A Morro Bay police officer had blood streaming down his face and was disoriented from a blow to the head before he shot and wounded a suspected burglar in October, the officer testified Wednesday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.
Alec Bryan Stephenson, 20, was in court for a hearing to determine whether evidence exists to move forward on charges of assault on a police officer, battery with injury and second-degree commercial burglary in the Oct. 30 incident that left Officer Dale Cullum with minor injuries to his head.
His competency was restored this month.
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On the day of the shooting, police Chief Amy Christey said the department received a report of Stephenson allegedly breaking into the Good Flea 2nd Hand Store on the 300 block of Quintana Road in Morro Bay. A police report of the incident quotes a witness as hearing Stephenson making nonsensical statements about “reclaiming some of God’s property.”
After being confronted by the witness, Stephenson fled on a bike toward Morro Rock. The caller followed in his truck and directed dispatchers to his location, the report said. Cullum and Officer Maria Lomeli approached Stephenson and told him to stop, but Stephenson swung a 4-foot stick and struck Cullum in the head, resulting in “visible injuries,” the report reads. Cullum fired, hitting Stephenson in the leg.
Investigations by the city and the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office have already cleared Cullum of wrongdoing, and both officers have since returned to duty.
I made the choice (to fire). I didn’t want to be injured again.
Morro Bay police Officer Dale Cullum
On Wednesday, Cullum testified that he and Lomeli, in separate vehicles, caught up to Stephenson on a bike near the Embarcadero. He said he sounded his siren and told Stephenson to stop the bike, but Stephenson continued riding toward Morro Rock.
During the low-speed pursuit, Cullum said he “bumped” Stephenson’s bike three times with the bumper of his patrol SUV before Stephenson “went to the ground.”
Cullum stopped the vehicle and began to get out of the car when his seat belt got stuck. As he struggled to exit the car, he said, he was struck on the head with something hard.
“He attacked me,” Cullum said. “Unbeknownst to me, I felt ... something hit me in the head and the warmth of blood from my head.”
Asked how hard he was struck, Cullum said: “I’ve never been hit with a baseball bat, but if I had to guess, something like that.”
He said that as he struggled to break free of the seat belt, Stephenson continued to hit him with the stick, but Cullum was able to block the blows with his left arm. When he broke free, Cullum said he ran to the rear of Lomeli’s vehicle and drew his handgun. He said Stephenson was about 5 feet from him and advancing toward him as he made several commands to “stop” and “drop it.”
“He was in the position to strike me again,” Cullum testified, saying he fired two shots from his .40-caliber Sig Sauer pistol, with the gun misfiring on the second round. “I made the choice (to fire). I didn’t want to be injured again.”
Cullum said he saw Stephenson’s body “twist,” so he holstered his gun and tackled him.
Ultimately, Cullum received a roughly inch-long laceration to the top of his forehead that did not require sutures or an overnight stay in the hospital. Stephenson was hit once in the leg and remained at the hospital for a day before being booked into San Luis Obispo County Jail.
Cullum was not carrying a Taser that night but was carrying an expandable baton and pepper spray. Asked by Deputy District Attorney Greg Devitt why he didn’t use his baton, he said the whole interaction lasted only about 10 seconds and he was in fear for his life.
Excuse my French, but I just had the shit knocked out of me and I wanted to go home, not to the hospital or somewhere else.
Morro Bay police Officer Dale Cullum
Under cross-examination, Stephenson’s attorney, Ron Crawford, asked Cullum why he didn’t use his pepper spray.
“Excuse my French, but I just had the shit knocked out of me, and I wanted to go home, not to the hospital or somewhere else,” Cullum said. Asked for clarification of “somewhere else,” Cullum said: “I didn’t want to die.”
Under questioning by Crawford, Cullum said that he was on the 11th hour of a 12-hour shift when the shooting occurred.
Lomeli testified that she had responded to a call earlier in the night at the Embarcadero in which someone reported a man standing in traffic yelling, “Kill me, kill me.” When she arrived at the scene, Cullum and another officer were speaking to Stephenson and twice called a county Mental Health Services mobile crisis number to respond but were unable to reach anyone. Officers eventually left Stephenson.
Lomeli said she never saw Stephenson hit Cullum and she didn’t see a stick in his hands in the later interaction, but she said she saw “his aggressive demeanor” as well as the stick on the ground after the shooting.
Asked by Crawford whether Stephenson appeared rational when the shooting occurred, Lomeli said he spoke about the devil as he lay handcuffed on his stomach, bleeding.
District Attorney’s Office investigator Mark Vallely interviewed Stephenson at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center following the shooting, he testified. Vallely said Stephenson admitted to the burglary, and though he initially denied hitting Cullum, Vallely said, Stephenson eventually admitted to trying to “stab (Cullum) in the face.”
“He said the police bumped him off his bicycle,” Vallely said. “He said he was going to kill them.”
Crawford did not ask the investigator any questions but noted to Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy that he intends to file a motion challenging the allowance of Stephenson’s hospital statements into evidence, saying he wasn’t in the right mental state to waive his Miranda rights.
Following testimony, Duffy ruled that Stephenson would continue to trial and scheduled a second arraignment for April 6 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.