How the death of a sheriff’s deputy changed this county’s law enforcement practices
Modoc County resident Jack Breiner thought the Russians and Chinese were poisoning America’s water supply.
With a long history of mental illness, Breiner believed his own conspiracy theory strongly enough that he attacked his father in Oct. 2016 after a fight about water storage jugs on their remote ranch in the northeast corner of California, 10 miles from the nearest town of Alturas. Within an hour, the family feud had turned deadly, with Breiner killing a Modoc County Sheriff’s deputy who responded to a 911 call.
Breiner is now on trial for the murder of deputy Jack Hopkins and faces the death penalty. Breiner’s trial was moved to Sacramento, and will enter its third week Monday.
Breiner’s attorneys are arguing Breiner is not guilty by reason of insanity.
On Tuesday, Breiner’s brothers, Lonnie and Greg Breiner, took the stand describing his conspiracy-laden ramblings and their fear the morning of the shooting.
“It was like he was waiting for Armageddon,” Lonnie Breiner said. “And, oh yeah, he believed it.”
Lonnie Breiner said early that morning, Jack Breiner had chased him away from the bunkhouse with a loaded semiautomatic rifle. Jack Breiner is a registered sex offender who was staying in the bunkhouse on the property after being paroled, prosecutors said. After his father was assaulted, Lonnie Breiner said he called authorities.
“I called 911, let them know he had a gun,” Lonnie Breiner said. “I was scared for everybody at the ranch that day. I didn’t know what he was going to do.
“He said we were all dead, we’ve done it to him now, things like that,” Lonnie Breiner said Tuesday.
Greg Breiner did not live on the family ranch, but said he knew about his brother’s troubles, the fights at the ranch — and the rifle he owned.
“Jack asked for (an ammunition) clip. He said he had a gun buried somewhere,” Greg Breiner testified Tuesday.
The gun “wasn’t that big a concern,” Greg Breiner said. “I didn’t think he’d act on the things he talked about.”
After scaring off his brother Lonnie that day, Jack Breiner climbed into his truck with his assault rifle, a load of ammunition and a survival pack, Modoc County District Attorney Jordan Funk told jurors.
Hopkins, a young deputy with only six months on the job, took the call and headed out to the Breiner ranch.
Jack Breiner met him on the teardrop-shaped drive that circled the ranch compound. Breiner cut his car across the road and fired his rifle before Hopkins could react. The single shot went through the windshield and killed Hopkins, prosecutors said.
Hopkins, 31, was still wearing his seat belt when another deputy later found his body behind the wheel of his department-issue Chevrolet, his weapon still in its holster. Evidence photos show a single eye-level bullet hole in the windshield.
“He never had the chance to use (his gun),” Funk told jurors in his Nov. 13 opening statement.
A bailiff unveiled the weapon Funk said Breiner used to end the young deputy’s life, pulling it from a long cardboard box. Funk racked a phantom round and the sound crackled through the courtroom.
“It was a perfect shot,” Lonnie Breiner said from the stand on Tuesday.
Prosecutors said Jack Breiner was still wearing his parole-mandated ankle monitors. He stopped the truck long enough to cut them off and headed out again only to encounter Modoc County Sheriff Mike Poindexter, who had also responded to the 911 call a few minutes behind Hopkins.
Breiner fired, reloaded and fired again. Poindexter’s vehicle took three rounds. One of the blasts blew out a window, the sound like “a bomb going off,” Funk said.
Poindexter and Breiner engaged in a shootout. Poindexter hit Breiner three times — once in each knee, a third time in the hip.
As a wounded Breiner was loaded into an ambulance, Breiner said he fired at Hopkins because he was “tired of them (expletive) with me, so I killed him,” prosecutors said.
Modoc Medical Center emergency nurse Brenda Garvie helped treat Breiner. Screaming in pain, bleeding profusely from his wounds, he looked at her, she testified Nov. 13.
“He said, ‘I didn’t mean to shoot him. It was an accident,’” Garvie said. “He looked me straight in the eyes.”
Breiner’s paranoia cast a disturbingly wide net, his defense attorney Craig Collins said in his opening statement. He had been treated for anxiety since 2002. His doctors described his behavior as “strange,” said he suffered from “paranoid delusions.”
Breiner refused tetanus shots fearing poisonous doses of mercury. He avoided dental work because he suspected dentists would plant microchips in his teeth. The government, he was convinced, was intentionally polluting the skies with aluminum.
For years, he thought foreigners — Russians, Chinese — were on the family property.
“He said, ‘The Russians are coming,’ Lonnie Breiner testified. “I usually just ignored him and walked off.”