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»» Update to this story: Exclusive: Man charged with killing Sacramento officer has long history of domestic violence
A female Sacramento police officer responding to a domestic violence incident in north Sacramento was killed Wednesday night after being ambushed by a gunman with a rifle who held off officers from inside a house for nearly eight hours before surrendering early Thursday.
The shooting occurred in the Noralto neighborhood of the city near Redwood Avenue and Edgewater Road, not far from El Camino Avenue, and the suspect fired his rifle off and on for hours before a negotiator talked him into giving up.
The end of the standoff came at 1:54 a.m., according to police radio traffic, about an hour after police and city officials announced the first line-of-duty death of a Sacramento officer in more than 20 years.
Authorities identified the officer as Tara O’Sullivan, 26, and said she had been shot while trying to help a woman move belongings out of a home in the 200 block of Redwood Avenue. O’Sullivan, who grew up in the East Bay community of Pleasant Hill and graduated from Sacramento State, had been with the department for only a year.
“We are devastated tonight,” Deputy Chief Dave Peletta said. “There are no words to convey the depth of sadness we feel or how heartbroken we are for our family of our young, brave officer.”
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he and Councilwoman Angelique Ashby met with O’Sullivan’s academy classmates late Wednesday night and that he was “heartbroken.”
“This is a horrible night for the city of Sacramento,” Steinberg said.
Police spokesman Sgt. Vance Chandler said the incident began when officers got a call Wednesday morning about what Chandler called a “disturbance” between a man and a woman. At about 5:41 p.m., police went to the 200 block of Redwood Avenue, where they were helping the woman collect some personal belongings.
While that was occurring, the officer was shot at about 6:10 p.m.
“Due to one of our officers being shot, our officers took safe positions, and at that time they believed the officer was shot with a rifle,” Chandler said. “The officer went down in the yard of a residence, and due to the suspect being armed with a rifle and actively shooting our officers maintained cover in safe positions until we were able to get an armored vehicle in the area.”
That vehicle was able to rescue the wounded officer at about 6:54 p.m., Chandler said, and she was transported to a hospital at 6:59 p.m. and considered to be in serious condition.
Within hours, however, the officer died at the UC Davis Medical Center and police officials gathered at a news conference after midnight to make the grim announcement.
According to city records, O’Sullivan was a community service officer who had been working for the city since January 2018.
She was part of the first class of graduates of Sacramento State’s Law Enforcement Candidate Scholars program in 2017 and went on to the Sacramento Police Academy. She was a child development major at Sac State, according to a press release from the school.
The shooting set off a massive response from law enforcement officers who rushed to the area and warned media and residents to stay back for fear of being fired at.
“We do believe there is still one suspect at this time and he is still firing a rifle,” Chandler said at about 9 p.m. “As of about 40 minutes ago, he was still firing a weapon.”
At about 9:40 p.m., scanner traffic indicated the gunman had opened fire again, shooting in a couple of different directions but not injuring any officers. A short time later, one officer reported seeing a green laser beam being pointed at an armored vehicle, but another officer called in, “That was us.”
Another shot was reported fired at 10 p.m., and then another a minute later that officers said sounded like it came from inside the home. At 10:07 p.m., the firing began again with “multiple gunshots” fired from a window of the house and then the front of the house, according to scanner traffic.
More shots were fired toward an armored police vehicle just before 10:30 p.m. “Yeah, we just took a couple rounds,” one officer radioed calmly. “Rapid fire from inside,” another said a moment later.
By 11 p.m., the suspect was shouting at police and had thrown a cell phone out a door of the house, according to scanner traffic, and police repeated orders that if the suspect emerged armed that lethal force could be used but that if he came out unarmed he was to be arrested.
Even after hours of being fired at and knowing they had lost a colleague, police appeared to be taking extraordinary efforts to end the standoff peacefully.
“He was heard inside yelling something about a phone,” an officer said over the radio. Two minutes later, another suggested sending the man’s discarded cell phone back into the house with a police robot.
Within a few minutes, the phone had been delivered and police were telling him to plug it into a charger so they could negotiate with him. Minutes later, an officer could be heard reporting that they were negotiating.
Finally, after 1 a.m., there appeared to be progress.
“Apparently, our suspect is intent on surrendering,” an officer announced over the radio.
“Go ahead and proceed, he’s wanting to come out,” another radioed.
Police had been negotiating with the suspect through his cell phone, and at one point an officer said, “Suspect is advising he does have a gun to his head right now.”
Negotiations continued with the gunman insisting he be allowed to surrender to the officer who had been talking to him through the negotiations. The two sides agreed the gunman would come out the front door, but the suspect apparently had barricaded it and could not exit.
Shortly before 2 a.m., the back door opened and he emerged with a cell phone and a shirt in his hands, according to scanner traffic.
At 1:53 a helicopter unit overhead advised officers had him
“Looks like they have him in custody, they’re patting him down,” an officer said.
By then, police had sealed off the neighborhood for more than seven hours, warning on Twitter that there was a “subject armed with a gun and firing in the area.”
The gunman had been pinned down in the home in the 200 block of Redwood Avenue, and commanders could be heard on police scanners just after 8 p.m. authorizing lethal force if he was armed and did not surrender.
Several armored vehicles were being sent into the neighborhood as helicopters overhead scanned for a sighting of the suspect. As darkness fell, officers could be heard over police radio asking for spotlights and floodlights. By 10 p.m., additional resources were being called for the removal of trees and other objects that sat between officers and the home.
Chandler said the woman police were helping when the shooting began was with officers and safe.
“We haven’t confirmed who the suspect is,” he said.
The nature of the disturbance that may have sparked the shooting was not revealed Wednesday. But Joyce Bilyeu of the Sacramento County Family Justice Center said domestic violence experts warn women to prepare a safety plan for leaving a home even if the police are present.
“Women are at the greatest risk for getting hurt or even killed in the process of leaving,” she said. “It’s the most dangerous time.
“The more control the victim takes over her life, the more out of control the abuser is. Most people think leaving an abusive relationship can lead to safety, but that’s not necessarily the case.”
Sacramento police have not had an officer killed in the line of duty since Officer William Bean Jr. was killed in February 1999.
Sacramento Police Officers Association President Tim Davis choked back emotion late Wednesday when reached, but said he could not comment on the shooting.
A volley of gunfire could be heard by Bee reporters on the scene just after 7 p.m., then the shooting appeared to subside for the next hour.
Officers in tactical helmets and bulletproof vests were swarming the area as police made announcements over loudspeakers warning people to remain inside.
Law enforcement vehicles, including a chaplain’s car, also were gathered at the UC Davis Medical Center, where wounded officers typically are taken.
More than a dozen police vehicles had gathered around there as of about 8 p.m. Wednesday as officers huddled and embraced near a group of construction offices.
The last officer shot and killed in the Sacramento region was Davis police Officer Natalie Corona, 22, who died after being attacked by a lone gunman in January. The gunman later shot himself as police surrounded his rental home in downtown Davis.