DA Report: Milpitas Officers Legally Shot and Killed Armed Man in Stolen Car

For release on October 12, 2022


Robert Baker
Deputy District Attorney

(408) 792-2873
[email protected]

DA Report: Milpitas Officers Legally Shot and Killed Armed Man in Stolen Car

Four Milpitas police officers last year lawfully shot and killed a man in a stolen car who, when they tried to arrest him, pulled a loaded, illegal handgun and got into a shootout with them at a crowded shopping center, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office has determined.

Michael Nelson Jr., 42, ignored surrounding officers when they told him to show them his hands and stay in the car. Nelson came out of the car with a loaded semi-automatic in both hands, and said, “This isn’t going to end the way you think.” An officer fired at Nelson, who fired back, and was eventually taken into custody.

Nelson died at the hospital days later. An autopsy found methamphetamine and amphetamine in Nelson’s blood.

In the 31-page public report, prosecutor Robert Baker concluded the officers acted in lawful self-defense and defense of others. He wrote: “Nelson transformed the Milpitas Square shopping center into a shooting gallery. His reckless actions callously risked the lives of innocent men, women, and children who came there to enjoy their Friday afternoon.”

The District Attorney’s Office investigates all fatal law enforcement encounters to determine if the lethal force was legal. By law, officers are allowed to use deadly force where there is a reasonable need to protect themselves or others from an apparent, imminent threat of death or great bodily injury.

The incident began in the late afternoon of October 15, 2021, when MPD was alerted that a stolen car was parked in the Milpitas Square shopping center. Body Worn Camera footage shows five MPD officers responded and arrived at the strip mall where many individuals and families were enjoying their Friday afternoon. The officers parked their unmarked police vehicles around the stolen car so it could not be driven away. Officers turned on their emergency lights and ordered the driver, Nelson, to stay in the car and show his hands. Nelson, while holding a privately made semiautomatic gunin his lap, leaned out and moved his body toward Officer Brian Thanh as if he was going to shoot. Believing he and his fellow officers were in imminent danger of death or suffering great bodily injury, Officer Thanh fired multiple times at Nelson. Officer Jonathan Nichols, Sgt. Francisco Sanchez, and Officer Karolly Toth, also believing they and shopping center patrons were in imminent danger, opened fire on Nelson as well. Undeterred by multiple gunshots, Nelson returned fire. The officers continued to exchange gunfire with Nelson, leaving him mortally wounded.

In 2005, Nelson was sentenced to 13 years in prison for multiple felonies, including three counts of robbery in Santa Clara County. After being released on parole, he was convicted in Sonoma County for being a felon in possession of an assault rifle and sent back to prison. He was on parole at the time of this incident.




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