A Sacramento County Sheriff's deputy is on leave after shooting his gun at a car after the driver tried to take off during a traffic stop. The deputy, according to sheriff’s officials, hung onto the car as the woman drove off.
The driver, 26-year-old Brittney Nicholls of Carmichael, sits in jail Monday night charged with resisting arrest and assault with a deadly weapon as investigators work to figure out whether the deputy was justified in opening fire.
What happened in the moments leading up to the shooting will determine Nicholls' fate, as well as that of the deputy who opened fire.
"She puts it in drive and hits the accelerator, that car is now a lethal weapon,” said Sacramento Sheriff’s Sergeant Tony Turnbull.
Detectives say the deputy stopped Nicholls around 3:30 Saturday morning because it looked like she was chasing a man with the vehicle she was driving.
The deputy asked Nicholls to get out of the car, which she did, but then she jumped back in and drove off. Once the deputy let go of the car, neighbors and Nicholls told FOX40, the deputy fired his gun three times.
The question now for investigators -- did the deputy have to shoot?
"That's all the Monday morning quarterbacking we can always do. We weren't there. A lot of that stuff will be born out in the investigation,” said Turnbull.
"What the officer's state of mind was. That's what it comes down to,” said law enforcement expert and former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness.
Now homicide detectives, the district attorney and the inspector general will decide whether the deputy was legally justified in firing his weapon.
McGinness says it's generally not good policy to shoot at a car driving away, but each case is different, especially if a deputy feels he or she is in danger.
"When an officer can articulate a reasonable fear for his or her safety, with imminent threat they're legally justified to use deadly force,” McGinness said.
"He shot at my back window, he shot at my car,” said Nicholls in a jailhouse interview with FOX40 Sunday.
For her part, she denies ever putting the deputy in danger.
"Where was he when he fired?"
"He was standing outside the car…it says that I drug him with the car. I didn't drag him with the car,” said Nicholls.
Dash cam footage and testimony from all parties involved will be major points of evidence in the investigation – one that could take months to complete.
Neither Nicholls nor her passenger were hurt. The deputy reportedly suffered an injury from which sheriff’s officials say he’ll recover.