By Fenit Nirappil
STOCKTON, Calif. — Family members of a hostage slain during a running gun battle with assault weapons between suspected bank robbers and police in a Northern California city on Friday launched their own investigation into the incident.
Greg Bentley, an attorney representing the family of Misty Holt-Singh, is seeking documents, dispatch logs, video and other evidence police gathered during and after the hourlong robbery, car chase and gun battle Wednesday afternoon. Bentley said he also wants police department guidelines and protocols for high-speed pursuits and use of deadly force as well as video taken by witnesses.
Holt-Singh, 41, was taken hostage in a Bank of West branch by AK-47 wielding robbers while her 12-year-old daughter waited outside in the car. Holt-Singh was shot while in the back of the suspects' stolen SUV during the ensuing gun battle after they stopped fleeing and turned to face police with their assault rifles.
Authorities say they are still trying to determine who fired the fatal bullet.
"We don't even know who fired what, how many weapons were fired," said San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Robert Himelblau. "We haven't figured out which bad guy was firing which weapon...which bullets hit who."
Two of the three suspects were killed, too. The San Joaquin County coroner identified them as Gilbert Renteria Jr., 30, and Alex Gregory Martinez, 27.
Police said that surviving suspect Jaime Ramos, 19, used Holt-Singh as a human shield as the bullets flew back and forth. Ramos is to be arraigned in San Joaquin Superior Court on Monday. The district attorney said it's likely Ramos will be charged with multiple counts of murder.
An autopsy may determine who shot Holt-Singh.
Holt-Singh and a pair of bank employees were forced into a stolen SUV at gunpoint just as police converged on the parking lot of the bank. The two bank employees survived the ordeal by either jumping or getting thrown from the SUV as it sped through town.
Most police departments discourage shooting at getaway cars during chases. But the taking of hostages and hail of bullets coming from the suspect's vehicle forced Stockton police to make the split-second decision to use their own weapons while knowing they might harm an innocent civilian
Stockton police are also seeking the driver of a black sedan captured in video dropping off the suspects.
Police spokesman Joe Silva said investigators are still trying to determine a motive. He said the two dead suspects were "documented" members of the Nortenos, a Northern California gang controlled from California's prisons by the Nuestra Familia. Silva said Ramos is an "associate" of the gang.
"We're still trying to determine their exact motive," Silva said. "We don't know if this robbery occurred to benefit the gang or for their own purposes."
Silva said 40 officers have been placed on paid, three-day administrative leave, a routine procedure for police-involved shootings. Silva said the department is paying other officers overtime to cover the open shifts, declining offers from neighboring agencies for additional help.
Holt-Singh's husband, two children and sister briefly addressed the media Friday to discuss the loss of a wife, mother and sibling.
"What happened to Misty is a nightmare," husband Paul Singh said. "It's something I would never want to happen to anybody."
Daughter Mia Singh was waiting in the car while her mother was in the bank withdrawing money for a haircut, said family friend and lawyer Michael Platt. Mia recalled how Holt-Singh attended all her softball games and never forgot to bring orange juice. Mia said her mother was always trying to horn in on her Snapchat sessions and relentlessly chewed on ice. "Always," Mia said in tandem with her father as they laughed about the ice chewing.
"I love you mom," Mia said before bursting into tears and turning to her father for comfort.
During the emotional press conference Friday, family members talked about their Christian faith. Holt-Singh's sister Dawn Holt said she's praying for the families of the dead suspects.
"We do need to give those families respect because they lost someone they love too," she said.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press