Photo: Ti Goetz.
Unfortunately, when the robot entered the living room, it sucked a jacket into the treads, causing it to be completely immobilized. The robot could not move in any direction, but its camera system was still functional and provided an observation point.
Shortly before 2:30 p.m. Hernandez was briefly observed crawling through the living room. Repeated hot gas deployments continued until all the gas canisters eventually became trapped inside the residence by obstructions.
About 30 minutes later both teams' stock of cold gas had been deployed and all of the hot gas canisters were stuck inside. With the likelihood that entry would only facilitate a dicey shootout, the decision was made to open up the front of the house, by tearing out a large bay window, with a rope and hook kit attached to a BearCat armored vehicle.
Tearing out the window would give containment officers and long rifle operators a clear view into the living room. It would let them cover the entry team better, if it came to that. The gaping hole in the side of the house would also make available an alternate point of entry away from the fatal funnel at the front door.
Knock It Down
Only one problem. While the theory was sound, the attempt to pull out the window failed after both hooks were improperly set. A second attempt was not made, as the Command Post began to contemplate a more radical concept: tearing a hole in the side of the building, with a Caterpillar front loader.
With Hernandez believed to be bunkered in the rear portion of the home between the adjoining garage and front portion of the home, it was believed that the "Jericho Solution" would deprive him of his retreat as well as allow visual access into the building and additional points of entry.
Tearing a hole in this house with heavy construction equipment was no easy decision for Gardena PD's command to make. The proposed action definitely entailed some risk and major liability. The result might entail the partial or total destruction of a $400,000 home, would almost certainly expose the department to a lawsuit, might result in the death and/or injury to the suspect, and might be interpreted by the courts, should it get that far, as unlawful or unconstitutional.
All of these concerns had to be taken into consideration. But Gardena Police Chief Ed Medrano made the bold decision to greenlight the plan, opting to protect the men and women of his department despite liability concerns.
There were still issues that had to be overcome before the front loader could be used. A SWAT operator had to be transported to the city yard where a large front loader was stored and given quick lessons by city personnel on how to work the vehicle. At the same time, an operation began to move four vehicles parked in the driveway so as to allow access to the east side of the house.
A rope and hook was attached to the axle of each car and the BearCat armored vehicle. The cars were then simply dragged out of the driveway. As that operation was underway, Hernandez was observed on the robot camera crawling through the living room. He grabbed two gallon jugs of an unknown liquid, before running to the rear of the residence. It was unknown what was in the containers but a flammable substance was certainly one of the considerations.
After about 30 minutes all four vehicles were moved and the Caterpillar front loader arrived on the scene. With a driver and one cover officer on the machine backed up by additional cover officers nearby, the front loader began pulling down the east side of the house.
Hernandez immediately used his cell phone to contact the negotiators, demanding to know what was going on. For the next hour officers and Hernandez negotiated on and off. Each time Hernandez hung up, the Caterpillar was put back to work until Hernandez got back on the phone.
About one hour after the Caterpillar started to tear into the house, Hernandez picked up the throw phone in the living room and stated he wanted to surrender. He immediately exited the front door and walked partway down the walkway and stopped. Hernandez then began cursing and demanding to know why police destroyed his parents' home. Despite repeated commands from the React team, Hernandez refused to comply with their orders and was dropped with one 40mm sponge round and taken into custody. The incident was over.
Officers searching the residence found an SKS assault rifle, a loaded 30-06 rifle, two shotguns loaded with slug rounds, a handgun, a ballistic vest, approximately 500 rounds of ammunition, and one small bomb used in commercial fishing.
The Gardena case is not an isolated incident. More and more agencies are choosing to knock down walls in barricade circumstances rather than make dynamic entries that put officers at risk.
Case in point, a barricade incident involving the Los Angeles Police Department's SWAT team earlier this year. In that incident, a gunman suspected of shooting an LAPD officer barricaded himself inside a house in the San Fernando Valley community of Sylmar.
LAPD SWAT resolved the issue using a nearly 20-ton remote-controlled vehicle called the BatCat (Bomb Assault Tactical Control Assessment Tool). The massive robot uses Remotec Andros cameras and has the power to lift cars and tear into buildings. It's based on a Caterpillar Telehandler, a piece of heavy agricultural equipment.
The BatCat was used to tear down a large section of a residence from which the barricaded gunman had wounded one LAPD officer and was continuing to fire at others. The gunman was found shot dead, likely by his own hand.
Most pundits didn't have much to say at the time about the LAPD's tactics, especially considering the fact that the gunman had seriously wounded an officer. As time goes by, however, and lawyers get involved, the likelihood that procedures, formal guidelines, or legal requirements such as that a warrant be obtained, prior to use, will most likely increase.
Like everything else in life, tactics evolve and change and we must change with them. The Jericho Solution is not a tactic to be taken lightly, nor used in every barricade situation, but it can save the officers' and even the bad guys' lives when used properly.
Ti Goetz is a lieutenant with the Hawthorne (Calif.) Police Department. He has worked patrol, gangs, detective bureau, internal affairs, SWAT, and is now a patrol watch commander.
Need To Open Up a Building Wall?
LAPD's Remotec BatCat Robot (video)