A San Jose police officer has been cleared of criminal liability for fatally shooting a man who on Valentine’s Day led police on a violent gunshot-filled chase, hijacked a UPS truck with its driver, and later, carrying a shotgun, ran toward officers and bystanders in a last-ditch effort to escape, according to prosecutors.
Mark Morasky, 33, of Saratoga, was shot and killed the evening of Feb. 14 at North First Street and Trimble Road, after a frenetic sequence that began when he and an alleged accomplice tried to evade a traffic stop at the Chenoweth light-rail station in South San Jose. Officer Nicholas Bronte, with 13 years as a law-enforcement officer — the last two years with SJPD — fired a single shot at Morasky from his police-issued rifle, as Morasky was trying to cross a rain-slicked parking lot.
“Despite repeated instructions by officers and deputies to Morasky asking for his peaceful surrender, Morasky opted to attempt to breach the perimeter armed with a loaded shotgun,” Santa Clara County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Miguel Valdovinos wrote in his office’s formal report on the shooting. “Officer Bronte actually and reasonably believed that he needed to use deadly force to protect himself and others.”
The DA’s office also released video excerpts from police body cameras and from a police helicopter that was present as much of the event unfolded. The images largely confirm police accounts given at the time of the incident.
Around 5 p.m. on Feb. 14, Morasky and an alleged accomplice, Joanna Mae Macy-Rodgers, fled the parking lot of the Chynoweth light-rail station in South San Jose to avoid plainclothes transit officers with the Sheriff’s Office, who had approached the pair’s black SUV to issue a citation for illegal parking.
During the initial pursuit on city streets and eventually onto highways 85 and 87, police say Macy-Rodgers fired once at a sheriff’s minivan and then three more times at the minivan and other law-enforcement vehicles, hitting one of them, according to authorities.
During the chase, Deputy Devin Tallerico reported into his police radio, “They are shooting at us” and “shooting at us again,” according to a broadcast transcript in the DA report.
The two suspects drove to Communications Hill, approached UPS driver Mitchell Ellerd at gunpoint, and forced him to drive them away from the site, authorities said.
Ellerd told investigators, and later in a media interview, that he tried to jump out of the truck but that Morasky had held onto Ellerd’s seat belt, preventing him from escaping. Ellerd also said that he kept the truck’s speed to about 50 mph so pursuing police could keep pace, telling his captors that the truck had a regulating device that prevented it from going faster. He also stated that he purposely drove over road spikes laid across Highway 87 by police to disable his truck.
At North First Street and West Trimble Road the hijackers stopped, and a standoff ensued, police said. Soon after, Macy-Rodgers exited the truck and surrendered. In his brief phone contact with police, Morasky talked about not wanting to go back to prison, and said that “he was going to die that day,” according to a police report.
Morasky was on parole after serving four years in prison for a 2012 carjacking and two robberies in San Jose and Saratoga. Those convictions gave him two “strikes” under the state’s three-strikes law, making him eligible for life in prison were he to be convicted for a third violent or serious crime.