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Law Firm in High Gear on Critical Incidents

Posted on Tuesday, February 01, 2005 at 12:00PM

Although each year brings on many surprises and challenges, none of us at Rains, Lucia & Wilkinson (RL&W) could have ever envisioned the onslaught of critical incidents that occurred in the first week of this new year. Although responding to critical incidents are nothing new to the members of this firm and, we have done so hundreds of times, the first week of this new year far surpassed our expectations. Starting on Monday, January 3rd and ending on Sunday, January 9th, our firm responded to eight critical incidents involving officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. In all but one of those cases, PORAC LDF was involved and was critical to our timely response.

Here is how we spent out first week of this new year:

Monday, January 3rd

Around 12:30 a.m., Alison Berry Wilkinson and Terry Bowman responded to a critical incident involving members of the Redwood City POA, Menlo Park POA and San Carlos POA. A mentally disturbed man had barricaded himself in a closet in a home and was threatening suicide. The man possessed a machete and had carved a spear out of the closet’s wooden clothes rod. He used those to inflict injury on himself and to threaten the officers. The man was unresponsive to less than lethal force, multiple cans of OC spray did not cause him to surrender, and he pulled out the taser after it was deployed. The suspect put up a wooden shelf to shield himself in the closet, but the officers were able to knock that down. Around 15 wooden dowels were shot at the subject over several hours, with no effect. The SWAT team was called. Eventually, the suspect came out of the closet with the wooden spear and machete and launched himself at the officers. The suspect was shot and landed within a few feet of the officers. In this incident, RL&W represented the three officers who used lethal force as well as the three who used non-lethal force.

Tuesday, January 4th

Around 2:00 a.m. on January 4th, Terry Bowman and Alison Berry Wilkinson were again called out, this time to the Santa Clara Police Department for another officer-involved shooting incident. Police attention was drawn to the first suspect after he was doing donuts with his vehicle in a parking lot while officers were investigating a fatal car-pedestrian accident. The suspect gave chase after marked patrol car tried to pull him over. Two undercover officers also responded. The suspect drove through Santa Clara, eventually pulling into a carport. A marked patrol car pulled in after him, and everyone thought the suspect was going to surrender. Instead, the suspect put his car in reverse, rammed the patrol car and then accelerated directly at the officers. Shots were fired. One officer was hit with a piece of metal in the eye and fell to ground. The suspect then backed his vehicle into the street, and again accelerated towards officers. Shots were fired and suspect was killed.

Wednesday, January 5th

Prior to sunrise, Rocky Lucia was dispatched on a critical incident where three deputies from Contra Costa County were involved in a critical incident call out concerning the death of a suspect taken into custody less than 24 hours prior. The Contra Costa County critical incident protocol was invoked and numerous investigators from the District Attorney’s office, as well as the Sheriff’s Department, engaged in a joint investigation of the incident.

Thursday, January 6th

Harry Stern received a call from the San Francisco POA to represent an officer involved in a pursuit and subsequent shooting. At about 10:00 p.m., two San Francisco officers overheard a radio broadcast from the Ingleside District channel concerning a vehicle pursuit. The chase continued northbound on Highway 280 toward the Bayview district. The officers were in the vicinity of where the chase was heading. They saw the suspects’ van speeding down the hill toward their car. The van veered once toward their police car, indicating the driver’s intention to ram them. The officers jumped out of the car in order to avoid the crash. The van struck a parked car just in front of the police car and then careened toward the officers. One officer drew his service pistol and fired several shots at the van’s driver to prevent him from continuing his deadly attack on the officer and his partner. The rounds struck the van but did not strike the driver. Fortunately, the officers escaped without injury. The van continued on and the occupants fled on foot. Other responding officers captured the suspects with the assistance of a police K-9.

The shooting was investigated both as part of the overall criminal inquiry into the incident and administratively by a sergeant from the district station. An inspector from the Night Investigations Unit interviewed both officers, who gave clear and concise account of their actions, which were completely justified.

Friday, January 7th

Todd Simonson and Cappy Myers responded to Oakland Police Department to represent two officers during the investigation of an in-custody death. The man was suicidal and died from an apparent drug overdose just after being placed on a psychiatric hold.

Saturday, January 8th

Todd Simonson responded to Rohnert Park to represent an officer during the investigation of a vehicle pursuit and non-fatal shooting. The suspect was fleeing after assaulting a police officer weeks earlier and attempted to run the officer over during the pursuit.

Sunday, January 9th

During the early morning hours of January 9th, Rocky Lucia responded to Vallejo to represent several officers involved in a criminal investigation concerning the death of a suspect. The suspect had attempted to resist arrest of several Vallejo police officers. While four officers struggled with the suspect on the ground, drugs were recovered and shortly after the struggle, the suspect expired.

Monday, January 10th

Tragically, Sgt. Howard Stevenson of Ceres Police Department was killed during a contact with a suspect in Ceres. Officer Sam Ryno was also critically wounded. Todd Simonson was contacted by LDF to represent a Modesto sergeant who was involved in the fatal shooting of the suspect.

Although this office has represented peace officers for many years, never have we seen a string of critical incidents like the first week of 2005. The lessons learned from the first week of our New Year are many and will not be forgotten. Our role as “first responders” was highlighted as was the importance of being available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While most attorneys work business hours Monday through Friday, LDF attorneys must be available on a moments notice and respond without hesitation to critical incidents. In many ways our “on-call” status is no different than being compelled to work mandatory overtime, held over for an additional shift or losing holiday or vacation time due to an unexpected crisis. In fact, Rocky Lucia had the pleasure of enjoying a fine Thanksgiving feast of grilled cheese sandwiches and cookies with several members of the Sonoma County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association who were involved in a critical incident on that cold night in November.

We constantly remind our clients that training and experience is a key component in justifying actions taken during a critical incident. No doubt, all of us at Rains, Lucia & Wilkinson know the importance of experienced assistance during critical incidents, which we were called upon to provide to so many during our first week of January 2005.

PORAC Legal Defense Administrator Ed Fishman Testimony: Law Enforcement Use of Body Cameras.