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Fugitive dies in Kenwood standoff

SANTA ROSA POLICE SWAT team members arrive on Hoff Road Wednesday morning. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

SANTA ROSA POLICE SWAT team members arrive on Hoff Road Wednesday morning. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

By David Bolling and Don Frances

The wanted gunman who initiated a 20-hour standoff with a swarm of law enforcement officers at a Kenwood trailer on Hoff Road, before being shot to death Wednesday evening, has been identified as a 32-year-old Napa resident named Miguel Angel Garcia. He had been armed with what was reported to be an assault rifle.

Garcia, a previously convicted felon, was wanted by Napa police for failing to appear in court on charges of child endangerment, illegal firearm and ammunition possession, receiving stolen property and possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia.

The charges were the outgrowth of a Feb. 8 arrest, during which Napa police found two loaded handguns (one of them stolen) in Garcia’s apartment, following a traffic stop in which police discovered methamphetamine, a drug pipe, the ammunition magazine for a handgun and a rifle scope in his car.

The Kenwood standoff ended shortly before 7 p.m. Wednesday after the Sonoma County Sheriff’s SWAT team fired as many as a dozen tear gas canisters into the travel trailer in which Garcia had barricaded himself. The tear gas barrage was punctuated by gunshots on at least two occasions, according to a witness account and voice reports heard over the Sheriff’s radio frequency.

Sheriff’s deputies could be heard speaking through a bullhorn ordering Garcia to come out with his hands in the air and to lie down on the ground.

At one point after deputies announced shots were fired from the trailer, Heidi Porch, a neighbor immediately adjacent to the trailer property, who was on the phone with the Index-Tribune at the time, reported hearing a burst of 19 gunshots. It was not possible to determine who was firing at whom. At roughly the same time, comments could be heard on the police radio that the interior of the trailer was on fire.

At approximately 6:40 p.m. Garcia, who is listed in police records as being 5-feet, 4-inches tall and weighing about 170 pounds, was reported exiting the trailer and dropping to the ground. From that point on he did not move. SWAT team members could be heard preparing to deploy a robot to approach Garcia’s body as a deputy, apparently looking through a spotting scope, reported, “I can see his right hand. There is no movement in his right hand. I cannot see his left hand. There is no movement in his lower body.”

A K-9 unit was on the scene and a police dog was sent to inspect Garcia. There was no reaction from the body on the ground.

Ultimately, a tactical medic inspected the body and declared a code “10-55,” meaning it was now a coroner’s case. Garcia was declared dead at about 6:52 p.m.

At press time, authorities were still unclear whether Garcia died from shots fired by Sheriff’s deputies, or from his own gun.

As an “officer-involved shooting,” the case is now being investigated by the Petaluma Police Department, which would not, as of late Thursday afternoon, add further details to the incident.

According to a Sheriff’s Office news release, the standoff on the roughly four-acre rural property, just north of Kenwood, began just before midnight Tuesday when the Napa County Major Crimes Task Force asked the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office for agency assistance after tracing Garcia to the Hoff Road trailer.

When members of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office’s Special Operations Unit attempted to serve an arrest warrant, and announced their presence through a bullhorn at approximately 11:50 p.m., a man identified as “Victor” who lives periodically in the trailer quickly came out and told deputies he was not the wanted man, but that Garcia was inside with his girlfriend and armed with a rifle.

Over the course of the night, members of the Sheriff’s Hostage Negotiation Team attempted to convince Garcia to release the woman, who they now considered a hostage.

Sonoma police Chief Bret Sackett, who is a Sheriff’s lieutenant, was on-site during much of the day, and said negotiations with Garcia had gone on all night. At about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, the woman was released and confirmed that Garcia was armed with a rifle. By 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sackett was still hoping, he said, “for a peaceful resolution.”

That sentiment was echoed by the property owner, who said Wednesday afternoon he preferred not to be identified. But he told a reporter that he keeps the trailer on his property and that his friend, who was the first to exit the trailer when deputies arrived, has lived there off and on for 15 years.

According to the property owner, the occupant of the trailer got a call sometime Tuesday from someone he knew, saying that another person wanted to stay there for a day or two. The friend-of-the-friend turned out to be Garcia, and it is believed that Garcia’s as-yet-unidentified girlfriend is the one who called the resident of the trailer.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” the Kenwood property owner said.

He explained that, “We were sound asleep” in the middle of the night Wednesday when the commotion really started. His wife awoke to police lights, and two flash-bang grenades were set off by authorities, waking many neighbors on Hoff Road.

When the property owner went out to see what was going on, he said, authorities declared, “This is the Sheriff’s Department. Go back in the house and lock the door.”

Eventually, the owner and his wife, daughter and son-in-law were evacuated from the property in an armored vehicle and taken to the Kenwood fire station. The friend living in the trailer was taken to the fire station as well.

During the ensuing standoff, as many as 50 law enforcement officers surrounded the property, including SWAT teams, Santa Rosa police officers and sheriff’s deputies from Sonoma and Napa counties.

Heidi Porch, who is a Delta Airlines pilot and had only just returned from Tokyo, lives next door to the property in question, and said she was awakened at precisely 1:11 a.m. by the sound of explosions. “I woke up to the sound of a large boom, then a second later another boom. At that point I couldn’t sleep, and 20 minutes later there was a knock on the front door.”

Two sheriff’s deputies told Porch, “We’ve got a suspect holed up in the property next to you.” Porch said they told her to shut and lock her windows and doors, that there might be tear gas floating across the property.

She said she finally got to sleep and that, when she awoke, there was a SWAT SUV in her driveway.

Hoff Road remained blocked all day and through the following night. Residents living up the road from the siege site were not allowed out and were told to stay indoors, although Porch said one elderly resident living closer to Highway 12, on the other side of the embattled property, had not been informed of the standoff until Porch called her.

Given the length of the standoff, fresh SWAT teams replaced tired ones, and the Santa Rosa Police Department’s SWAT team took over from the Sheriff’s Special Operations Unit at about 10 a.m. Wednesday. Negotiations via cell phone continued with Garcia throughout the morning and into the afternoon.

At one point he told authorities he would surrender at 3 p.m., but the hour came and went without movement.

Authorities say Garcia then began confessing to several violent crimes, including a murder. Authorities are still trying to confirm these statements, but after the confessional the tone of his communication began to change, according to Sackett, who said he became less communicative and threatened to kill himself or create a situation in which he would cause law enforcement to kill him – something known as “suicide by cop.”

At approximately 5 p.m. Wednesday, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Special Operations Unit resumed control of the scene and at 6 p.m., said Porch, a SWAT team member came up her drive to warn her she would soon hear tear gas “pops” and should stay inside. Only Sonoma County and Napa County sheriff’s personnel were on the scene at this time, according to a Petaluma police spokesman.

There was then another delay, but at 6:27 Porch heard a flash-bang grenade explosion, followed by two more bangs, then three more bangs, that may have been tear gas grenades, followed by gunfire.

Over the next two or three minutes, Porch heard more explosions as well as small arms fire.

According to a report released early Thursday morning by the Sheriff’s Office, during this time, “The suspect responded by shooting indiscriminately out of the trailer at SWAT personnel on-scene, striking a residence. Fortunately, no members of the public or law enforcement personnel were injured.”

According to this account, more tear gas was fired into the trailer, and then, “the front door opened on the trailer and the suspect appeared. Perceiving a threat and fearing for their safety, SWAT team members engaged the suspect with their weapons. The suspect fell to the ground.”

Garcia reportedly lay on the ground for hours as the crime scene was processed, and by 8:30 a.m. Thursday Hoff Road was still closed to all traffic past the trailer property.

One resident who told police her sister was at her house watching her young children was escorted on foot past the crime scene on Thursday, but had to leave her car behind.

For her part, Porch praised the professionalism and the conduct of the SWAT deputies. One officer, she said, apologized for the inconvenience and told her, “We really didn’t want this to happen. We hate for that to happen.”

She called the officer, whose name she did not have, “very humble, very professional.”

Shortly after dark on Wednesday evening, at about 8 p.m., Porch said she got a phone call from the Sheriff’s Office telling her “the lockdown was suspended.”

But as of Thursday morning, while crime scene investigators continued to pour over the scene, she could still not drive away from her house.

  • David Dooley

    Contrary to the ‘thoughts’ of some, cops hate shooting people. It’s the last thing they want to do. In situations such as this, the cops don’t determine the final outcome (hence the very long period of negotiations) – the person they wish to take into custody determines the final outcome.

  • Jack Shmollie

    Sounds like the guy had his chance to give it up . Did he think he would get out ? When you have a swat team surrounding you , throw in the towel .