December 20, 2007
Officer Down: Deputy Sheriff Vu Nguyen
Officer Down: Deputy Sheriff Vu Nguyen - [Sacramento, California]
Cause of Death: Gunfire
Incident Details: Deputy Sheriff Vu Nguyen was shot while chasing a suspect.
The deputy was performing a routine gang patrol when someone bolted from a house in south Sacramento. He started chasing the suspect through backyards when he was shot in the neck. When his partner found him, though he had been wounded, he had drawn his gun. He was airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center where he underwent surgery before succumbing to the gunshot wound.
Additional Information: Deputy Nguyen served as a Sacramento County Sheriff's deputy for ten years. He was a gang detective for three years. He is survived by his wife.
End of Watch: Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Calif. gang officer fatally shot during foot pursuit; gunman at large
By Christina Jewett and Chelsea Phua
The Sacramento Bee
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — More than 100 police, sheriff's detectives and federal agents scoured south Sacramento late Wednesday night in a massive manhunt for the killer of a Sacramento County sheriff's deputy.
Detective Vu Nguyen, 37, died Wednesday evening from a bullet wound to the neck.
About 2 p.m., Nguyen was scaling backyard fences in pursuit of a young man in a puffy camouflage jacket when his partner heard shots ring out.
The partner found Nguyen lying in a backyard, his gun drawn.
Sheriff's spokesman Tim Curran said Nguyen was in the neighborhood with his partner to make routine contacts with gang members, gathering intelligence on ongoing cases. The men wore sheriff's vests and plain clothes and drove an unmarked car.
Curran said Nguyen and his partner pulled up at a house where known gang members live and made eye contact with a slender, 5-foot-4 Asian man, whom they did not know.
Officials said the suspect appeared to be 18 to 20 years old, or maybe even younger.
Sheriff John McGinness appeared subdued as he broke the news Wednesday evening that the officer had not survived. It was the second time in 15 months that he had lost a deputy.
"This is the time to be strong and stay focused and committed to our job, which is to make the streets safer," McGinness said. "We'll pay appropriate tribute to our fallen officer at the right time."
At a second news conference about 9 p.m., he said the search for the gunman was the "top priority above anything else."
The sheriff said Nguyen and others in law enforcement understand the risk they take each day protecting the community.
"The courage within him allowed him to go out and confront that risk. Unfortunately, he paid the ultimate price," McGinness said.
The sheriff said Nguyen was the department's first deputy of Asian descent to be killed in the line of duty.
The perimeter around the shooting scene had been removed Wednesday night, but the search continued, McGinness said.
Officers were questioning residents of the house where Nguyen spotted the young man for information about him and his whereabouts.
"This is a very active scene out there," McGinness said.
Nguyen's slaying sparked lockdowns at area schools that affected thousands of elementary through high school age children. By 7 p.m. there were still 52 students at two schools who had not been picked up by family members; they were taken home by bus.
Curren said that after Nguyen began chasing the suspect, his partner drove around the block, hoping to head off the young man.
The partner broadcast a "foot pursuit" on the police radio and called for officers to rush to the area and form a perimeter, Curran said.
Then he heard two gunshots.
Nguyen's partner parked and ran into a backyard near 37th Street and 41st Avenue, where he found Nguyen shot in the neck.
Nguyen's service revolver was drawn, McGinness said, noting that it's not clear whether it had been fired.
Nguyen was airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center, where he underwent surgery Wednesday afternoon and was later pronounced dead.
Officers streamed to the area, driving six and eight cars side by side on Highway 99, pouring into the parking lot at the Campbell's Soup plant, which became an impromptu command center.
Officers in SWAT gear and with canines spread out in the neighborhood, known among law enforcement officials as a haven for gang and drug activity. The sheriff's helicopter and a CHP plane thundered overheard.
McGinness said deputies found a weapon, but it may not be the gun used in the shooting.
Onlooker Rich Mott said he'd never seen so many police cars, as cruisers lined both sides and the median of Franklin Boulevard for a half-mile.
"This is just incredible," he said. "If this is the way they respond when one of theirs is shot – good for them."
Fifteen months ago, deputies fanned out over the rolling hills near Sloughhouse after Deputy Jeffrey Mitchell was slain during a routine traffic stop in the early-morning hours of Oct. 27, 2006.
Despite the efforts of hundreds, then dozens, and then two detectives assigned to the case full time, that murder has not been solved. A $225,000 reward for information leading to Mitchell's killer stands.
On Wednesday night, a Sacramento law enforcement chaplain's cruiser was parked in front of Nguyen's home in west Natomas. A man whom neighbors identified as Nguyen's brother sat in the passenger seat talking to the chaplain.
McGinness said Nguyen had married in April, which was about the time he became a detective with the gang suppression unit.
Nguyen, a seven-year veteran of the department, was described by friends and colleagues as quiet but upbeat, and a strong liaison to the Vietnamese community.
"It's one of those unfortunate things that could happen to anybody," said sheriff's Capt. Trang To, who oversaw Nguyen when the officer worked patrol. "Unfortunately it happened to a great human being. It's a great loss to Vu's family, a great loss to our department and a great loss to the community as a whole."
Nguyen was assigned to security at Sacramento Superior Court, then as a patrol officer before joining the gang unit three years ago.
In the summer of 2004, he was given the high-profile assignment of investigating the double homicide of a couple who were slain in their Stockton Boulevard jewelry store.
Asian gang violence boiled over in late 2004 and in early 2005, with a string of apparently retaliatory homicides.
Sheriff's Lt. Harvey Woo said Nguyen was put on the case when Asian gangs were most volatile.
"He was one of those really special people," Woo said. "Right from the start, he came into the job with all the right motivations."
Woo said Nguyen was well known in the Asian community.
"Business owners up and down Stockton Boulevard knew him very well," Woo said. "Throughout his career, he won over numerous friends."
Nguyen made a strong impression on Sacramento attorney Don Heller, who recalls him working in a jailhouse courtroom.
"I knew him as a bright young man, very courteous and very professional," he said.
Deputy Henry Harry said he worked patrol with Nguyen in the same area where he was gunned down.
"He really was a guy who came to work with no chip on his shoulder, treated everyone across the races fair," he said. "He did his job and he did it well."
Capt. To said Nguyen was in the assignment he wanted most as a gang detective.
"He really wanted to make a difference," To said. "He's one of the bright young officers who had a great future with our department."
Copyright 2007 The Sacramento Bee