The Pine Bluff police officer who fired the shots that killed 107-year-old Monroe Isadore on Sept. 7 told the special prosecutors assigned to the case he did not know how many rounds he fired, but said he had no other choice.
“We was taking fire,” Officer Brad Vilches said when he was interviewed by Special Prosecutor Jason Barrett, Special Deputy Prosecutor Jack McQuary and State Police Special Agent Lt. Scott Woodward on Sept. 26. “My teammates could not return fire and he was shooting at us and I feared for their lives. I mean, I stepped up and thought I could take care of the threat because I was in the door. I was the farthest one away and, uh, I had a gap. So I stepped out there and took away the threat.”
Vilches, who has never been publicly identified by the Pine Bluff Police Department and has been on administrative leave with pay since the incident, was identified in the case file that was released Friday during a press conference where prosecutors announced that no criminal charges would be filed in the case because Isadore was shooting at police when he was killed.
Friday afternoon, the police department said in a press release that it was wrapping up an internal affairs investigation into the shooting, and would have no comment on the case until that phase is completed.
In addition, a gag order issued by First Division Circuit Judge Berlin C. Jones prohibiting law enforcement officers or agencies involved in the incident from discussing the case is still in effect.
The officer-involved shooting was the first involving Vilches, who has been with the department for more than 18 years.
Police said the incident began when officers were dispatched to 1411 W. 16th Ave., after Isadore pointed a gun at a family friend who had come to take him to a new house. Isadore had locked himself in a bedroom and when the first officers tried to make contact with him, he fired a shot through the door.
The initial officers backed out, called for help, and the department SWAT team was summoned. Meanwhile, police had started trying to negotiate with Isadore, with Lt. Donna Fratesi trying repeatedly to make contact with Isadore. Those attempts were unsuccessful.
Police also broke a window and inserted a video camera, and Fratesi attempted to contact Isadore through the open window.
“Lt. Fratesi tried to re-establish negotiations, tried and she called his name several times and told him to put the gun down and just get away from it,” Police Chief Jeff Hubanks said when he was interviewed by detectives Sept. 7. “Go to the door. Put the gun down. Go to the door, create distance between him and the gun. We tried to reassure him that everything would be OK in general but we didn’t engage him in conversation or try to find out what was going on because he was armed and the first order of business was to separate him from that gun.”
While Vilches and one SWAT team waited outside the bedroom door, a second team was positioned outside the bedroom and Hubanks ordered officers to put two 25-gram canisters of gas through the open window.
Hubanks, who was SWAT commander for a number of years, said that in his prior experience, either negotiations or the use of gas had been successful 100 percent of the time in resolving barricaded suspect situations without the need for further action.
“Mr. Isadore did not appear to react to the gas,” Hubanks said. “He didn’t cough. He didn’t wipe his eyes, nothing. Not with the exception of, he turned and fired. I’m certain I heard three rounds.”
At that point, the decision was made to enter the bedroom where Isadore was, particularly after a report from one of the officers outside who said Isadore appeared to be reloading his gun.
“That’s when (Sgt. Billy) Dixon said ‘we need to go now,’ ” Vilches said during the interview with Barrett and McQuary.
The entry team included Dixon, Sgt. Marqis Smith, officers Jason Howard, Brett Talley and Vilches.
“I’m not real sure if it was Jason or Talley that kicked the door,” Vilches said. “Uh, they kicked the door. It didn’t come all the way open. It’s about … one of the two kicked the door the rest of the way open. When they did, I had a CS gas grenade and a flash bang. We had already shot gas in there so I threw the flash bang.”
A few minutes later, Vilches said he pulled the pin on the flash bang grenade, then threw it.
“I threw the grenade,” he said. “It goes off. There is a shot fired as I, I believe as I’m getting back in line, and then, uh, he’s getting up, getting ready to shoot again, and uh, that’s when I’m engaging.”
Vilches said he was armed with an M4 assault rifle with either a 25- or 30-round clip. According to the State Medical Examiner, Isadore received seven gunshot wounds.
When Hubanks was interviewed, he said Isadore’s actions left the department and SWAT team no choice but to enter the bedroom.
“No, he did not, “Hubanks said. “Had he done so, he would be alive right now.”
Asked why the department didn’t just try to wait Isadore out, or to not enter the room at that point, Hubanks said that because Isadore had already fired shots, there was no other option.
“We have options and you know we could go for days if need be but I’m only willing to do that if somebody is sitting quietly and just perhaps being obstinate,” Hubanks said. “Mr. Isadore was firing rounds and our mandate is to protect the public above all else. That’s what government does. That’s what the police do. We protect the public and had I stood down and allowed him to hopefully run out of bullets or fall asleep or whatever anyone else wants to suggest as an outcome, I’m not protecting the public at that point. He’s still a clear and present danger.”
Hubanks also told the special prosecutors he had received “a lot of hate mail.”
“I got a death threat on my home telephone which I worried about for all of five minutes, but the amount of emotion out there, I guess doesn‘t surprise me,” Hubanks said. “It’s the gall of people who don’t have sufficient information to even know the names of the people involved that are making judgments about what should have happened and that’s been a bit hard to swallow.”
When Hubanks was interviewed, he was still interim chief. He was named permanent chief in October.
Asked if he would have done anything differently, Hubanks said no.
“If I had screwed up on this, if I had made a call and gotten Mr. Isadore killed, I would have resigned,” Hubanks said. “I’m an interim chief. I’ve already got a retirement. You know, I don’t need this crap. I would have walked away. Put the blame on me and I’d walk away. This case we did not have a choice. I am completely at peace in my heart and soul that we did not have a choice; we did not have an alternative, not a good one. You know, the only choice was to back off and risk him shooting some more and I wasn’t willing to do that.”
• Click here for the largest PDF, containing the majority of the case file documents, including interviews and other evidence collected. Blacked-out items were redacted by the special prosecutors (see the previous document for a list and reasons why, as required by the state FOI law), and additional pages were removed by The Commercial because they contained graphic images, personal information or names of minors.
• Audio of Radio Traffic (WAV)
• Audio of Detective Jason Howard's interview by the special prosecutors (WAV)
• Audio of Isadore's daughter Paula Aguilar's interview by the special prosectors (WAV)
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