into the city of
Irving, and we are going to do everything possible to stop it."

Police did not make any arrests.

Dallas police are investigating the shooting because it occurred in Dallas,
and Irving police are also conducting an internal investigation. Dallas
police will refer their findings to the grand jury once the investigation is

The names of the officers involved in the shooting were not released Friday
by either department. Officer Tull said one of the officers has been with
the department for eight years and has 25 commendations and has faced two
minor complaints. The other officer has served for 10 years, has received 35
commendations and has no complaints in his record, he said.

The two officers were placed on paid administrative leave, as is customary
when officers use deadly force.

Officer Tull said he didn't think it was a factor whether members of the
tactical team knew Spanish because they were wearing black jackets with
white reflective lettering.

"The officers were wearing clothing identifying themselves as officers," he

Lt. Ramsey said the tactical officers entered the house yelling, "Police,

Even if the family didn't speak English, the word for police in Spanish,
policia, is similar, Lt. Ramsey said.

Irving officers went to the Fernandez home in the 2500 block of Kenesaw
Street, near Singleton Boulevard and Loop 12, to serve the warrants Thursday
night. Investigators were looking for drugs, a 40- to 50-year-old man, a man
in his 20s, and an elderly man and woman, Lt. Ramsey said.

While tactical and narcotics officers had the house under surveillance, Mrs.
Fernandez watched television in the living room and her granddaughter slept,
family members said.

About 11:20 p.m., Mr. Fernandez arrived home and sat beside his wife on the
couch. The couple was watching a Spanish-language talk show when they heard
an explosion outside, family members said.

Officers threw a hand grenade at the front of the home, a tactic sometimes
used to move those in the rear of a home to the front, police said.

Mrs. Fernandez said she and her husband thought it was a drive-by shooting.

The family also heard men outside the house yelling at them to "open the
door," the granddaughter said.

Scared, the girl headed to her grandparents' room in the rear of the house.
Mr. Fernandez huddled around the girl to protect her from gunfire, Mrs.
Fernandez said.

Police offer a different account. They said they detained Mrs. Fernandez
near the living room and made their way to the rear of the home. Once there,
police said they were confronted by Mr. Fernandez, who was carrying a
large-caliber handgun, Officer Tull said.

The lead officer fired at Mr. Fernandez, police said. Mr. Fernandez fell to
the ground but continued pointing the weapon at the officer, Officer Tull
said. The lead officer and a second tactical officer then fired at Mr.
Fernandez, he said.

Mr. Fernandez died before paramedics arrived.

Mr. Fernandez moved to Dallas from Mexico in 1968. He and his wife had been
married about 36 years and had four children and 13 grandchildren, his
family said.

Antonio Ledesma, 39, one of Mr. Fernandez's sons, said his father and his
45-year-old brother, who lives in the house and was one of the people
described in the warrant, did not sell drugs.

Irving officers have been involved in at least five shootings over the last
decade, three of them fatal. The latest was in October 1999, when police
shot and killed Charles Howard Cook, 41, in a shootout in a parking lot near
Airport Freeway and Story Road.

Police said that shooting could have been "suicide by cop," in which a
person compels officers to kill him.
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