Feds seek evidence after fiery Calif. standoff
Resident: 'My daughter saw a police officer dead on the ground'
By Tracie Cone
MODESTO, Calif. — Federal and local law officers are combing through the ruins of a Modesto apartment complex where a suspect died in a fiery police standoff, seeking evidence on the blaze and what led to the fatal shooting of a deputy and a locksmith.
The investigation was continuing after authorities on Friday recovered the body of the man suspected of gunning down the two as they arrived at the apartment late Thursday morning to serve an eviction notice.
The shootings set off a daylong standoff that culminated with a fire engulfing the building, burning into the early hours Friday.
Agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were looking for evidence in the gutted building, while Modesto police detectives were seeking more detail on what led up to the gunfire.
ATF agents were expected to be on the scene through Sunday evening, said Modesto police spokesman officer Chris Adams.
Officials identified the deputy killed as Robert Paris, 53, and the civilian as Glendon David Engert, 35, a locksmith from Modesto.
Police said it could take weeks to identify the charred remains found after the blaze collapsed the second floor of the structure, but Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson told the Modesto Bee that he is convinced the man found was the gunman.
"This senseless act of violence was committed by one person and he is dead," Christianson said.
Property records show James Ferrario, 45, lived at the address in the Whispering Woods development.
Jonathon Mullinix, 20, a neighbor, said Ferrario was reserved and often kept to himself.
He had told Mullinix he worked for a private security company and had handguns, rifles and shotguns. Mullinix said Ferrario also had several security cameras in windows of his house.
"He seemed like someone who wanted to be left alone," Mullinix said.
State online records show Ferrario's security guard registration and firearms permit were canceled in 2009 with no disciplinary action indicated.
The newspaper said the Ferrario property had fallen behind on payments on a $15,000 Bank of America mortgage taken out in 2003. The property owner also appears to have defaulted on $13,406 owed to the Whispering Woods Community Association.
The association foreclosed on the condo last year, followed by a bank foreclosure in December, the newspaper reported.
R&T Financial Inc. is now the property's legal owner, according to county records. The Associated Press could not find a phone listing for the company.
After getting clearance from fire officials, federal firearms and explosives agents spent Friday afternoon searching the rubble. Police spokesman Officer Chris Adams would not say if any weapons had been found.
At one point during the standoff on Thursday, police broke the windows of the apartment with bean bag shots and fired flash-bang grenades and tear gas. Authorities evacuated nearby residents in the development of freestanding buildings, each divided into four apartments.
Around 9 p.m., six officers rushed toward the apartment, the Bee reported. Sharp bangs from concussive devices were heard for more than an hour, and officers used loudspeakers to communicate with the man to pick up the phone. No one came out.
It was not clear how the fire, which officers reported at 9:45 p.m., began, but the Bee reported the sheriff has acknowledged flash-bang devices and tear gas could have been responsible. Four apartments were destroyed by the fire, and 100 units were evacuated after the shooting.
Paris, a 16-year veteran of the department, is survived by his parents, a brother and two adult children.
Bob Wilson, 85, a neighbor who lives two doors down from Engert, said there had been a procession of people around the locksmith's house since the shooting.
"I've seen a lot of cars coming and going and a lot of people going in and out of the house," said Wilson, who has lived in the area for more than 60 years. "He was a good guy."
Engert was hired by the landlord to help deputies gain entry to the apartment to serve the eviction notice, Adams said.
"He was there to open the lock," he said.
Law enforcement experts said it's not unusual to have a civilian, such as a locksmith, brought along during the service of an eviction notice. They said it's important for police to know who they are dealing with before knocking on a door.
"To be prudent, make sure the person inside is going along with the program before bringing someone like a locksmith," said Gregory Lee, a retired supervisory special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, who runs a consulting firm in Central California.
"The deputy is the messenger; he doesn't have a dog in the fight. Sometimes people attack the uniform, not the person," Lee said.
William Flynn, a retired lieutenant with the West Covina Police Department in Southern California, believes little could have been done if there was no indication the suspect in the Modesto eviction was violent.
"The only edge we have is to be on alert," he said. "If we lose that edge, that's when officers get hurt."
Officers are routinely provided training about executing search warrants. In most cases, agents learn about a suspect's background and their propensity for violence prior to serving the warrant.
In Modesto, Rihanna Brookshire, who lives next door to the shooting scene, said her children had just gone outside to play when the shooting began. Just as they came back into the house and shut the door, they heard a loud bang.
"I thought it was a backfire. We looked outside. My daughter saw a police officer dead on the ground. She said, `Mommy, there's blood everywhere,'" said Brookshire, who was among the residents evacuated.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press
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