Sheriffs SDPD fatal shooting
Body-worn camera footage shows Yan Li, emerging from doorway, lunging forward with a knife just before being shot by three deputies and a SDPD officer. Photo credit: Screen shot, San Diego County Sheriff, via Vimeo

The District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday that it has cleared three sheriff’s deputies and one San Diego police officer in the 2022 fatal shooting of a woman in Little Italy.

The San Diego County D.A.’s Office review released Thursday followed the March 3, 2022 death of Yan Li, 47, a Yale-educated scientist.

Video showed her reaching out to stab a police officer with a kitchen knife, before being shot multiple times by the four lawmen in the doorway of her condominium unit.

Li’s son filed suit against the city, county and the personnel involved in March, alleging they escalated the situation while his mother was in the midst of a mental health crisis.

The D.A.’s Office said in a statement that its review took into consideration a recent finding from the state legislature regarding the effect of mental illness on a person’s ability to follow or understand police commands. Even so, officials determined that Li’s actions were threatening enough to justify deadly force.

“In this case, it is reasonable to conclude that Li was experiencing a mental health crisis, however, her actions constituted an imminent threat to the peace officers, resulting in her tragic death,” D.A. officials wrote.

The shooting unfolded after a deputy, Jason Bunch, served an eviction notice at Li’s home and Li answered the door while holding a knife down by her side.

Body camera footage released by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department shows Bunch point a gun at Li and demand she drop the knife. Li repeatedly states that she doubts the deputy is a real law enforcement officer and yells for someone to “call the police.”

Li closed the door on Bunch and other officers responded less than an hour later.

According to the sheriff’s department, the deputies were told by the condo’s manager and a maintenance worker that Li had threatened them with a knife one day earlier.

“Based on this reported crime, there was a threat to public safety,” the department said. “This is also probable cause to arrest Li for assault with a deadly weapon.”

The deputies and officers entered Li’s apartment with a key provided by condo management and while Li was partially behind a bedroom door and still holding the knife, one of them shot at her several times with a beanbag gun.

The D.A.’s review features statements from the lawman who fired the beanbag gun, who states he fired on Li because she did not comply with commands to drop the knife. Some of the rounds struck Li, but had no effect, the review states.

Li then ran out of the bedroom toward police and deputies, who backpedaled out of the unit, police said. Upon reaching the front doorway, Li thrust the knife toward the law enforcement personnel, stabbing a dog-handling officer in the chest.

At that point, SDPD Officer Rogelio Medina and sheriff’s Sgt. Daniel Nickel and deputies Javier Medina and David Williams opened fire on Li, discharging at least a dozen rounds, and she collapsed onto the floor of the hallway. She died at the scene.

The injured member of law enforcement was treated and released the same day.

The D.A.’s Office states that through its review, it was determined that after stabbing the officer, Li “raised the knife over her head and swung it down toward the officer in an apparent attempt to stab him again.”

In its statement, the District Attorney’s Office said, “Given the totality of the circumstances, the peace officers involved bear no criminal state liability for their actions, as they had a reasonable belief that using deadly force was necessary to stop an imminent threat of death or serious injury to the deputies and officers involved.”

The lawsuit filed by Li’s son alleges that when she was initially contacted, her behavior showed she was “exhibiting signs of being mentally ill” and “clearly in a state of mental crisis.” The lawsuit also states she was holding the knife because she had been cooking when the deputy arrived.

Law enforcement’s entrance into her the unit was “under false pretenses,” the complaint alleges, and at this point, Li “was inside her apartment and was not posing a threat to any person.”

It also states that in addition to beanbag rounds, authorities used flashbang rounds and brought a police dog.

“Rather than deploying force against decedent, the officers should have summoned mental health assistance,” the complaint said.

– City News Service