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Man shot by officer says he wanted to test cop 'theory' by holding gun during traffic stop

Jose Vaca, right, talks from the Kern County jail in Bakersfield, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016, about holding a rifle and being shot by an officer during a Dec. 19 traffic stop on Oswell Street. (KBAK/KBFX)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - In a jailhouse interview with Eyewitness News, the rifle-wielding man who was shot by a Bakersfield police officer said he intentionally approached the officers with a gun to test a "theory" he had about police brutality.

Jose Vaca, 29, had been driving down Oswell Street in east Bakersfield on Dec. 19 with a friend when he was pulled over by the officers.

Inside his car was a rifle he had recently bought at an auction, which he said he planned to sell. As a convicted felon, he said he knew it was illegal to have the gun, but he decided to bring it with him as he exited his vehicle.

“I come to the front of the police vehicle, and I put (the) butt of the rifle on the (ground), and I just, like, put my hand up,” Vaca said Tuesday evening.

Within seconds, Officer Christian Hernandez opened fire.

According to the police report, Hernandez fired nine shots. Vaca disputed that, saying he was shot 12 times.

Nine of those bullets were found inside of him, and he had several exit wounds, he said.

“Soon as I hit the ground, I just attempted to play dead, and they fired a few more shots at me from the back as I was lying on the ground,” he said.

Vaca was taken to Kern Medical and treated for more than a week before being transferred to the Kern County jail on Tuesday.

“It’s a blessing I’m alive," he said.

Vaca told Eyewitness News that he had no intention of shooting the officers. He also dismissed the notion that he wanted them to shoot him as a form of suicide. So, why would he intentionally carry the .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle out of his car and approach police?

The reason, he claimed, had to do with his “theory” about police.

“I told my friend one day that I wanted her to believe all police officers are good,” he said, after his friend’s husband had been killed by police several months ago. That conversation about police brutality came to mind when he was suddenly pulled over that night.

“First thing that came to my mind is I’m already going to get pulled over. I know they're most likely going to take me in, but I'm going to need to try my theory real quick and see that it's true, so she can believe there is good officers in the world,” recounted Vaca.

Call it naivety, stupidity or a misreading of the situation, but Vaca said at the time he was sure they would not shoot him. At least not 12 times.

“What I was hoping for them to do was tell me, 'Drop the gun! Back away from the firearm! Get on the ground! Turn around!' And it was going to be an arrest,” he said. “But I was completely wrong.”

Vaca said he never pointed the gun at the officers, though it was determined later that the weapon did contain ammunition.

Looking back, Vaca admitted his “experiment” was ill-conceived, saying it wasn’t worth it, though it did “open my eyes to realize life is such a blessing.”

Still, his view of the police hasn’t changed much.

“Do you think they were good cops?” asked Eyewitness News.

“Yeah, because they didn’t know what to expect,” Vaca responded.

Vaca was being held on $400,000 bail. He was booked on 11 criminal counts, including possession of a firearm as a convicted felon and participating in a criminal street gang. His arraignment is scheduled for Thursday.

The officer has been put on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation.

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