UKIAH, 1/30/2017 — A judge ordered Steven Patrick Ryan to be arraigned and tried for murder in the shooting death of De’Shaun Davis at a preliminary hearing on January 27. Investigators provided an account of what happened the day that 62-year-old Ryan, by his own admission, shot and killed Davis, who was 20. Ryan is claiming self-defense.
Sheriff’s deputies revealed during the preliminary hearing that an eyewitness to the killing is prepared to provide testimony that differs from Ryan’s account. Detectives testified that, according to the eyewitness, the victim went to his knees and put his hands up after the first of three shots was fired.
Detective Clint A. Wyant, of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) investigations bureau, and MCSO’s Detective Sergeant Andrew Porter, testified about their interviews with Ryan and Elvia Valencia, the neighbor who witnessed the shooting. A preliminary hearing is a proceeding where a judge hears testimony to determine if there is enough evidence to move forward to a trial. The evidence must provide probable cause to indicate that the crime was committed by the defendant. Secondhand testimony by experienced law enforcement officers is permitted at preliminary hearings, pursuant to a 1991 California Supreme Court ruling on the Crime Victims Justice Reform Act.
On the day of the shooting, Detective Wyant and other sheriff’s deputies collected and recorded the interviews they presented on January 27. Detective Wyant testified that, according to information he gathered, Ryan armed himself prior to initiating contact with Davis, who was shouting outside of his home. After a brief verbal confrontation, Ryan fired three shots at Davis, who put his hands in the air and went to his knees after the first shot was fired. Both men may have claimed they were armed, though no weapons were recovered from Davis’ body or his clothing. Davis suffered a bullet wound to the back of his right hand and another that entered near his left shoulder and exited at the back of his right ribcage.
Wyant testified that Davis and Ryan were never closer than 63 feet.* “Where Mr. Davis lay deceased is the closest they ever got,” he told the court. This may be a key point for the claim of self-defense, because Ryan, who is a disabled former dock worker, has limited mobility. The defendant claimed that Davis had threatened him and appeared to be reaching for a weapon.
The witness, Elvia Valencia, lived next door to Ryan with her mother and two small children. On the day in question, she was approaching the scene with both children in the car as the men were speaking to one another. She realized the argument was escalating as she was removing her children from the car.
Ryan’s and Valencia’s accounts differ in several important respects. In interviews with Detectives Wyant and Porter, Ryan recounted that on the way out of his house, he had retrieved a Springfield XD .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun from where he kept it next to his recliner. He then tucked it into his waistband, at the small of his back. Detective Wyant said on the stand that Ryan said he told Davis that he was armed. Wyant added, “I think Mr. Davis’ response was something to the effect that he was possibly armed, too.” Ryan believed that Davis was intoxicated, and that he may have been reaching for a weapon. However, the witness did not see the victim reaching for a weapon. Ryan claimed that Davis, who was walking a bicycle towards the road, threw his bike down and charged him. Valencia also saw Davis throw the bike down and approach Ryan, but did not not characterize him as “charging.” Detective Wyant testified that “Where Mr. Davis lay deceased is the closest they ever got.”
Wyant also added that Ryan had told Valencia he was relieved that she had witnessed the incident, and that Valencia considered herself and Ryan to be friends. Valencia is currently in Mexico, but will be available to testify at the trial.
Wyant testified that Valencia told him “After the first shot, Mr. Davis goes down and puts his hands in the air and says, ‘I give up,’ and there’s two more shots.” Ryan told Wyant that Davis said, “I’m through,” after the third shot, and that Davis did not put his hands in the air or say he gave up. Detective Sergeant Andrew Porter, who also interviewed Valencia, testified that the witness was “One hundred percent sure” that Davis had said, “I give up.” Porter noted that, though Spanish is Valencia’s first language, she has no difficulty communicating in English.
Investigators emphasized that Valencia had told them her ability to see what was happening was not obstructed by vehicles on the premises, under close questioning from Ryan’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Carly Dolan.
At Dolan’s request, Wyant explained the concept of the 20 to 25 foot “danger zone,” which he said Ryan appeared to be familiar with during an interview. Wyant explained that law enforcement officers are trained to consider the distance of 20 to 25 feet from a possible assailant as one in which “very bad things can happen fast,” even if the person being attacked is armed. However, he added, if a threatening person is “just yelling at me, walking towards me, my response is going to be much different than if you’re pulling a handgun out, or a knife.” Wyant has been a peace officer for 19 years.
Dolan asked how the situation would be different if someone was yelling that he had a gun while approaching the danger zone, and if he appeared to be reaching for a weapon.
“I would not fire upon you until I saw a life or death situation,” Wyant replied.
Ryan is scheduled to be formally arraigned on February 10. Jury selection for the trial has not begun, and the trial date has not yet been set.
*An earlier version of this story said the men were never greater than 63 feet apart.
Sarah Reith [email protected]