Shooting Siege Prompts Armored Vehicle Funding

Jarred by a recent active shooter incident in McKinleyville, Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors has approved a previously postponed $295,000 Measure Z funding request for an armored rescue vehicle.

The county Sheriff’s Office’s need to have an armored vehicle to remove people from the scenes of shooting events was reiterated at the board’s Sept. 6 meeting.

Last July, supervisors considered a Measure Z request for a BearCat rescue and recovery vehicle. At the time, Sheriff Mike Downey said that such a vehicle is necessary but supervisors asked him to investigate other funding sources and agreed to re-visit the request during mid-year budget talks.

But last month’s siege by a mentally ill active shooter at an apartment complex in McKinleyville prompted Board Chair Mark Lovelace and Supervisor Ryan Sundberg, whose district includes McKinleyville, to ask that the armored vehicle request be re-considered sooner.

The 17-hour McKinleyville confrontation ended with a Sheriff’s Office SWAT team killing the shooter. As the situation erupted, residents of the apartment building had to be evacuated with an armored vehicle provided by the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.

Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey said that incident demonstrated the pressing need for a bulletproof rescue and recovery vehicle.

“There were bullet holes through the walls, into the adjoining apartments, where people went back in and said, ‘My daughter was just sitting there the day before yesterday,’” he told supervisors. “There were rounds that were expended, that were going all over the place so if we had tried to go in there with anything other than the vehicle that was provided to us by Mendocino, we would not have been able to successfully extricate those people.”

Downey added that Mendocino County’s vehicle was also important in a shooting incident in a residential area of Eureka involving District Attorney’s Office investigators and another in Shelter Cove, where a deputy wearing a bulletproof vest was fired at and hit.

He said that “an escalation of violence” involving powerful guns is an ongoing concern and demands the purchase of an armored vehicle. He emphasized that the vehicle “is not an armored tank” but one that would safely enable rescues.

Sgt. J.D. Braud, a member of the sheriff’s SWAT team, told supervisors that the McKinleyville incident required the rescue of seven residents endangered by the shooter.

“We were faced with one of the worst case scenarios you can possibly get,” he said. “We had someone in an elevated position with a rifle which had long range capacity and armor-piercing capability and we had a lot of innocent members of the pubic in the midst of where this person was and no safe way to get to them.”

Braud added that SWAT team members are trained to carry out rescues but “none of the training and what we have as tactics for that come close to what the Bearcat was able to give us.”

Supervisors agreed to approve $295,000 in Measure Z public safety tax funding for buying an armored vehicle, which will take six to eight months to build and deliver.

Downey said he will draft a policy on how the vehicle will be used.

Board Chair Mark Lovelace said that last July, he’d mentioned that there are “concerns of perceived militarization of police forces,” which he described as “a legitimate concern.” But he said there is “a high degree of trust” in Downey and a need to limit casualties during shooting events.

Supervisor Rex Bohn dismissed the validity of the concerns Lovelace referred to.

“I hate the words ‘the militarization of our police forces,’” he said, adding, “I think that’s the stupidest statement I’ve ever heard.”

Saying that “we do have a war out there,” Bohn called attention to the numbers of unregistered and stolen/unrecovered guns in the county.

He described police as “our civilian military that keeps us safe every day” and added, “We want them to fight the war on everything and yet we don’t want them to be militarized — and I think it’s derogatory to our military, too.”

 “Duly noted,” Lovelace said. “I’m conveying that that is a significant concern out there among members of the public.”

Supervisors unanimously approved the armored vehicle’s Measure Z funding.