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Mark Rivera, Customer Retention Manager and CJIS Security Compliance Officer with Vigilant Solutions, served for sixteen years with the Maryland State Police, retiring at the rank of First Sergeant with thirteen of those years at the supervisory and command level. He holds a Master of Science Degree in Management from The Johns Hopkins University and Secret clearance through the FBI, Baltimore.

Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Ontario, California 02/03/2002

On Super Bowl Sunday, officers of the Ontario PD found themselves in a true "sudden death" engagement with a local gang member.

September 12, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Suspect Meza used this shotgun in the assault on Ontario PD officers. Photo: Officer Lavoie.
Suspect Meza used this shotgun in the assault on Ontario PD officers. Photo: Officer Lavoie.
Officer Jason Langford set up containment one block south of the crash site. Hearing other officers report that the suspect had taken refuge in an apartment complex, Langford retrieved his 12-gauge shotgun from his trunk and started to unzip his helmet bag. Then he heard an update that the suspect was running through the alley of the apartment complex.

Langford sprinted to the sidewalk to cover the south and east sides of the containment area. The vantage point gave him excellent views of the suspect's possible escape routes, but little in the way of cover or concealment.

Radio reports told Langford the suspect was pinned down in the alley. Langford peeked around the corner as an aero unit reported that the suspect was hunkered down behind a dumpster. The aero unit advised that the suspect had reloaded his shotgun and was waiting for officers to run around the corner.

The officers hung back prudently. At which point Meza held the shotgun overhead as though to signal surrender. But when officers issued commands for Meza's compliance, he instead pointed the weapon in their direction before running off through the apartment courtyard.

Meza's mad dash put him on a collision course with Langford, who saw the man darting along in a military-style crouch with the shotgun at low ready. Twice, Langford yelled at the suspect to drop the weapon.

Instead, Meza started to raise the shotgun toward Langford. Langford opened fire. Meza jumped onto an apartment porch, taking cover behind a low wall where he raised his shotgun through the opening to the porch. To compensate, Langford moved to his right and took cover behind a porch wall on the opposite side of the courtyard. Bordered on both sides by hedges, the only way Langford could see the suspect would be to raise his head over the wall.

Rather than wait for the suspect to get a jump on him, Langford decided to take the fight to the suspect. It was a timely decision. For as Langford jumped out from behind the wall he found that Meza had already closed half the distance between them, committing himself to "no man's land." Only 15 feet separated the two; Langford fired his remaining two shotgun rounds. The first blast spun the suspect to his left, the second to his right-and still Meza advanced on Langford.

Transitioning to his SIG duty weapon, Langford focused on his front sights to ensure that he was on target, then squeezed off six rounds. Meza's momentum carried his body forward until he finally collapsed at Langford's feet. Handcuffed, Meza was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Aftermath and Honors

The Ontario Police Department has changed several procedures as a result of this shooting. Lavoie had trouble receiving calls from dispatch during the incident due to the way he holstered his handheld radio on his belt. The department has since adopted microphones attached to the uniform. Officers have also started to carry slugs in their shotguns-four rounds in the tube and one in the chamber, and carry eight additional rounds. Shotguns are also equipped with additional tactical equipment.

Looking back, Lavoie feels pretty comfortable with his performance that day, and he believes that his conscientious attitude when it came to training paid off. "But then," he notes. "I've always felt that if you practiced like crap, you perform like crap."

Still, he wishes that he had considered looking beneath the vehicles for the suspect during the point that he momentarily believed the suspect to be down. He might've been able to take the suspect out at the ankles.

For their heroic actions that Super Bowl Sunday, Lavoie and Langford each received numerous awards and citations, including the Ontario PD Medal of Valor. Both continue to serve the citizens of Ontario.

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