How SWAT Handled the Sacramento Standoff

Sacramento County Sheriff's SWAT was called out to what turned into a 56-hour standoff—the longest in Sacramento history—at an 82-unit apartment complex. The suspect shot at SWAT officers, a robot, and the Armored Rescue Vehicle (ARV) on at least eight occasions.

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Have you noticed how hostage/barricade call-outs seem to come in clusters? Most SWAT teams can go for weeks, even months, without any hostage/barricade situations. Then suddenly, these call-out "clusters" come in waves.

Earlier this month, Northern California SWAT teams experienced a call-out "cluster" of their own. The first began the evening of June 4, when Concord PD officers attempted to pull over a vehicle containing a suspect wanted in three armed bank robberies.

The suspect bailed out on foot; ran into a major water canal; and fired at pursuing CPD officers, who returned fire. Concord PD SWAT participated in what turned into an extensive six-hour manhunt. However, the suspect managed to elude capture. This would not be the last time SWAT would deal with this suspect.

June 9: Antioch PD responded to a reported home invasion with shots fired—one 15-year-old suspect DOA from a gunshot wound (GSW), two homeowners critical with GSWs, holding a second suspect at gunpoint. Antioch PD SWAT and K-9 called out to spearhead an intense yard-to-yard search to follow a third suspect's blood trail. The search was finally called off after six hours.

June 10: Antioch PD respond to a report of a wife shot inside a home. The husband was believed to be inside, and armed. For the second time in 24 hours, Antioch PD SWAT is called out. After no contact for several hours, SWAT made entry, discovering the bodies of both wife and husband from GSWs in an apparent murder/suicide.

June 9: Approximately 11:30 p.m. Sacramento County police spot the Concord suspect. Before they can arrest him, the suspect runs into a relative's apartment, holding two young children (4 years and 15 months) hostage. Police are able to rescue the 4-year-old; however, the 1-year-old is still being held hostage.

Sacramento County Sheriff's SWAT is called out to what turned into a 56-hour standoff—the longest in Sacramento history—at an 82-unit apartment complex. The suspect shot at SWAT officers, a robot, and the Armored Rescue Vehicle (ARV) on at least eight occasions. After 16 hours, the sheriff's SWAT is relieved by the Sacramento PD SWAT in what would turn into a rotation between the two teams.

Sacramento is no stranger to challenging and violent hostage and barricades situations. Some of us remember the eight-and-a-half-hour hostage barricade at a Good Guys electronic store in 1991. When the suspects began shooting hostages, SWAT made a sniper-initiated rescue assault. SWAT shot and killed three of the four armed suspects, wounding the fourth. But not before the suspects shot and killed three hostages.

A busy thoroughfare, Arden Way, was shut down for several blocks to traffic and pedestrians during the 56-hour standoff. Many residents of the apartment complex were evacuated and displaced until the situation ended.

The following morning, a SWAT sniper shot at and missed the suspect who, hours later, falsely claimed he'd been shot. On-and-off negotiations dragged on for hours, as Sacramento's sheriff and PD tactical units rotated duty. Periodically, SWAT would deploy distraction devices or send in a cell phone to negotiate with the suspect.

Typical of many hostage barricades, the suspect would periodically say he's "giving up" only to change his mind. Anyone who's been involved in lengthy hostage barricades understands they can be physically and mentally challenging and frustrating.

Ultimately, around the 55th hour, SWAT employed explosives to create a viewport to see into the apartment. The suspect fired on SWAT officers who returned fire—and launched a hostage rescue that freed the 15-month-old baby who was unharmed except for a minor leg abrasion.  One SWAT officer sustained a cut leg. The suspect was DOA. The large crowd cheered when a SWAT officer carried out the baby and turned him over to medics.

Periodic updates indicated the suspect "appeared to be experienced in our (police/SWAT/CNT) tactics." Something for all of us to think about.

A violent and predictable ending to Sacramento's longest-ever hostage barricade. Afterward, Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness praised the LEOs (and especially SWAT) involved in successfully resolving this harrowing hostage barricade. Sheriff McGinness' words sum up the feelings of many:

"These are very brave, very highly trained, skilled people who went into a situation knowing exactly what the risks were," he said. "They were willing to take those risks in the interest of preserving not only the welfare of that child but this entire community, and they did exactly what was expected of them very, very effectively."

None of us knows when or where the "next Sacramento" will occur. But what's certain is there will be a next time. The question for all of us is will we be ready?

I'll answer with the prophetic words of my good friend and former Ashtabula County (Ohio) SWAT Commander Terry Thorpe, "When you aren't practicing, somewhere, someone is, and when you meet him, he will win."

About the Author
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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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