SANDY Police here have had two officer-involved shootings just nine days apart. And if not for good training and good instincts, some believe both incidents could have had very different outcomes.
"There's no doubt in my mind the officers' training saved their lives ... definitely in the one with the barricaded situation," said Sandy Police Sgt. Victor Quezada.
On Dec. 21, SWAT officers, looking for a man who had previously made threats against police, used extreme caution as they searched each room of the house where he was believed to be hiding. In the attic, Patrick Gavin Rees, 38, was shot and killed after jumping out from a hiding position and pointing a gun at the officers. If not for certain safety precautions the officers took, which investigators declined to reveal, Quezada said the officers could have easily been shot and killed.
Sunday night, a routine traffic stop ended with numerous shots exchanged between a fugitive and a Sandy officer. Again, Quezada said if not for the sharp eyes of the officer, who had only been on the force for a little over a year, he may have been seriously injured or killed.
The officer pulled a vehicle over for a tail-light violation near 8800 South and 700 East about 1:15 a.m. After the officer made initial contact with the female driver and two male passengers, he walked back to his car and then back to the vehicle.
That's when he noticed the man in the back seat "acting suspicious and trying to hide something under his leg," according to a Salt Lake County Jail report. The officer gave several commands to the man to show his hands and asked him what he was trying to hide. When the officer realized the man had a gun, he started to back away from the vehicle just as the man fired.
At that point, numerous shots were exchanged between the man and officer from between 12 to 15 feet away, Quezada said. Remarkably, no one was injured. The officer's camera on the dashboard of his patrol car captured video of the entire incident. That tape was being reviewed by the Salt Lake District Attorney's Office.
Both men in the vehicle got out and ran. The female driver stayed and was questioned by police. After a short search, the gang unit, Joint Criminal Apprehension Task Force and officers with police dogs found the alleged gunman hiding in a nearby garage. Heron Gonzalez, 23, was booked into jail for investigation of attempted aggravated murder and four counts of being a fugitive from justice. Gonzalez was wanted in Colorado for parole violation and had $10,000 in warrants locally for his arrest, Quezada said.
Later in the evening, the second man called police to surrender, saying he only ran because he was scared and didn't want to have any part of the shooter's actions, Quezada said. Quezada said the district attorney's office would decide whether to file charges against the second man and the female driver.
Quezada said in addition to POST training, all officers also receive invaluable field training before being sent off on their own in order to get hands-on experience. In Sunday night's case, the officer did the right thing by not treating what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop as routine.
"That's easier said than done. After you've done 100 or so (traffic stops), you can become complacent," Quezada said. "Any one of these can become deadly because you don't know the person you're stopping 98 percent of the time. All this training comes into play and it's there for a reason ... so we can go home at the end of the day."
Quezada said it was also fortunate the vehicle pulled over Sunday morning did not have darkened windows.
"If this car would have had tinted windows, I'm pretty sure we would have had a dead officer," he said.Quezada said car owners that have blacked out windows need to be especially mindful of officers' commands if they are ever pulled over. The driver should always keep their hands on the steering wheel or out in the open at all times, he said.