Two SWAT team officers won’t face criminal charges for shooting at a Wichita man who fired a gun at a relative and law enforcement during a deadly standoff in May 2022.
Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said Wednesday that a Wichita police officer and a Sedgwick County deputy were defending themselves and others when they fired almost simultaneously at Gregorio Banuelos, 39, after he came out of a relative’s house with a gun in his hand and moved aggressively toward officers.
Bennett said Banuelos was struck once by a “through-and-through” shot that stuck in a garage wall of the house at 524 N. Milstead. He thinks it came from the deputy’s gun, based on a ballistics report and other analysis, he said. The two SWAT team members who shot at Banuelos had the same make and caliber of rifle, a report released Wednesday shows.
“This (Banuelos) was an individual who brandished a weapon on a family member before the officers even arrived. Once the officers arrived, he refused to go, pointed a gun at them and shot at least six times,” Bennett said during a news conference where he announced that both officers are immune from prosecution under Kansas law.
In Kansas, a person is allowed to use deadly force to defend themselves or others if they reasonably believe great bodily harm or death is imminent.
“That two different law enforcement officers made the same exact decision at almost exactly the same ... time without verbally communicating with each other ahead of time does at least speak to the reasonableness of the decision,” he said.
Bennett said he reached his conclusion after a thorough review of case evidence that includes law enforcement body camera footage, scene photos and interviews. His 21-page report, which gives an in-depth explanation for the decision and an accounting of evidence, was delayed because the ballistics report wasn’t issued until Dec. 11.
“I couldn’t make a final determination until I had that,” he said.
The DA addresses potential criminal liability in officer-involved shootings, whether evidence beyond a reasonable doubt exists that someone violated a Kansas criminal law. He does not take up administrative or civil issues.
At the time of the shooting, police said Banuelos was wanted on at least two felony warrants out of Sedgwick County and a misdemeanor traffic warrant and couldn’t legally own a gun following his conviction in a felony drug case.
Four SWAT team officers — two on the Wichita police department and two Sedgwick County Sheriff’s deputies — were placed on paid administrative leave immediately after the shooting, a Wichita police official said at the time.
Both Wichita police officers and Sedgwick County deputies are members of the SWAT, or Special Weapons and Tactics, team.
The deputy who fired the fatal shot at Banuelos was a nine-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office and had been on the SWAT team for a year at the time, according to Bennett’s report.
The Wichita police officer had been on the department for 20 years and on the SWAT team for five years, the report says.
Banuelos was fatally shot by the SWAT team on May 25, 2022, following a nearly 12-hour standoff that drew dozens of cops and crisis negotiators to the Milstead house, in a west Wichita neighborhood near Central and 119th Street West.
Police have said the standoff started shortly after 1:30 a.m., after Banuelos reportedly fired a gun at a female relative’s head during a fight that started after the relative asked Banuelos’ girlfriend to leave the home.
The shot was so close, the female relative initially thought she’d been hit, Bennett said at the news conference.
The woman and a teenager at the home both called 911, according to Bennett’s report.
The teenager told 911 that Banuelos “was acting crazy and that a gun had been fired,” that Banuelos was “extremely intoxicated” and that he “had talked about killing officers and himself,” according to Bennett’s report. An autopsy showed blood from Banuelos’ heart tested positive for benzoylecgonine, the main metabolite of cocaine. But he tested negative for ethanol and other drugs and a screening for tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive substance in marijuana, was inconclusive, Bennett’s report says.
The woman told police Banuelos got angry and retrieved the gun after his girlfriend left the house with an Uber driver. The woman told police Banuelos grabbed her by the shoulders when she ran, fired a shot and hit her on the forehead with the gun, according to Bennett’s report.
When police showed up, an officer tried to talk to Banuelos through the woman’s phone after hearing her urging Banuelos to turn himself in. But he hung up, the report says. Banuelos and others inside of the house eventually came out. Banuelos had a handgun.
When Wichita police announced their presence, “Banuelos shut the storm and main door, then turned off the interior lights,” although an officer could see him pacing through a small window, the report says.
Law enforcement requested a SWAT response and crisis negotiators at the scene starting at 2:02 a.m. They arrived between 2:58 a.m. and 4:36 a.m., according to the report.
At 6:31 a.m., SWAT team members got close enough to the house to throw in a phone to try to talk to Banuelos and used a robot to clear the main floor. The robot spotted Banuelos in bed in a room in the basement more than an hour later, at 7:46 a.m.
The SWAT team went into the home with a K-9 around 8:40 a.m. Officers saw Banuelos in the basement “holding a gun to his head” at 8:56 a.m., according to Bennett’s report.
“He yelled that he would kill himself then threatened to shoot the dog,” said he would shoot through the door and that “‘it’s going down,’” the report says.
The officers backed out of the basement and the robot lost sight of Banuelos around 9 a.m. after he manipulated it, the report says.
At 10:37 a.m., officers heard one gunshot inside the house. SWAT team members returned to the basement more than an hour later, at 12:12 p.m., and saw Banuelos opening and closing the bedroom door and raising his hand, the report says.
A tense back-and-forth followed. An officer fired a shot that missed Banuelos and the SWAT team retreated to the main floor of the house. That same officer “described hearing another shot, seeing a muzzle flash from the basement and seeing the top of Mr. Banuelos head at the stairs to the basement” and “fired where he thought Mr. Banuelos was standing,” the report says.
Officers heard Banuelos fire more shots inside the house at 12:29 p.m. All of the SWAT officers exited the house five minutes later.
At 12:40 p.m., they heard Banuelos talking and saw him “picking up what appears to be shell casings,” according to the report.
“Mr. Banuelos was heard making the comment, ‘look at how many I hit’ indicating that he thought he had shot officers,” the report says.
Officers also overheard Banuelos saying that “he was down to two bullets and wanted to ‘get’ officers,” the report says.
At 12:44 p.m., Banuelos entered the garage through an interior door of the house, walked around a car and approached the open garage bay door “at an accelerated pace,” the report says.
Bennett said at the news conference that the Wichita officer who fired at Banuelos saw what he thought was a handgun in Banuelos’ hand. The officer fired one round from his department-issued rifle but missed, evidence ultimately showed. That officer was directly west of the open garage door, Bennett said.
At the same time, the deputy, who was west and north of the open garage door, “saw Mr. Banuelos moving west in the garage toward other SWAT team members,” Bennett’s report says. The deputy couldn’t see Banuelos’ hands because Banuelos was behind a car, but the deputy “believed he posed a risk to the officers given the earlier exchange of gunfire,” the report says. The deputy shot Banuelos once with his department-issued rifle.
Banuelos died at the scene. Officers found a 9 mm handgun under his body, Bennett said.
Bennett said Wednesday that determining which officer’s round killed Banuelos was “a little complicated” because the bullet exited his body after it struck him. Investigators had to consider other things at the scene to figure out exactly where it came from.
“The bullet that appears to have struck him was the one that lodged in what would have been a south wall of the garage. ... The trajectory makes sense that it was fired by the deputy.”