Look back at the tumultuous first week of alleged cop killer Luis Bracamontes' trial
More than three years later, Luis Bracamontes still seems to be enjoying the havoc he wrought.
On Tuesday, the confessed cop killer sat grinning – and, at times, chuckling – as Placer County sheriff’s deputies described the terrifying and chaotic firefight in 2014 that ended a daylong rampage that killed two officers.
The Oct. 24, 2014, gun battle ended in an Auburn cul de sac with deputies squaring off against a suspect and firing off dozens of rounds.
“It was just a constant fire, just one right after another,” Placer sheriff’s Deputy Joe Roseli testified in Sacramento Superior Court in the fifth day of Bracamontes’ death penalty trial.
Roseli was one of a number of deputies who ended up along Riverview Drive in Auburn that afternoon. He calmly described for the jurors what it sounds like to have someone shooting at you.
“You don’t really hear a loud boom,” the veteran SWAT officer testified. “It’s more of a crack, like a bullwhip, a low, crisp crackling. That’s how you know the rounds are close to you.”
Roseli was testifying about a crime spree that began that morning in the parking lot of a Sacramento Motel 6, where Sacramento Deputy Danny Oliver was gunned down as he approached a suspicious car.
From there, authorities say, Bracamontes and his wife, Janelle Monroy, fled, leaving one motorist gravely injured when he would not give up his car and two others the victims of carjackings.
Three hours later and 40 miles away, the suspects were being hunted in a red Ford F-150 pickup truck taken from a landscaper who had been held up at gunpoint in Arden Park.
Placer deputies began tracking 911 calls about a red pickup seen driving the backroads of their county with no license plates, and eventually Roseli and his partner, Deputy Chuck Bardo, ended up at Maidu and Riverview drives in Auburn, where the gun battles began.
The deputies were each parked in their patrol cars near the intersection when Roseli spotted a red pickup approaching.
“The hair on the back of my neck stands up,” Bardo testified. “This had to be the suspect vehicle.”
The driver of the truck apparently spotted the two deputies, threw the vehicle into reverse and raced backward down Riverview before stopping, getting out of the truck and opening fire from behind the driver’s door.
Bardo was in the lead, giving chase when the bullets started hitting his vehicle.
“Where was he shooting at?” Placer County prosecutor Dave Tellman asked.
“At me,” Bardo replied, adding that he bailed out of his patrol car and drew his handgun to return fire.
“Why were you exiting your vehicle?” Tellman asked.
“To stay alive,” Bardo replied. “When you’re in a vehicle you’re in a kill zone.”
Bardo fired off 13 rounds, he said, then began running back toward Roseli’s car behind him, where his partner was firing at the gunman with an AR-15 rifle.
Why was he firing?, Tellman asked.
“Because he was shooting at my partner and trying to kill him,” Roseli replied.
At this point, the two deputies crouching behind Roseli’s car for cover realized that Bardo’s car – equipped with a shotgun on the front passenger seat and a 30-round bandolier of shells – was slowly rolling down the hill toward the suspect.
“I reloaded and as I was reloading that’s when I heard Deputy Roseli saying, ‘He’s getting in your car,’” Bardo said. “I didn’t have time to take the keys out and put it into park.
“I had to get out and return fire.”
The suspect abandoned his truck and got into the patrol car, then raced down Riverview to where the street dead ends in a circle with a huge tree in the center.
Bardo and Roseli differed in their recollection of what happened next. Bardo remembered not being able to fire at the car.
“We decided because of the angle and it being a residential street it wasn’t a safe thing to do,” Bardo said. “We couldn’t take the chance.
“We watched it drive away.”
Roseli recalled firing four rounds at the vehicle and being very precise about his choice of shots.
“I’m accountable for every round,” Roseli said. “I have innocent people in the neighborhood. If I miss a round and I hit somebody I’m responsible.”
After the patrol car roared off, a Placer patrol car began racing back toward them from down the hill and both deputies got ready for the worst.
“We lined up our firearms getting ready to put some holes in the car,” Bardo testified, but at the last moment they realized it was another deputy when Bardo said he saw “Placer County green behind the wheel.”
The two men presented a stark contrast during their testimony. Roseli appeared on the stand in his green Placer sheriff’s uniform, and spoke toward the jurors and lawyers in sharp, short answers.
Bardo, who left the department after 18 years as a law enforcement officer and is now a musician, was more emotional as he recalled the events of the day.
Dressed in a dark business suit and sporting a ponytail and mutton-chop sideburns, Bardo initially broke down when he recalled the first reports that Sacramento had an officer down.
Testifying at times with a tissue in his left hand, he recalled watching the gunman popping up from behind the pickup truck and firing at him, and recounted his initial fear when he didn’t see Roseli.
“My initial thought after hearing gunfire and not seeing my partner...,” he said before pausing. “I thought he had been shot.”
Bracamontes had been quiet throughout the morning court session, but appeared attentive and animated as he listened to the men testify. He grinned and chuckled when Bardo showed emotion, but said nothing aloud.
Bracamontes has disrupted court for days with profane outbursts, but Judge Steve White warned him Monday he would be removed permanently from court if that continued and for two days he has remained quiet.
The defendant has confessed repeatedly to shooting both Oliver and Placer sheriff’s Detective Michael Davis Jr., and Davis’ partner, retired Detective Mike Simmons, testified briefly before court ended Tuesday.
Simmons is expected to testify about the gun battle in the cul de sac Bracamontes drove into in the squad car where Davis was shot.
Davis died despite heroic efforts to race him to safety. Monroy, who faces life, was arrested at the scene after apparently emerging from the pickup Bracamontes had abandoned.
Bracamontes fled down into a canyon area on foot and would later be flushed out of a house where he tried to hide.