There was zero fallout from Honda's shooting. Even the department's reliable critics conceded that the department had done all it could to get an accused felon safely into custody.
"We were already on the local radar, what with the shooting deaths of four people in a town of 24,000," reflects Capt. Harpham. "Add in Copwatch and an unfriendly D.A. who allowed marijuana to be grown in the county, and it was small wonder that the town was starting to question whether we were trigger happy. So we were using extra precaution trying to negotiate. I also asked the California Department of Justice to investigate the shooting so as to preclude any innuendo of an in-house whitewash."
Det. Harpham, Capt. Harpham's son, notes that tactical insight gleaned from the episode may prove profitable to other agencies confronting similar issues. As an example, Det. Harpham cites Honda's ability to hold out as long as he did despite the volume of gas released into his room.
"Honda had covered himself with clothing and blankets and pressed his nose into the crack at the front door," Det. Harpham notes. "Earlier he had thrown a chair through the picture window. The broken window created a draft that drew the air out the back window. On top of that, he'd covered himself in blankets, so he wasn't getting much gas. If I want to survive being gassed by the police, I would create a draw and get my nose by the door. Conversely, if I were to do that again, I'd make sure to spray underneath the door with pepper spray."
Det. Harpham offers additional food for thought as it relates to the deployment of the TASER.
"The TASER's top probe is meant to go straight out and the bottom is meant to go down," observes Det. Harpham. "When I turned the TASER sideways to align with the suspect's body, I didn't realize that the bottom one would sink quickly. If you're shooting sideways, you need to cant the gun higher to compensate. You should practice that."
This incident also illustrates the importance of being able to transition quickly and flawlessly to other uses of force when less-lethal tools fail.
But many things went off as well as could be expected. Interagency cooperation was vital throughout the operation. And today there is a countywide SWAT team comprised of Humboldt County Sheriff's Office and Eureka PD personnel.
But what really made the difference was the courage and professionalism of the officers involved. Det. Harpham praises Metaxas, a more than 20-year veteran of the department, in particular.
"The man is a world class shooter and was my shooting mentor," Det. Harpham states. "He's always been a huge advocate for firearms training and always complained about priorities in the department. He said that nobody will remember if you got a burglary investigation wrong, but everybody's going to remember if you screw up a shooting: 'It'll be the most significant thing that will ever happen in your life, so you've got to prepare, prepare, prepare.'
"Metaxas fired two shots-both went through the suspect's heart. Rob was shooting an AR-15 that he had customized with an optic. It was combination precision, close-quarter gun. Someone was going to get shot at if we didn't stop Honda right away."
Perhaps that was just what Honda was counting on. But such speculation will forever remain speculation, as Honda has taken that secret to his grave.
What Would You Do?
Put yourself in the shoes of the Eureka (Calif.) Police Department facing a barricaded and savvy suspect and ask yourself the following questions:
How are your relations with the local D.A.? How objective an investigation do you believe outside agencies would do of a shooting involving your agency?
How long would you maintain a negotiations posture with an isolated and contained suspect? Is there a point when the officer hours become exorbitant?
Have you encountered any deployment complications involving TASERs or other less-lethal weaponry? How often do you have lethal cover in place prior to a TASER's use?
What do you think of waiting a suspect out?
How successful are your gas deployments? What measures have you seen suspects take against the effects of gas?