Members of the Eureka (Calif.) PD involved in the Honda incident included (top, left to right,) Det. Ron Harpham, sniper; Officer Rocky Harpham, entry; Sgt. Rigo Sanchez, team leader; Det. Todd Wilcox, team leader; Officer Rob Metaxas, senior sniper; and (bottom row, left to right) Sgt. Michael Johnson, entry; and Sgt. Bill Nova, SWAT team commander.
As a respected woodsman and volunteer fireman, Jonni Honda had at one time been on favorable terms with local law enforcement in Northern California, even assisting the Trinity Sheriff's Office from time to time as a search and rescue member. That all changed in the fall of 2006 when another aspect of Honda's nature came to light: The man was an accused child molester.
Since Honda's mountaintop home gave the woodsman the high ground and officers a good reason to take him down elsewhere, Trinity County SO investigators opted to wait him out. Their prudence had seemingly paid off the day California Highway Patrol officers spotted Honda driving along the highway. But at the sight of rotators in his rearview mirror, Honda hit the gas, precipitating a vehicle pursuit that ended miles later at the snowline where the 51-year-old bailed from his car.
Taking refuge in the snow-capped wilderness while wearing only sandals on one's feet would have been a bad move for most people. But Honda was not like most people. He exploited his know-how in eluding capture for several days.
Honda emerged in an area conducive for cellular reception, and called his girlfriend to pick him up. The two drove to a Super 8 motel where they rented a room. As Honda lay on the bed, his girlfriend realized that while Honda had successfully evaded capture, he had not fared as well at avoiding the elements. He had severe frostbite afflicting both his feet. She cared for his injuries, then left, and he resorted to self-medicating. His drug of choice: methamphetamine.
Within a day of Honda's holing up in the motel room, the Eureka Police Department received information of the man's whereabouts. The idea of dealing with a man desperately determined to avoid arrest and under the influence of meth was not something Eureka officers wanted to even think about it. The timing was anything but good: The previous 14-month period had seen the department saddled with four officer-involved shootings under its belt.
That the smalltown department would fall prey to such a statistical anomaly was as unpredictable as the confluence of factors that precipitated the incidents. More predictable had been the fallout. No matter that each of the shootings had ultimately been ruled justifiable, the department found itself under the microscope with allegations of trigger-happy cops run amok.
That the circulation of such comments was confined largely within the confines of local papers and among those so inclined to believe such things was not lost on Eureka's acting chief, Capt. Murl Harpham.
Still, Harpham and his staff were sensitive to the implications of what a fifth shooting could mean for the department, particularly since the local D.A. had already attempted to file charges on the chief of the department and an incident commander for one of the shootings-despite their being 100 yards from the scene.
There would be no leeway with Honda, but Capt. Harpham was committed to ensuring everything possible was done to get the man into custody without injury to bystanders, his staff, or the man himself. Whatever the man's culpability for the charges, Honda would have to answer for them.