Calif. police fatally shoot ax-wielding man at power plant
Police don’t have clear answers for why a man hopped a fence into the Metcalf Energy Center armed with axes and throwing knives
By Robert Salonga
The Mercury News
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Police don’t have clear answers for why a man hopped a fence into the Metcalf Energy Center armed with axes and throwing knives, and got into a confrontation where officers shot and killed him Tuesday evening.
The 27-year-old city resident was admitted to a local hospital on a psychiatric hold in September, and over the past year had run-ins with police in San Jose, Fresno and Santa Cruz County, some of which yielded the three active misdemeanor bench warrants issued for him on various drug and weapons offenses.
“This was an individual undergoing mental crisis and arms himself, and officers had to deal with it,” Police Chief Eddie Garcia said. “It’s an unfair situation for both parties. It’s a sad case. My officers are shaken by it, and I’m sure the individual’s family was shaken by it.”
The confrontation evoked memories of another high-profile shooting in the area, from April 2013, when one or more snipers opened fire on the nearby Pacific Gas & Electric Co. power substation on Metcalf Road, blasting 17 transformers and half a dozen circuit breakers. The attack caused $15.4 million in damage and spurred sweeping security upgrades.
No one else was injured at the Calpine power plant Tuesday, and there is no indication that the suspect had any ties to the facility or its operator. Garcia said it was not immediately clear what the suspect — who has not been formally identified — was targeting, if anything.
“I don’t know what he was planning to do once he got on that property,” he said. “Detectives will be reaching out to family. He never indicated to officers what his intent was.”
The encounter marked the city’s first officer-involved shooting of the year. San Jose recorded eight such shootings last year, half of which were fatal.
San Jose police were called around 5 p.m. to the Metcalf facility for reports of an intruder who drove up to the front gate in a black Mercedes-Benz sedan, pulled something out of his trunk, then jumped a perimeter fence. A check on the car’s license plate turned up an “armed and dangerous” bulletin for the owner of the car, issued by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.
Garcia said responding officers traveled to the site and approached the unoccupied Mercedes. An officer peered into the front of the car spotted a large sword on the driver’s seat. The Santa Cruz-area alert described a man who had brandished a sword at some security guards.
From a distance, the power plant security staff could see that the man was wandering with a 6-foot pipe in one hand and an ax or hatchet in the other. Officers followed him from a distance.
“He said, ‘Shoot me and kill me’ several times,” Garcia said.
The man swiftly turned around and began walking toward officers and Garcia said two officers “ordered the suspect to either surrender or drop his weapon no less than 23 times.”
Just before 5:20 p.m., one of the officers, in police radio broadcasts that were corroborated by authorities, was heard saying, “Put it down!” followed by brief radio silence, and then suddenly, “Shots fired. Shots fired.”
“When the suspect was approximately 5 to 6 feet away from one of the officers, one officer shot the suspect, and the suspect continued toward the second officer, with the ax and (pipe) still in his hands,” Garcia said. “The second officer then also shot.”
The man was pronounced dead at the scene. Upon a search of his body, police recovered another ax, six throwing knives, and pepper spray, Garcia said.
While the suspect’s name has not been released, this news organization verified his identity through court records and law-enforcement sources. Court records show that in addition to active cases based on his misdemeanor arrests in July and October last year in San Jose, he had five convictions — including at least one felony — between 2005 and 2009. The cases revolved around illegal weapons and narcotics possession, primarily involving meth and firearms.
He was on supervised release when he was arrested Nov. 25 in Fresno on suspicion of similar offenses, records show. In many of the cases where he was stopped or arrested by police, he was driving the same Mercedes recovered at the scene of Tuesday’s shooting.
The two officers who fired their weapons were placed on paid administrative leave while an SJPD investigation was launched in conjunction with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, and monitored by the San Jose Independent Police Auditor and City Attorney’s Office. At least part of the shooting was recorded on the officers’ body-worn cameras, but that footage likely won’t be made public, if ever, until the end of the investigation.
©2018 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)