San Jose Police Admit Communication Error

Oct. 31, 2011
Officials SWAT officers followed department protocol, but that that the situation could have been handled different from a public-relations standpoint.

STOCKTON, Calif. -- When a San Jose Police Department SWAT team served a search warrant in the 3700 block of McDougald Boulevard last week, many residents standing behind the yellow caution tape wondered why.

When the San Jose officers left the Weston Ranch neighborhood after an 11-hour operation without an arrest, an explanation or even a word about their presence, the questions increased.

Why didn't the Stockton Police Department, which set up barricades and rerouted traffic, handle the standoff? Why didn't the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department play a role? Who were the San Jose officers looking for?

In the end, much information should have been made public sooner, said Sgt. Jason Dwyer, a spokesperson for the San Jose Police Department.

"From a public-relations standpoint, we screwed up," he said. "We screwed up when we went into another city, shot a house with tear gas and left without saying anything."

But the events leading up to the dramatic entry conducted by San Jose SWAT officers followed department protocol and professional courtesy to the departments who oversee the jurisdiction, he said.

Dwyer could not disclose what led San Jose's SWAT team to the Stockton residence, but confirmed that uniformed police officers arrived in Weston Ranch between 7 and 9 a.m. Oct. 22 looking for Steven Ruiz, 38, a Hells Angel member accused of killing a fellow member at a funeral Oct. 15 at Oak Hill Cemetery in San Jose.

Prior to coming to Stockton, a judge signed an arrest warrant for Ruiz, Dwyer said. The authorization is known as a Ramey warrant, which is issued prior to the court filing of a criminal case.

About 10 a.m., a call was placed to the Stockton Police Department offering them an opportunity to serve the warrant, Dwyer said.

"It's common practice to offer the agency in the jurisdiction the first right of refusal in a situation like this," Dwyer said.

Dwyer said the Stockton Police Department twice denied executing the warrant because officers were busy investigating two homicides that took place the evening before. A Stockton spokesman said that wasn't the case.

"It wasn't a matter of our resources being stretched thin or that we couldn't do it," said Officer Pete Smith, a Stockton PD spokesman. "If we would've been stretched thin on personnel, it would've been with the traffic officers doing crowd control, not with SWAT."

San Jose's team is one of the few full-time SWAT operations in the state.

Conversely, Stockton's SWAT force operates on an on-call basis and officers would have needed to be called in, Smith said.

The process typically takes three hours to get the proper amount of officers, ensure the right house is being targeted and that the right suspect is being pursued.

Although Stockton could have assembled the resources, the department decided to allow San Jose's team to press forward, Smith said.

"San Jose felt they could move ahead, so we agreed they would do the tactical portion of the search and we would handle traffic-and-crowd control," Smith said.

The county Sheriff's Office also was offered an opportunity to serve the warrant, Dwyer said.

San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore confirmed his office was contacted about conducting the search but said they would need to follow the same process as the Stockton Police Department prior to entering the residence.

"(San Jose) contacted our watch commander, who is also the commander of our SWAT team, who said we would need to look over the package and scrutinize it closely," Moore said.

The Sheriff's Office didn't play a role because it was in Stockton's jurisdiction and because San Jose showed interest in executing the warrant it had previously obtained, he said.

Shortly after 11 a.m., the San Jose SWAT team was dispatched to join the agency's officers already on the scene in Stockton, Dwyer said.

An 11-hour standoff followed. How it ended wasn't what officials anticipated or wanted, but the actions leading up to it were proper, Smith said.

"Although the arrest wasn't made, the system of interagency cooperation worked."

Copyright 2011 - The Record, Stockton, Calif.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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