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Calif. police snipers end deadly standoff

A 20-year-old suspect held his own mother at gunpoint for 30 hours

PITTSBURG, Calif. — Police officials in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Pittsburg had “no choice but to shoot and kill a 20-year-old man with a history of mental illness who had held his mother hostage at gunpoint,” according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle. When two snipers from the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office observed the suspect pointing a handgun at the head of his own mother as she knelt in front of him, they each placed shots on the target, ending the threat.

The suspect — whose name has not yet been released but who according to reports was a known gang member convicted of a 2009 robbery — began the incident by holding his 48-year-old mother hostage and barricading himself into an apartment at about 1330 hours on Friday May 7th. The suspect reportedly threatened to shoot his mother, himself, and any officers who tried to enter. Police evacuated the area as SWAT teams surrounded the apartment complex. The standoff lasted just under 30 hours, ending at around 1730 hours Saturday evening. The suspect was reportedly wanted on an arrest warrant for violating his probation.

Pittsburg police Lt. Brian Addington told the Contra Costa County Times that the suspect “was clearly suicidal, and as negotiations progressed, there was a potential for him to become homicidal. His behavior became increasingly agitated at the end. What changed the dynamics is when he turned the gun on his mother.”

“This clearly was a difficult situation that required a difficult decision,” said SWAT Columnist Dan Marcou in a conversation with PoliceOne, “The suspect had a choice and made his choice to endanger his mother, which left the officers with no choice. They did what they were trained to do and were clearly the best people to bring this worst case scenario to an end.”

PoliceOne Firearms Columnist Dick Fairburn added, “Police snipers train extensively for the shot they hope they’ll never have to make. A shot like this one isn’t a matter of the sniper — or snipers — acting as judge and jury. They are simply the most reasonable level of force available to neutralize the threat. The ‘open air’ option presented the lowest level of risk for both the hostage and the entry team who would have to go in after the guy.”

“The Contra Costa tactical team did an outstanding job of following tactical protocol to successfully bring this hostage crisis to a peaceful conclusion. Dealing with the knowledge that they are about to neutralize a suspect in front of his own mother must have been a tremendous amount of stress. Despite the adverse situation, these two counter snipers engaged the Warrior Spirit and saved a woman’s life. The citizens of Pittsburg and the entire Bay Area should be proud of the Contra Costa Tactical Team,” concluded PoliceOne SWAT Contributor Glenn French.

The suspect’s mother was reported to be unhurt in the takedown, but was treated at a nearby hospital for apparent exposure to tear gas. 

Both SWAT officers were placed on routine administrative leave as an investigation is conducted. 

Information gleaned from reports by the Associated Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Contra Costa County Times, and the Fresno Bee all contributed to this report.

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