Calif. suicide by cop: Suspect threated cops with gun

Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer

Copyright 2006 The Chronicle Publishing Co.
All Rights Reserved 

Two Martinez police officers fatally shot a man Wednesday after he reportedly pointed a pellet gun at them moments after accosting a motorist whom he told, "This is your last day on Earth," authorities said.

Authorities withheld the man's identity pending notification of relatives in Nevada. It was the city's first fatal officer-involved shooting in five years.

The man, clad entirely in black, appeared bedraggled and had "acted animated," leading police to believe he was under the influence of drugs or trying to force officers to shoot him in a situation often referred to as "suicide by cop," said Martinez police Cmdr. Tom Simonetti.

It all began at 8:42 a.m. when a motorist called 911 to say he was in his car on the 500 block of Alhambra Avenue in downtown Martinez when a man tapped on the window, Simonetti said. When the motorist rolled down his window the man pulled out a black gun and told him, "This is your last day on Earth," Simonetti said.

The gunman pulled the trigger twice, but the handgun

-- later determined to be a plastic pellet gun -- did not fire and the assailant fled on foot, Simonetti said. Soon after, Corp. Brian Carter -- who had not been ordered to the scene and happened upon the man by chance -- reported that he'd been threatened with a gun near Alhambra Avenue and Marina Vista Boulevard, authorities said.

Carter ordered the suspect to stop, but he ran away. Carter called for help while chasing the man down Buckley Street and was joined by Officer Jeff Vandermeulen. Sources said Carter and Vandermeulen opened fire on the suspect when he pointed a gun at them. The suspect appeared to have been hit three times by the two officers. Vandermeulen, a 25-year-veteran, fired a .40-caliber Beretta and Carter, a SWAT team member, shot an AR-15 .223-caliber rifle.

Officials pronounced the man dead at the scene and found a pellet gun nearby.

Both officers have been placed on paid administrative leave, a routine step, while police and the Contra Costa County district attorney's office investigate.

"This was a completely justified use of deadly force," said Harry Stern, an attorney representing the officers. "The officers defended their lives and protected the public against this deranged, armed suspect."

Martinez Police Chief Dave Cutaia said, "Unfortunately, this can happen in any community at any time. Fortunately, it's very rare in Martinez." A bystander hit by flying debris or a ricochet was treated for a minor injury at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center and released. 
May 11, 2006

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