D.A. clears deputies involved in ‘suicide by cop’ cases
Sheriff’s deputies in Alpine and Encinitas were legally justified in shooting two mentally ill men, bent on “suicide by cop,” who threatened them with weapons last year, the District Attorney concluded.
District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis released reviews on the cases recently after sending the reports to the Sheriff’s Department in April. There was no bodyworn camera or other video of either shooting to release under a new policy, adopted a week ago, to make such footage public.
The two shootings were similar in that both of the men who were shot were depressed, told family members they would make a cop shoot them, and threatened a deputy with a weapon — a loaded shotgun in one case, a screwdriver in the other. One man had been drinking heavily for days, the other was off his psychiatric medicine but had it in his system.
In both cases, a sheriff ’s deputy ordered the man to drop the weapon. In one, the deputy walked backward to keep his distance.
Both men died of their wounds. Dumanis found that both deputies acted reasonably under their circumstances.
In one case, Simon Hubble, 33, diagnosed with mental illness, had walked out of a treatment program and showed up at his parents’ Alpine home talking of suicide by cop or heroin overdose. The sober-living staff called the Sheriff ’s Department on May 27 last year.
Three deputies headed to the remote home and learned of Hubble’s background with mental illness, arrests, and suicide attempts. His parents said he had driven away but threatened to use a screwdriver to attack a police officer, who would then have to shoot him.
Deputy Aaron Miller spotted Hubble and they both got out of their cars. The report said Hubble walked toward the deputy, holding a screwdriver in front of him. Miller twice used a Taser on Hubble, to no effect. Miller backed away, telling Hubble he didn’t want to shoot him, while Hubble advanced. The deputy backed to a berm along the edge of the dirt road and then, fearing he’d fall and be attacked, fired three rounds at Hubble at a distance of 15 feet, hitting him twice in the chest. Deputies rendered aid, but Hubble died. Miller had been a deputy for six years.
“Deputy Aaron Miller had few choices available to him as he faced Mr. Hubble alone on a remote dirt road in Alpine,” the District Attorney’s report said. “He gave Mr. Hubble multiple opportunities to reconsider his actions. Deputy Miller ... ultimately pleaded with Hubble to not force him to shoot him.” In the second incident, Gary Kendrick, 56, had been depressed and drinking for several days, and had attempted suicide in 2013. On March 27 last year he armed himself with a 12-gauge shotgun, but it jammed when he fired it at his chin at his Encinitas home. He told his wife he would shoot himself if police came.
He was in the backyard with the shotgun when a neighbor came over to try to intervene. Kendrick threatened to shoot him. Kendrick was sitting in the yard, gun barrel to his chin, with a vodka bottle nearby, when two deputies got there.
Deputy Steven Block, a three-year veteran, approached with a rifle in hand and took cover at the corner of a garage. Block shouted for Kendrick to drop the gun and Kendrick taunted the deputy to shoot him, the report said. Then, it said, Kendrick raised the gun in the deputy’s direction. Block fired three times.
Kendrick sat up and raised the gun again, so Block fired again, killing Kendrick. There was one round in the shotgun’s chamber and six more in an attached shell holder, prosecutors said. Kendrick had a blood-alcohol level of .28 percent, much higher than the .08 percent legal standard of drunken driving.
“Block was faced with a situation of imminent danger when Kendrick pointed his shotgun at Block,” the District Attorney’s report said. “Block reasonably believed Kendrick was going to kill him.” The Washington D.C.-based, Police Executive Research Forum, which conducts research on modern policing issues and produces policy and training recommendations, studied police use of force on the mentally ill for 18 months. The group issued a report in March with 30 recommendations ranging from affirmation of the sanctity of life to outright bans on using deadly force on a suicidal person who isn’t threatening to harm anyone else.
The research group advised police agencies to draft policies and train officers in critical decision making, de-escalating a tense situations, and recognizing mental illness.
In San Diego County, police and sheriff ’s recruits get at least a required 11 hours of training on mental health issues. The regional police training academy also offers a voluntary one-day course in dealing with the mentally ill, as well as four-hour refresher courses.
— Pauline Repard is a writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune