Slain Calif. deputy kept shooting, even after bullet hit his heart

Deputy Robert French rushed to the hotel parking lot after hearing reports of shots fired at the Ramada Inn

By Nashelly Chavez
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — The Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputy killed in a hotel shootout last week continued to fire his weapon at an armed gunman, even after a bullet had pierced through the soft tissue of his shoulder and hit his heart, Sheriff Scott Jones said during a press conference Tuesday.

Deputy Robert French, a 21-year veteran of the department working for the North Division, rushed to the hotel parking lot after hearing reports of shots fired at the Ramada Inn, Sgt. Shaun Hampton said Tuesday. French, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, was taking cover behind a police vehicle at the time of the shooting. He died on his way to the hospital, the department said.

“Even though he was mortally wounded, (French) continued to engage and pin down the suspect as best he could,” Jones said. “He only showed signs of injury once (the) scene was stabilized.”

The man suspected of firing the fatal shot, identified by the department last week as Thomas Daniel Littlecloud, shot approximately 34 rounds from his assault rifle, and at least a dozen more from a 9mm handgun during the hotel shootout, Jones said.

Littlecloud, 32, of Castro Valley, died in a hospital on Saturday from injuries suffered in the incident.

Several sheriff’s deputies, each wearing a black band across their badges, attended the press conference at the sheriff’s department headquarters in downtown Sacramento.

On a wall behind Jones, 19 plaques carried the names of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department officers who have died in the line of duty. Jones said French’s name would soon be added to the memorial.

“It’s difficult for us,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, we’re a very large agency, we’re the largest agency in Northern California, and one of the downsides is that we’re no stranger to this.”

The fatal shooting began last Wednesday, as auto theft task force investigators from both the California Highway Patrol and the Sheriff’s Department were following up on reports of a BMW stolen earlier that morning, said Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau Sgt. Paul Belli.

Officers from the task force located the car at the Ramada Inn, off of Auburn Boulevard, and attempted to stop two women who had entered the car. The driver, identified by the department as Priscilla Prendez, sped off and led officers on a chase when they attempted to pull her over.

Prendez eventually stopped in Elk Grove, and was booked on auto theft and felony evading charges. The passenger in the car was questioned and let go.

It was Prendez’s probation status that led officers back to the Ramada Inn, where they discovered a hotel room was booked under her name. When they returned to the hotel to search the second-floor room, officers were met with gunfire that tore through the room’s wall, striking two undercover CHP investigators. They suffered minor injuries in that shooting.

Belli said Littlecloud then made his way to the back of the hotel room and fired at an officer positioned there as he climbed down a balcony. Moving around the building to a parking lot at the front of the hotel, Littlecloud fired his weapon from behind a tree toward French and other officers who had arrived at the scene.

French fired back at Littlecloud, taking cover behind a patrol car near the Ramada Inn’s carport, Belli said. Littlecloud was able to reach a stolen car in the parking lot during the shootout and drove off, coming in close contact with officers at the scene.

It was at some point in the shootout that a bullet went through the car where French had taken cover, and he was struck. Jones said he continued to fire his weapon at Littlecloud, giving no indication of his injury.

Officers followed Littlecloud as he drove off, eventually crashing his car just west of Watt Avenue, the department said in a press release. In total, six Sacramento County deputies who fired their weapons in the incident were put on leave following the shooting.

Hampton said it was not known how many gunshots hit Littlecloud, or where they struck him. An autopsy of Littlecloud was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, he said.

Once officers were able to safely enter the hotel room, they located other guns and methamphetamine, Belli said.

French is survived by three adult children, grandchildren and a girlfriend. A memorial service for the deputy is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at Roseville’s Bayside Adventure Church.


©2017 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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