Calif. police fatally shoot suspect after ignoring SWAT orders

By Jaxon Van Derbeken
The San Francisco Chronicle

A 23-year-old suspected of killing his cousin in Oakland earlier this month was shot and killed after refusing to heed the orders of a SWAT team summoned to arrest him in Santa Rosa, authorities said Saturday.

Investigators had sought Haki Kuasi Gaidi Thurston of Oakland in the Feb. 12 slaying of Hodari Benson. Oakland police had tracked Thurston to a Santa Rosa motel, and called local police to assist with the arrest Friday night, Sonoma County officials said.

Thurston, who was suspected of taking several assault rifles and handguns in a recent burglary, left his room at the Comfort Inn on Cleveland Avenue as the SWAT team was preparing to arrest him.

Thurston was spotted leaving his room at 10:12 p.m., and Oakland police alerted the Santa Rosa SWAT officers, Sonoma Sheriff Capt. Dave Edmonds said.

"They were basically on a collision course at that point," Edmonds said. "They ordered him to surrender but he bolted toward the freeway. The SWAT members chased him and saw him reaching with his right hand toward his waistband."

A fence separating the parking lot from the southbound lanes of Highway 101 blocked Thurston's flight. Police ordered him to show his hands, but he kept one hand in his waistband, Edmonds said.

"When he started turning toward them, they believed he was armed," Edmonds said. "They feared for their lives, and they opened fire to stop the threat."

Four officers fired roughly two dozen rounds. Thurston was pronounced dead at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

Investigators did not find a weapon. They interviewed a woman who was in Thurston's motel room at the time of the shooting but released her.

Edmonds said Thurston had told family members he wasn't going to turn himself in or go to jail.

"They were thinking he was going to commit 'suicide by cop,"' Edmonds said.

Thurston was suspected of killing Benson, 26, whose body was found in the Oakland hills after his family told police about his death and a witness told them where Benson's body might be discovered.

A system that monitors gunfire helped police trace the scene of that crime to 77th and Bancroft avenues. It appeared he had been killed there and his body dumped, authorities say.

Copyright 2007 San Francisco Chronicle
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