Officers won’t be charged for man’s death at California fire checkpoint, Siskiyou County DA says

Staff and wire reports

Four officers won’t face criminal charges for shooting and killing a man armed with a gun who tried to drive through a wildfire evacuation checkpoint near a Northern California marijuana farm last summer, the Siskiyou County district attorney said Tuesday.

Soobleej Kaub Hawj, 35, of Kansas City, Kansas, was driving a pickup loaded with guns and 132 pounds of marijuana when he ignored orders to turn west onto a road in the Mt. Shasta Vista subdivision at a checkpoint June 24 as a lightning-sparked fire threatened a rural Big Springs area, Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus said.

The blaze forced thousands to flee.

Related:Shooting of Hmong American man during Lava Fire draws nationwide attention

Hawj, who had both amphetamines and methamphetamine in his system, pulled a .45-caliber handgun and pointed it at a law enforcement officer, causing other officers to open fire, Andrus said in a letter to law enforcement agencies explaining his decision.

Hawj was struck several times in the head, chest, arms and legs. In addition to the handgun and the marijuana, investigators found another handgun and two loaded assault rifles with large magazines, the letter said.

The shooting sparked protests, hunger strikes and accusations that racism played a role in the shooting of Hawj, who was a member of the Hmong ethnic group, and prompted activists to demand a federal investigation. 

Surrounded by his supporters from the Mt. Shasta Vista Subdivision, Zurg Xiong sits in front of the county courthouse for the past week on a hunger strike in protest of the officer involved shooting of a Hmong man.

Simmering racial tensions:Hmong Americans protest at Siskiyou courthouse

'I am not going to give up':Zurg Xiong will die if he doesn't begin eating. He says it's a quest for justice.

The Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers' formal request for video footage was delayed until an investigation was complete. Siskiyou County sheriff's deputies, an Etna Police Department officer and an officer with California Department of Fish and Wildlife were all involved in the shooting.

Authorities last year said the Mount Shasta Vista subdivision in the Big Springs area had as many as 6,000 greenhouses illegally growing marijuana, with the farms mostly run by people of Hmong and Chinese descent.

The county has tried to crack down on the illegal grows, in part by prohibiting trucked-in water deliveries to Hmong farmers who run illegal operations.

The growers sued and last fall a federal judge issued a temporary injunction against the ban, saying the practice raises “serious questions” about racial discrimination and leaves the growers without a source of water for drinking, bathing and growing food.

In his letter, however, Andrus said the fire checkpoint wasn’t being used to find marijuana but merely to get people out of an area endangered by the fire. Hawj, however, may have thought he would be stopped and searched, Andrus said.

“He had a cash crop in the back of his truck that he apparently was willing to defend,” Andrus wrote. “He may have had the misapprehension that residents were being funneled into an area where they would be searched for marijuana. He would have been wrong.”

Hawj also had an arrest warrant out of Mesa County, Colorado, where he was wanted for marijuana and firearms felonies, the newspaper said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.