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Two Young Officers in a Fight for their Lives

Posted on Friday, December 01, 2006 at 12:00PM
Posted by Harry S. Stern

As an attorney at Rains, Lucia & Wilkinson LLP, I have the privilege of meeting and working with peace officers every day. At our firm the lawyers are “on-call” on a rotating basis to represent our clients in critical incidents, typically officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths and vehicle pursuits that result in an injury collision. Our work is fascinating and rewarding due to the endless variety of cases and the ever present element of human drama: our clients are everyday heroes routinely faced with life or death situations.

Early this year, I responded to an officer-involved shooting that took place in the city of Richmond. My two clients were San Pablo P.D. officers whose vehicle pursuit led them into the neighboring jurisdiction. Although I have handled my fair share of police shootings that resulted from terrifying situations, this case stands out in terms of the ordeal the officers underwent and the menace they withstood from a violent and hostile crowd.

Officers Frank Perino and Mark Galios were relatively new officers assigned to day watch weekend patrol duty. On Monday, May 29, 2006 (Memorial Day), Galios decided to park his car in a position to watch a well-known narcotic and crime hot spot while he was writing reports. After a short time, he saw two men enter a green Camaro that was parked in front of the house. One of the men appeared to be stashing something in the car. When the car, which was parked illegally, left the house it fish tailed. Galios got behind the car in order to make further observations. He noticed that it also had an expired registration. Accordingly, Officer Galios decided to make a traffic stop.

The car pulled to the curb but continued to slowly roll forward as Galios stepped out of his patrol car. He ordered the driver to stop the car and drop the car keys out of the window. Instead of complying with this order the car continued to move forward. It finally stopped, he repositioned his patrol car and began to approach. At this point, the Camaro sped away.

Galios gave chase. The pursuit went into Richmond. Galios radioed his location and updated responding officers and supervisors concerning the traffic conditions and the like, thus, complying with the department’s pursuit policy. For some reason, only Officer Galios’s good friend, Officer Perino, was able to join the pursuit. The chase continued for approximately four minutes. As the suspect circled a particular block, a large crowd came out to watch the excitement. This maneuver was in all likelihood a tactic that the suspect used to rally his allies from the neighborhood so that he could escape.

The Camaro finally stopped and the driver and passenger fled on foot. Both officers pursued the driver. They chased the driver over at least six fences, through backyards, across streets and around homes. During the chase, Perino was able to stay fairly close behind the suspect; Officer Galios slowed down to make sure that he had not lost his handgun and so lost ground.

The suspect stumbled and Perino caught up to him and tackled him. However, the ordeal was far from over. The suspect continued to fight and Perino could not get him under control. A large crowd formed. Three men approached Perino and the suspect and began to encourage the suspect to continue to fight. Perino, who was exhausted, asked one of the men for help. The man just laughed.

While this was going on, Galios was frantically searching for his friend and co-worker. As Galios rounded the corner, a citizen pointed to where Perino and the suspect were fighting. Galios sprinted over to join the fray. The suspect was undaunted. He continued to throw elbows and otherwise resist. Perino’s knees were scraped and swollen and extremely painful from rolling around on the pavement. He was forced to back off momentarily. As he did so, three members of the crowd approached in a threatening manner. Perino held them at bay with his firearm.

In the meantime, the suspect was attempting to wrestle Galios’s handgun from its holster. The suspect was able to pull it partially out of the holster. Galios warned Perino that “he’s got my gun!” and “shoot him if he gets the gun!” Galios literally managed to gain the upper hand. While Galios was focused on retaining his firearm, the suspect managed to break free. Rather than taking a clear escape route, the suspect stood up, turned and faced Galios. The suspect once again lunged at Galios’s firearm. Members of the crowd shouted “get the cop’s gun and shoot them!” Perino, who was completely exhausted, realized that if the suspect was able to get Galios’s weapon, both officers would be shot to death. Therefore, Perino fired a single shot at the suspect’s torso. The round had the intended effect. The suspect stopped his attack and fell to the ground mortally wounded.

Despite both officers’ frantic “officer needs assistance” radio broadcasts, the first backup car did not arrive until after the shot was fired.

Eventually, a number of officers arrived and both Perino and Galios were taken to the Police Department.

As is standard procedure in Contra Costa County, San Pablo P.D. invoked the countywide protocol. Therefore, the Richmond Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office assumed responsibility for the investigation. Both officers opted to make a statement.

In Contra Costa County all deaths that involve police action are reviewed at a Coroner’s Inquest.[1] In summary, the Coroner’s Inquest is convened for the purposes of rendering an official mode of death. A jury hears evidence and then decides if the death was either “at the hands of another, suicide, an accident or by natural causes.”

This case was among the most harrowing that I have ever encountered: these two young officers were set upon by an angry crowd while they were fighting with a violent felon. Members of the crowd refused to help and, instead, shouted encouragements to the suspect and threats to the officers.

Thus, it was no surprise that the testimony before the Coroner’s jury was emotional and compelling. My clients, Galios and Perino, provided a study in contrasts. Galios methodically rendered a detailed account of this incident. Perino’s testimony was emotional and poignant. The net effect of their testimony was that the jury rendered a verdict which was a surprise to some, but not me. The jury concluded that the death was an “accident.” There is no question in my mind that the jury reached this conclusion in order to avoid even the appearance of placing any culpability on the part of the officers. Such a result is not unprecedented, and if I were a betting man I would have wagered that this would have been the verdict.

The definition of a death by accident given to the jurors states that:

“ANOTHER SPECIES OF ACCIDENT IS THE KIND WHICH RESULTS FROM HUMAN ACTS OR CONDUCT. DEATH BY ACCIDENT WHERE A HUMAN AGENCY IS INVOLVED IS THUS BEST DEFINED AS THE UNINTENDED OR UNEXPECTED RESULTS OF HUMAN CONDUCT. THE TERM “ACCIDENT” AS IT APPLIES TO THESE PROCEEDINGS IS AN UNFORESEEN EVENT, MISFORTUNE, LOSS, ACT OR OMISSION.”

Thus, the sympathetic jury found that the shooting was the “unexpected result of human conduct,” i.e., the suspect’s.

My analysis was conclusively confirmed by one of the jurors, who took the time to write to my clients the day after the hearing. She told them to, “Hold your head high. You have been through a horrible ordeal. We need more officers like you!” [emphasis in original]

There remains absolutely no question that this shooting was completely justified and within all relevant laws and policies. It is my sincere hope that the hearing process itself will prove cathartic and allow the officers some degree of closure concerning this incident.

It is a tragedy that no one in the large crowd that gathered lifted a finger to help these two young men, who had been pushed past their physical limits (by the way, both are former athletes who were in excellent shape).

One shudders to imagine what would happen if this violent felon (who turned out to be a career criminal) had, egged on by the chants of the crowd, managed to get Galios’s pistol.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Harry S. Stern is a partner in the law firm of Rains, Lucia & Wilkinson LLP. His practice focuses on criminal defense and personal injury litigation. He is a former Berkeley police officer.

[1] For a detailed explanation of the Inquest procedure, go to www.cccba.org/prof/lawyer.htm and see The Coroner’s Inquest in Contra Costa County by Stuart W. Willis and Megan A. Willis.

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