Keith Sidwell, a retired Roanoke police officer, was driving south on the Blue Ridge Parkway in his black Dodge truck that crisp April morning.
Hector Emanuel Escoto-Munguia, who had worked in construction, was heading north toward Vinton in a white Hummer.
About a mile from Explore Park, the Hummer “came dead at me in my lane,” Sidwell later told investigators. Both vehicles turned around. One driver had a BB gun, the other a Glock 9 mm handgun.
Within minutes, Escoto-Munguia would be fatally shot. Sidwell would be in handcuffs.
A newly released report into the shooting reveals a few more details but raises more questions about the April 10, 2018, encounter. Just before the shooting, at least three groups of people had seen Escoto-Munguia wave around what appeared to be a gun, as federal prosecutors reported last year when they declined to charge Sidwell in the shooting. Family of Escoto-Munguia in April filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Sidwell, which is awaiting a trial date.
During the investigation, law enforcement compiled a list of encounters involving 20-year-old Escoto-Munguia in the days leading up to the shooting, including his allegation of an “organized car theft ring” in Franklin County. After his killing, police recovered a note from his pocket with the Roanoke Valley crime tip line phone number written on it.
Investigators found no criminal record for Sidwell, then 56, who had worked 25 years for the Roanoke Police Department and six years as police chief in Henderson, North Carolina. Federal agents asked him questions about any fights he’d had, as well as his contact with Spanish-speakers.
In July, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys in the U.S. Department of Justice released a 255-page partially redacted copy of the investigative report, one year after The Roanoke Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the records. The documents, in which Sidwell’s name is redacted, include interviews and reports from the National Park Service, Roanoke County Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In interviews with investigators, Sidwell told the following story:
After the Hummer forced Sidwell to brake, then passed him, he saw the vehicle turn back around. Sidwell then turned around to get the Hummer’s license plate number. The two vehicles pulled up beside each other. Both drivers’ windows were rolled down. Escoto-Munguia said something unintelligible to him. Escoto-Munguia pointed a gun at Sidwell, and Sidwell told him to drop the weapon. Sidwell then shot from his vehicle three times, hitting Escoto-Munguia, who got out of his car and reached for Sidwell’s door handle. Sidwell pulled his truck forward, got out, and stood over Escoto-Munguia, who had fallen to the ground.
Sidwell called police immediately after the shooting, according to a transcript of the 911 call:
“I have a man shot on the Parkway, ah … He is shot bad,” he says. “The gentleman almost hit me head on, on the Parkway, he turned around. He got right beside me. Uh ... He pulled a gun on me. Ah ... he was speaking partially in Spanish and cursing me, and, ah, pointed the gun at me.”
“Okay. So you say he pulled a gun on you?” a dispatcher asks.
“Yes sir. That is correct ... I ordered him, I ordered him to drop the firearm, he would not do it. He pointed it at me I didn’t have a choice.”
While Sidwell was on the phone, as many as a dozen people stopped at the 116 mile marker of the parkway, including a plainclothes lieutenant with the Roanoke Sheriff’s Office, who treated Escoto-Munguia with bandages. A woman used a knife from Sidwell’s truck to cut a hospital sheet she had in her vehicle to make tourniquets. Another bystander recalled hearing Escoto-Munguia call out, “I don’t want to die” and “I want to see my babies.”
A Roanoke County police officer handcuffed Sidwell and reported he had blood on him, was crying and repeatedly said, “I thought that he was gonna shoot me, I don’t want him to die.”
“While speaking with [Sidwell] I had him explain to me how the initial incident started,” the officer wrote in a report. “He advised me that the other subject was heading that way and pointed toward Vinton. He advised that after the initial incident took place, he turned around going toward Vinton himself to try and get the guy’s tag and that’s when he turned around as well coming back towards him.”
It’s unclear whether the Roanoke County officer’s report was mistaken or whether Sidwell later explained differently who had turned around first.
Police officers and bystanders reported seeing what looked like a 9 mm handgun “directly beside the driver’s side of the white SUV.” Elsewhere, the report says investigators recovered a BB gun, modeled to look like a Beretta 9 mm, “just outside and to the rear of Mr. Munguia’s white Hummer H3.”
Asked about these discrepancies, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Virginia and the FBI declined to comment.
Escoto-Munguia was shot through the right chest, left chest and left forearm, according to the autopsy. A toxicology test was negative for alcohol or drugs.
The report doesn’t say why Sidwell, whose property records show he lives about five miles from the shooting scene, was on the parkway that day.
That morning, Escoto-Munguia had driven to Salem for a court appointment that the report doesn’t identify. He dropped off a friend at her mother’s home at 10:06 a.m. and told her he was going to wash his car. He told her he’d pick her up later so she could accompany him back to court.
Between then and 10:27 a.m., when Sidwell called police, at least three groups of people saw a man, whom law enforcement later identified as Escoto-Munguia, showing off what appeared to be a gun.
A man in the city called police. Two women driving south on the parkway saw a “white or silver” vehicle swerve in their lane several times before passing, its driver waving a “black, shiny” gun. A couple walking along a road near the Roanoke Mountain picnic area saw a man wave around an apparent weapon, according to a National Park Service report.
“The driver then asked them if they needed anything and told them that he was not dangerous and ‘do not follow me,’ ” the document says. “The [pair of witnesses] stated the driver did not appear to be malicious, acted confused, appeared not to have a motive, never pointed the gun at them and felt threatened by him.”
Escoto-Munguia’s criminal record shows drug and traffic infractions, including a revoked driver’s license. An assault charge from February 2018 had yet to go to trial.
The week of his death, Escoto-Munguia’s name surfaced in police records, the report shows.
Two days before the shooting, Escoto-Munguia called police “to report an organized car theft ring operating in Rocky Mount,” according to the report. A day later, a juvenile contacted police saying he feared for his safety. He claimed Escoto-Munguia “routinely transports illegal drugs from Tennessee to Virginia,” and threatened his family if he didn’t “join his gang.”
Authorities did not charge Escoto-Munguia.
Rob Dean, a Roanoke attorney representing Escoto-Munguia’s family in the wrongful death lawsuit, said he had no knowledge of these two reports.
“They continue to mourn the loss of their son and father,” Dean said of the family.
John Cooley, a Roanoke attorney representing Sidwell, declined to comment.
FBI special agents interviewed Sidwell for an hour and 15 minutes the afternoon of the shooting.
Sidwell tells them he’d never seen Escoto-Munguia before.
“Um, have you had any altercations with anyone else?”
“How about anybody else that speaks Spanish or anything like that?”
Much of the conversation veers from the investigation, with talk about hobbies and mutual people they know in law enforcement. During the interview, Roanoke Police Chief Tim Jones calls Sidwell’s cellphone to see how he is doing. Agents inform Sidwell that Escoto-Munguia has died at the hospital.
“I just wish that boy wasn’t dead,” Sidwell says at one point to an agent.
“Well, what’s been done can’t be undone. Right?”
“Yep, you got that right.”
In a summary of Sidwell’s background, investigators noted that the only social media record pertaining to him is a letter to the editor published May 2016 in The Roanoke Times.
The letter appeared to be in response to criticism of the Roanoke County police shooting that year of Kionte Spencer, who was carrying a broken BB gun.
“If society refuses to simply obey auditory commands of an officer to ‘drop the gun,’ and the officer determines in a nano-second that the gun-wielding person is a threat to the officer or citizen’s life, then the officer is sworn to protect themselves and others from this threat,” wrote Sidwell, who by then had been retired from police work for three years.
“It is a tragedy whenever a human life is gone,” he wrote. “Some jobs are easy. A cop’s job is not.”