Gunmen ambush Calif. deputy; body-worn camera stops bullet

Officials are still searching for the two suspects in the 'unprovoked' attack on a rural road


Robert Salonga
The Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Late Friday night, Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Deputy Sukhdeep Gill was on routine patrol near the Uvas Reservoir when he pulled his SUV over and got out to take a look around.

Not long after, he noticed a car approaching where he was standing on the side of Uvas Road, in unincorporated Morgan Hill. As it got closer, its headlights suddenly vanished.

Santa Clara County Deputy Sukhdeep Gill was shot at by two unknown gunmen while he was stopped on a rural road. Gill's body camera stopped a bullet from entering his chest. (Photo/TNS)
Santa Clara County Deputy Sukhdeep Gill was shot at by two unknown gunmen while he was stopped on a rural road. Gill's body camera stopped a bullet from entering his chest. (Photo/TNS)

Four gunshots quickly followed, with one round hitting Gill squarely in the chest.

Fatefully, the bullet hit Gill’s body-worn camera, which itself was backed by his standard-issue body armor. Dazed but still alert, he fired two rounds from his service pistol at his now-fleeing attacker.

“Shots fired! Shots fired!” Gill told emergency dispatchers, according to a recording released by the Sheriff’s Office.

As dispatchers tried frantically to get more information from Gill over the radio, they were met with silence: He had apparently fallen down an embankment. After two long minutes, he had made it back to the roadway, adrenaline still pumping through his veins.

Gill gave the dispatchers signs of life, saying, “I think I was hit,” into his radio.

The deputy is now recovering from his injuries in what Sheriff Laurie Smith called an “unprovoked attack” during a Monday news conference in which she and Lt. Brendan Omori detailed the shooting.

“It was an ambush,” Smith said. “Any one of those rounds could have hit him anywhere. He was very brave under fire.”

At the news conference, the Sheriff’s Office released a photo of Gill’s body-worn camera, which showed damage indicating that the assailant’s bullet hit it almost dead-center. Other photos showed that three other bullets hit the rear-left side of his SUV.

“This was absolutely a close call,” Omori said.

The shooting was reported around 10:30 p.m. Friday on Uvas Road north of Wallace Place. Afterward, a search for the shooter did not yield any suspects, though the Sheriff’s Office did offer a description of the car: A silver 2000s-era sedan, possibly a Honda. Investigators hope a member of the public might be able to lead them to the shooter.

“We’ll follow up every lead,” Smith said. “We want to bring the person or persons to justice.”

Omori, who oversees the Sheriff’s homicide and major crimes units, said Gill’s patrol SUV, in the gaze of the suspect car’s headlights, would have been very clearly visible as a Sheriff’s vehicle, and that the deputy was in full uniform.

“This was a targeted attack,” Omori said.

It was not immediately clear whether Gill’s retaliatory fire hit anyone. Gill is now at home with his family, and looks to be in good spirits considering the circumstances, Omori said.

“Given the gravity of the situation, he’s doing quite well,” he said.

Smith said once the suspects are located, they will face charges of premeditated attempted murder. Omori said during the news conference that Gill is a practicing Sikh and wears a traditional headdress on duty, but that it was too early to know if the shooting had a hate-based motive.

“We support him, and our department supports him,” Omori said. “It’s unknown whether it’s a hate crime or a crime of opportunity against law enforcement.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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