This column was contributed by San Benito County Sheriff Captain Eric Taylor. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.
The last column I wrote was about the teamwork and effort that went into saving the life of our little angel Faith who had drowned. After many days fighting for her little life, Faith passed, and I struggled to pen another column worthy to follow the tragedy we all felt when Faith was taken from us. You must understand us big bad cops lose a little of ourselves when we fail to save lives. Especially the lives of children.
However, something transpired Monday night I feel I need to share with our community. I want to honor a group of men and women and celebrate a victory with all of you. I hope to express the emotions we all felt while trying to save not one, but two lives on Churchill Road. Our mission was not only to save the victim, but the suspect as well.
I was lying down watching Netflix after a long holiday weekend. Suddenly I got a text message from our District Attorney Candice Hooper that said, “Shooting on Churchill, need me to respond?” Within one minute of that text, I got a Fire Department alert to my phone showing a GSW (Gun Shot Wound) victim in the 600 block of Churchill. The call stated a male victim had been “shot at 4 times” by his mentally ill son and the victim was injured and hiding somewhere on the property.
I told my wife “I need to go listen to this call” and I left our family movie-time to sit in my work truck in the driveway to listen to what we had going on. As I heard the call unfolding, I felt this was going to be the “real-deal.” I ran back in the house, put my uniform on, grabbed my rifle, kissed my wife and daughters, apologized to them for missing the movie, then tore out of the driveway with lights and sirens.
On my way to the call, I heard the units arriving in the area. They were asking many questions such as location of the victim, location of the suspect, type of weapon used, what building the suspect was in, color of the house, etc. This area of Churchill Rd. is confusing to navigate during an emergency. There are multiple parcels within one secluded area that actually appear to be one-single address. In fact, the addresses that are marked as the 600s sit directly behind the ones that are the 500s. Not exactly intuitive. But, that’s rural policing for you. Six of our deputies, two Hollister Police Officers and two California Highway Patrolmen fanned out across a vast property searching for the victim, knowing at any moment they could be shot by a suspect who had all the advantages. The did not hesitate and they were methodical and careful in their search and approach.
Worried the suspect was going to open fire on the deputies as they tried to get to the victim, I diverted from Fairview Rd. and went to the office to get our rescue vehicle. When I arrived on scene, I watched as some of our very young, and very new deputies were taking cover behind vehicles, buildings and foliage. I was approached by the senior Sergeant on-scene who credited the junior Sergeant with extracting the victim from the brush and driving him to a rally point where medics were waiting.
Knowing the victim was safe, and confirming the suspect male was alone, and possibly suffering from a mental health crisis, we decided to slow everything down. We chose not to force the issue. The Sergeant explained he and another deputy had confronted the suspect in the driveway area and they were positive he still had the gun in his hand. It appeared to be a glock-style pistol. The male fled back into the home and was being watched, somewhat, by a deputy with just over six months on the job. That deputy had a less-lethal shotgun with him and he was directed to attempt to distract the male if he emerged by firing a “sock” round at him. We would all then rush to control the male if he dropped the gun. That time did not come.
As the deputy was watching a reflection of the male in a mirror, through an open door, I called for the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team to respond. I also called for air support from the California Highway Patrol. They sent a fixed-wing aircraft to provide overhead support so we would not have to pursue an armed, agitated suspect on foot. It seems counter-intuitive to call a SWAT team to help calm a situation, but that is exactly what they are trained for. Many feel a SWAT team is a type of assault unit, but that is just not the case in modern law enforcement in California. They have that capability, sure, but the main purpose of these teams nowadays is to slow things down, negotiate and save people in crisis.
Monterey County SWAT arrived, and their commander took over the call. They began to relieve our units from their positions on the perimeter. One by one, these professionals from Monterey County calmly took over our spots and started a plan to capture the suspect without hurting him. It was incredibly impressive.
They had, on their team, a trained doctor who is a mental health crisis counselor. She began a dialogue with family and physicians who had information on the male we were trying to capture. She was able to explain to us, in laymen’s terms, what the male suffered from and talked about how many of our go-to tactics may not work on this suspect. She opined they may actually make things worse. I had never had that kind of insight, at my fingertips, at a rapidly evolving event such as this. Based on the information from the doctor, the SWAT team changed their approach. They tried to “wait the male out” while calling him on the phone and over a PA system. After hours of trying, we were at a standstill.
Not knowing if the male was harming himself, the SWAT commander directed a member of the bomb squad to drive their robot into the house to look for the male. The operator of the robot was amazing. He was able to swiftly and smoothly navigate to the door the suspect had recently slammed shut after throwing something out of it. Using a “water charge,” the operator was able to blast the door open at the door handle. He explained to us the water-jet that creates the blast is very safe for the person inside. It is a modern tool that took the place of shotgun-shell charges used to blast doors open in the past. The blast of water dissipates immediately after impacting the door so even if someone was holding the door on the other side, they would be unharmed. It was really amazing.
As the door flew open, the male stood up from a seated position, confused, and began moving the gun around by his side. We would later discuss that if it was an officer or deputy that forced the door open, and they were confronted with this armed male with gun clearly visible in hand, the likelihood of an officer-involved shooting was very high. But we averted that fate. The male ran away from the room and hid somewhere in the home.
The robot was backed out and more negotiation ensued. We came to another standstill.
The decision was made to send the robot back in with a gas canister to attempt to get the male to exit the home. The robot entered and again confronted the male who was concealing the gun behind a water jug. We were able to see the gun, and the male, from a camera mounted on the robot. The SWAT commander began a dialogue with the male through a speaker on the robot. The male looked confused and grabbed the gun. The gas canister was dropped and the room began to fill with gas.
The male ran out of the house and toward the SWAT officers with the gun still in his hand. Due to the fact the SWAT officers had a plan, training and good cover, they deployed less-lethal rounds at the male which caused the male to throw the gun. As the male tried to run back into his house, a SWAT Deputy fired his taser at the male and captured him.
Our deputies quickly took custody of the male and took him directly to the hospital for a medical evaluation. He was cleared for custody and booked in the county jail for the attempted murder of his father. Not ideal, but it’s what we have to work with right now. I assure you were are addressing the mental health of this male prior to any criminal proceedings.
The father had been shot in the face and head multiple times with what ended up being a high-powered pellet gun, not a firearm. You would not know it was a pellet gun by looking at it or holding it.
This call could have ended in tragedy. We realize the father, and his son, both have many people who love them. They have relatives, and friends, who would feel immense loss if either of them had been killed on Monday. We do not take that truth lightly. Our job is to protect all of you and to preserve life. We value all life and we have been sworn to protect it. This 24-year-old man is suffering from an illness. As you read this, he is getting help. He was unharmed and is OK. All too often these people are subjected to deadly force from police because police don’t slow things down and take their time when time is afforded to them. Our office pledges to always take the time, and slow things down, every chance we get so we can protect all human life.
Our deputies took time to group up and discuss what they had just gone through. They were commended for using restraint. They were commended for teamwork, patience and their respect for humanity. They asked for more training. The young deputies, and the veterans alike didn’t ask for “cool stuff,” recognition, or awards. They simply asked for more training so they could do better next time. I was so proud of all of them. I was proud of the Hollister Police Officers who again, as they always are, were there to help us without us having to ask. And also the Highway Patrol who empowered their officers to help out at the drop of a hat. But mostly, thanks to the professionals who comprise the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office SWAT, Bomb and Hostage Negotiations Teams. They did it right. They too protected and respected life. I am humbled in the presence of all these listed heroes.
If you have any questions about this column, or topics you would like addressed, please email me [email protected].
COMMENTARY: Hollister High School lockdown follow-up message
Principal Adrian Ramirez and San Benito High School District Superintendent Dr. Shawn Tennenbaum respond to school lockdown.