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Dean Scoville

Dean Scoville

Associate Editor of Police Magazine and a retired patrol supervisor and investigator with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, Sgt. Dean Scoville has received multiple awards for government service.
Patrol

Taking Down One of Our Own

There were other options for taking down a fellow Santa Maria (Calif.) Police officer than a public arrest at a DUI checkpoint.

February 02, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

Over on the Police_L discussion list, we've been discussing the shooting of Albert Covarrubias, Jr., a Santa Maria (Calif.) Police officer wanted on suspicion for having illegal sex with a 17-year-old. The 29-year-old officer was working a DUI checkpoint when fellow officers attempted to place him under arrest.

Covarrubias resisted and allegedly fired his service weapon. Another officer then shot and killed the four-year veteran.

The Santa Maria Police Department asserts that time was of the essence in effecting Covarrubias' arrest. And irrespective of the statutory terms involved in the matter—an issue of which I am tempted to opine on, but will refrain from herein—any "witness intimidation" by an armed police officer does warrant immediate action.

Still, it would appear that the situation could have turned out much worse. I also suspect it could have been handled better.

For one, what transpired played out on a public street, presumably within eyeshot of passing motorists. For another, it involved an armed officer—an officer who could well have succeeded in killing another officer prior to himself being killed.

I can't help but wonder why the Santa Maria Police Department, which apparently considered Officer Covarrubias an imminent threat to the community—and whose subsequent actions apparently validated its concerns—didn't attempt to do something different from just trying to hook him up right there in the street.

I wonder why a plainclothes officer from a neighboring PD couldn't have been designated as a "DUI" suspect and the suspected officer tasked with transporting him to jail? Assuming that Santa Maria PD otherwise adheres to good officer safety practices, Officer Covarrubias would have secured his firearm prior to entering the station's lockup. In this manner, the situation would have been moved off a public street; the threat isolated and contained; and the officer disarmed without anyone having tilted their hand.

Had the tilting of one's hand factored into the PD's decision-making process? Had the intimidated witness or someone else tipped Covarrubias off that he was being investigated? Was there some other precipitating factor at work? Because absent such explanations, I fail to see the need for the PD to take the officer down then and there at a DUI checkpoint. Was this a suicide by cop? If so, then why not share that information?

I spoke with a Lt. Come' with the Santa Maria PD, articulated my concerns, and invited him to disabuse me of my intuitions. I asked him to tell me if anything that I had in the various news accounts of where and how the incident had taken place was incorrect. Lt. Come' declined to comment other than to say that the particulars were not going to be discussed at this time, not even in the context of viable alternatives.

And that is his prerogative. But I have always advocated the need to talk sound officer safety practices before all the facts are necessarily in place. Playing "what if..." is a legitimate alternative to Monday morning quarterbacking. It doesn't unduly stigmatize the actions of personnel involved in a particular situation and may well anticipate a similar situation that might play out elsewhere before the day is done.

Time may have been of the essence in Santa Maria. But "essence" does not necessarily translate to "emergent," and the need to act does not supercede sound tactics and strategies normally expected of our profession. Indeed, it fosters their need.

The PD may well have been obligated to shoot Officer Albert Covarrubias. If the actions ascribed him during the seconds immediately preceding the shooting are accurate, officers did what they had to do.

I just wonder if it had to get to that point.

Tags: Santa Maria (Calif.) PD, Friendly Fire, Officer Misconduct


Comments (23)

Displaying 1 - 23 of 23

John Paul @ 2/2/2012 2:54 PM

Mr. Scoville, I have a couple questions. Why is it that the department is the bad guy for arresting someone who has commited a felony? On top of that, that person decided to pull a gun and shot at the officers trying to affect an arrest? Another thing, when making SWAT raids of places where there is know to be firearms should be just call the suspects into the station or attempt to catch them off-guard? This officer/suspect knew he was in the wrong and probably would have fought whether it was at the station or on the street, but why not attempt to get him when he wasn't expecting it?

Sheriff John @ 2/2/2012 4:11 PM

Santa Maria PD blew it. Covarrubias probably paniced when he figured he was going to arrested in the middle of the street by his coworkers.

Sex with a 17 year old explorer is not a new earth shaking event. This happens from time to time in many departments.

Pulling and firing his gun set things into motion that all must regret. Covarrubias is dead, the 17 year old female will no doubt be guilt ridden for the sad turn of events. The officer who shot Covarrubias will carry that burden for the rest of his life.

Who the hell cooked this one up? I doubt if IA was involved. Further more no one tried to finesse the arrest at the station after he had changed out of uniform.

Santa Maria PD will suffer from this tragedy and it wasn't necessaary.

Pup @ 2/2/2012 4:23 PM

We all can look back and make comments about what should have or shouldn't have been done to take the officer into custody. Working for a large department, our IA unit make arrests of bad officers all the time ranging from minor offenses to felony crimes. At no time has an officer/deputy been arrested in public view while working in uniform and armed. I'm sure SMPD didn't expect what had occurred. What I teach my puppies is to always expect the unexpected. It's a sad day not only for SMPD but the officer who had to kill a fellow officer, who was a suspect of a crime. Could the arrest be made in a different manner? I'm sure it could have. Maybe better planning. But, it's a lesson to be learned and hopefully this type of incident won't even happen again. Remember, none of us are perfect. We learn from mistakes. Be safe and God Bless...

Brandon @ 2/2/2012 4:47 PM

When making an expeditious arrest, the time and place are rarely taken into consideration as certain facts justify the immediacy of getting the offender of the streets.

Without knowing all the facts, we cannot say whether or not Santa Maria PD made the right decision. However, I support Mr. Scoville's view: they likely could have handled it better.

Surely Covarrubias’ cousin, best friend, and even the victim of his crime never wished it to end like this. I weep for every party involved. With any bit of wisdom—we can learn from this tragedy.

Lee @ 2/2/2012 5:01 PM

@John Paul: Mr. Scoville said exactly what you just said, but with common sense and officer safety in mind. This event could have been dealt with in a way that the outcome was one of a better scenario. However a fellow officer (who committed a felony.....yes) was shot as a result of departmental actions, and what seems to be a panic in the corner situation. All honesty, a fellow officer is still your brother and family. We all do not come from the greatest of families, but they are still exactly that. A tragic loss, and situation in my mind...

LOUIE @ 2/2/2012 7:18 PM

SEEMS TO ME MR. SCOVILLE IS GRANDSTANDING, FIRST WHY SHOULD THEY DISCUSS ANYTHING WITH YOU, SURELY BEING A RETIRED SUPERVISOR YOU KNOW THERE IS AN INTERNAL INVESTIGATION GOING ON. SECONDLY WE DON'T HAVE ALL THE FACT TO BE SECOND GUESSING, ARMED SUSPECT DO WE LET THEM WALK AWAY? I HEAR EVERYONE TALKING ABOUT WAITING, IF YOU FOLLOW THE STORY HE HAD A HEADS UP AND HAD TEXT AND CALLED THE VICTIM PRIOR TO THE ATTEMPTED ARREST. SO LETS WAIT AND SEE WHERE THE INVESTIGATION LEADS, WE SHOUILD ALL FEEL FOR THOSE THAT HAD TO SHOOT THIS CRIMINAL WHO CHOSE TO SHOOT AT HIS OWN!!

Dean Scoville @ 2/2/2012 8:14 PM

Louie: If making the implicit assertion that as a supervisor I would do everything possible to avoid either relieving an officer of his duties or arresting him in the field; if offering food for thought as to how other options might be explored given similar variables in the future; if having the balls to tender an edified opinion and affixing my signature to it - if these things constitute "grandstanding," then I am guilty as charged. If wading into a conversation with the font equivalent of SHOUTING; if willfully misreading a text so to put as negative a spin on it as possible; if failing to exhibit the courage to affix one's full name and identifying agency to some bombastic and asinine sentiment emanating from one's lower colon - if these things constitute a failure at "grandstanding," then you will sleep well tonight knowing that you have not saw fit to try to make yourself look good at the expense of another. With all due respect, Dean Scoville A P.S., Should my intuitions that things could have been handled better in Santa Maria be proven in error, I assure you I will apologize herein for having had the temerity to even broach the subject herein (even though I took pains to explain that I was doing so with an eye towards preventing a similar tragedy in the future). Indeed, I *hope* I am wrong. For then I will know that the principals involved need never play the "what if..." game with themselves.

John @ 2/2/2012 8:32 PM

They should just have all the female explorers sign a waiver about having sex with police officers. This is a very common thing and happens very often but most officers that are caught in this act are transfered over to another division or station unless criminal charges are filed but then thats where the waiver comes in cause how can a female explorer date some cop n then set him up like in this case. What is that all about???

ME @ 2/2/2012 8:43 PM

truly we don't know all the facts but with the info running around has anyone considered "suicide by cop"? when he was firing his weapon and didn't hit anyone, including himself, perhaps he took the next chicken way out. I feel for everyone involved including the idiot who kept making stupid mistakes even after he knew what was about to go down... suicide by cop is not uncommon even for one of our own

Deadman @ 2/2/2012 10:30 PM

This happened before and it was mishandled then also.An officer dated a woman,(not a juvenile),broke it off and got married,she chased him persued him called him,he told her he would not leave his wife.She filed a complaint against him,claimed he was followin calling,harassing her,threatening her.There was an investigation mishandled by two offiers who didn't have the skills to do a good job,he felt threatened,knew he couldn't support his wife if he lost his job.He confronted her,there was an arguement,he shot and killed her,then killed himself when approched by the police.We felt,he was set up by the woman spurned,like this sounds.
We were ordered not to attend his funeral,we went anyway.I was not a big fan of the guy but i never saw him do anything to deserve the way the department,turned their back on him and mishandle the situation.
In regards to SMPD,i would not want to have been those two officers that brought him down,i would have killed him,there are other ways.How would you have liked to have been his cousin,his best man,could you face the question?How could you shoot your cousin,your friend?Maybe,there is too too much automatic response to situations.

Bill @ 2/3/2012 5:56 AM

This is hard to arm chair QB for we do not know all of the facts that were present during decision making time. Having been involved in several arrests of dirty police officers - timing is key to safety for all and the case. The facts may never be fully known. but the reality statements are...(1) have a plan to deal with cops under arrest (2) plan for all aftermaths in all directions. Here we have cops dealing with unbelievable circumstances (shooting, death of friend, loss of trust of friend, etc). You must never say this can't happen here. Plan and weigh all the options carefully. Good commanders have plans...let's all try to learn from this for the great good of all.

Deadman @ 2/3/2012 6:01 AM

Correction to above,i would have not killed him,it seems everything was mis-handled and an officer is dead and how many lives are affected by this turn of events,it could have been handled better,maybe the girl was a groupie and wouldn't take no for an answer,matbe she set him up,that is a possibility.

Dan Birdsley @ 2/3/2012 7:11 AM

I doubt this entire case developed while at the DUI checkpoint. I can imagine no scenario that would convince me there weren't better ways to handle this. And why would you assign the victim to the DUI Checkpoint, as well? A sad ending to an all-too-common occurrence.

Capt David-retired LA Cou @ 2/3/2012 11:09 AM

That move was about as dumb as the ATF raiding Waco when they could have gotten Koresh anytime at the local cafe. Would you expect anyone accused of a felony, who is armed, expect to just hand over his piece? Who was in imminent danger? Lots of unanswered questions.

Wm. Myers @ 2/3/2012 11:57 AM

I'm a retired commander from Riverside Co. SO in CA, and at one point was an explorer advisor. I now run the security detail at a community college and the majority of my officers are wanting to go into the business. Ethics is one problems that I have with many of my folks, so I probably should not be suprised at some of the comments I have just read. I always thought that we did what we could do, within reason, to reduce the chance of any type of resistance for everyone's safety. I will Monday quarterback it and say that I would have handled it differently, but until all of the facts are known, that is just my opinion. What also disturbs me are the attitudes about officers having sex with under age explorers. Really folks, are our ethics that screwed up? Is it that common? I'm sorry that it cost the officer's life and that the cousin and best man will have to deal with it for the rest of their lives, but I'm happy to see that SMPD saw the need to enforce the law. I still think that we should be held to a higher standard, and as much as I enjoyed my career, I'm happy not to be dealing with these issues.

halderon @ 2/4/2012 11:49 AM

Seems as though this episode has been dissected enough by those who were not there. They provided the stimulus, they got the response-it was one they didn't expect. I don't know why the Officer pulled his gun, and we will never know-the ones that survive are also Brothers + Sisters. We should put this issue to rest, for the sake of the dead Officer's wife and family-but mostly, for his friend who killed him. We serve no purpose in constantly reminding him of what he had to do. Let it rest here. Let them rest.

BeachAngelLA @ 2/5/2012 4:23 PM

Tough and Sad for all involved, no matter how you look at it.
My Condolences.

SERTN7142 @ 2/6/2012 3:45 PM

Really? that's what some of you got from all this? A waiver and set up? A poor tactical plan? It isn't what he supposedly did, it was his reaction after being confronted with it! The final and most significant event was that no matter where and when they addressed it he drew and fired his sidearm in the presence of his own family and then pointed it at his friend! Is it that hard to peel this down to that specific act that removed him from our brotherhood and placed him as a threat? Where is the common sense that we, as law enforcement officers, are supposed to possess? If we have to jump to conclusions because we can't seem to wait for the facts then address the conclusion based on the deceased officer's actions that led up to his death. R.I.P. to our brother for his positive contributions and my respect and sympathy to those who were forced to deal with this tragic event.

dbrewer172 @ 2/6/2012 10:13 PM

John I cannot believe what I just read. You can't be serious. Just because it happens more than we know, does that make it right? So you are saying that just because they are police officers they should be treated differently than someone on the street? If you would arrest Joe Blow off the street for the same thing, why wouldn't you arrest a police officer? They know better. I hate the whole situation. My prayers go out to all involved.

usindynamite @ 2/22/2012 4:04 PM

What happens if the officer is threatening to take his own life on the pretext call? Do you wait? I love it when people jump in and write when they don't know the facts. Isn't this what we accuse the media of constantly, yet here we are doing the same thing. John, the explorer program is not a meat market for officers who should know better, wow. The blaming of a juvenile explorer I find amazing.

J. Perez @ 2/23/2012 5:39 AM

I worked as a law enforcement officer for 22 years, i never, never believed i was over the law. I was a public servant like the guy that work in public works and don't receive special courtesies, we are here to protect and serve our communities as public servants.

Greg @ 2/23/2012 7:38 AM

I think this situation should be a great learning tool for future arrests of police officers. Attempting to arrest an on duty officer is dumb and dangerous. You KNOW he is well trained and armed. He may have also had a back-up weapon. In addition he had access to the rest of the weapons on his duty belt and I assume he was wearing body armor. I think the authors idea of taking an undercover officer posed as a suspect to the jail would have been a great solution. Once disarmed and inside a secure facility, it would have been so much easier to place him under arrest there. Even waiting until his shift was over and until he was in plain clothes would have been a better option. This whole situation just stinks of panic and rushing a volatile situation. Getting into a situation where officers are firing at each other on a public street should NEVER happen. How do you think the citizens of Santa Maria must feel about their police force? Pretty inept I would think.

Zucks @ 4/16/2012 8:01 PM

Wow, an LA Times style hack job of ignorant Monday morning quarterbacking. I expected better.

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