Crime - Sacto 911

Suspects killed in Stockton bank robbery shootout identified; hostage’s family recall their ‘rock’

Misty Jean Holt-Singh, 42, was fatally injured during the shootout between Stockton police officers and bank robbers Wednesday, July 16, 2014.
Misty Jean Holt-Singh, 42, was fatally injured during the shootout between Stockton police officers and bank robbers Wednesday, July 16, 2014.

These are the things a young daughter remembers about her mom.

She always came to softball games. She tried to photobomb the girl’s “snapchats.” She liked to chew ice.

“All. The. Time,” 12-year-old Mia Singh told a pool of reporters Friday in a Stockton parking lot.

Her head slightly lowered, her eyes cast downward, the girl thanked the community for its support. And then, her voice catching in her throat, she addressed Misty Holt Singh: “I love you, Mom.”

Two days earlier, Mia had been sitting in her mother’s parked car, busy on her cellphone, when her mother ran in to the Bank of the West to grab cash for a hair appointment. Three men soon emerged from the bank with three hostages, her mother among them. Singh would not survive the ordeal.

She died a loving wife, mother and sister and a dedicated member of the community, family members said Friday. Some of them stoic, others tearful, relatives acknowledged the reality of their loss had not quite sunk in. What would life be like without their “rock”?

“I don’t want to have to think that what’s going on is true,” said the woman’s 19-year-old son, Paul Singh Jr. “I wake up and I’m hoping it’s a dream and that my mom’s going to be there, but she’s not.”

Misty Singh, 41, was fatally shot sometime during a lengthy police pursuit that culminated in a shootout between officers and the three suspects more than an hour after the robbery on Thornton Road. Stockton police officials have said it’s unclear who shot the woman and when.

The other two hostages fell from the vehicle and lived. Two of their alleged captors were fatally wounded: Alex Gregory Martinez, 27, and Gilbert Renteria Jr., 30.

A third alleged suspect, Jaime Ramos, 19, is in the San Joaquin County jail, held on suspicion of murder, attempted murder, robbery and kidnapping. Stockton police announced late Friday that they are searching for a fourth and unknown suspect who dropped the others off at the bank just before the robbery.

Flanked by his two children, Paul Singh Sr. tried to put into words what he and his family had endured in the last 48 hours.

“What happened to Misty is a nightmare,” Singh said. “It’s something that I would never want to happen to anybody.”

He said his wife was loved by anyone who knew her. Dedicated to her family, Singh “never did for herself, it was always for us,” her husband said.

Singh’s family did not talk about the actions by Stockton police officers that day, nor did they address criticisms beginning to surface. But Gregory L. Bentley, a family friend and a Los Angeles-area attorney, appeared to politely put the city on notice. He said the family would be requesting dispatch logs, footage and various policies, including those outlining use of force, under the state’s Public Records Act.

“We’re very appreciative of what appears to be the department’s willingness to cooperate,” Bentley said. “I think the community would like answers as to how this ... might have happened. ... We look forward to a full and complete, cooperative investigation.”

The Associated Press reported that the father of one of the slain bank robbery suspects said Friday that Stockton police acted appropriately when they engaged in a gunbattle with his son.

Gregory Jon Martinez said he believed that police’s use of lethal force was justifiable and expressed condolences for the Singh family.

“We hold no animosity or blame the Stockton Police Department for behaving the way they did,” Martinez said, noting that some of his family members are in law enforcement. “We believe that given the circumstances the department behaved in a manner that was appropriate.”

On Thursday, Stockton police Chief Eric Jones outlined a chaotic pursuit and the immense challenges his officers faced the previous afternoon. The suspects – who later were determined to be armed with four guns, including an AK-47 assault rifle, and “massive amounts” of ammunition – repeatedly fired upon pursuing officers as they sped down freeways, across thoroughfares and through residential neighborhoods. Rounds narrowly missed officers and left holes in homes and parked cars. Fourteen police cruisers are out of commission as the result of the spray.

Jones said he supported the decision by officers to return fire, knowing hostages were in the suspect vehicle. He said his officers had to weigh the safety of the women against their own safety and that of innocent community members also at risk.

Experts and observers agree it was an unprecedented episode of violence stemming from what has become a relatively commonplace crime: A bank robbery.

About 5,000 bank robberies occurred nationwide in 2011, the last year for which FBI statistics were available. Nearly 700 of them were in California.

Statistics show that firearms were confirmed to have been used in only a quarter of those crimes nationwide. Hostages were almost never taken – just 30 in 2011.

That the three suspects in Wednesday’s robbery came so heavily armed reflects the danger they posed and their disregard for the lives of others, authorities agree.

“I think they wanted to kill people, I really do,” said former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness. “There’s sufficient evidence to support a belief they harbored the intent to do extraordinarily evil things to human beings.”

McGinness and another law enforcement expert interviewed by The Sacramento Bee said the actions of the suspects forced the officers into an unimaginably difficult situation. The outcome was a tragedy, they said, but one that likely was not the result of poor police tactics.

“I don’t think it’s an unreasonable thought or question,” McGinness said, regarding criticisms that police should not have fired into the vehicle when the hostages were inside. “But the suspects are inside the vehicle (firing at officers). You cannot let them go.”

Ordering officers to withhold their fire would have put them on a “suicide mission,” he said.

“Here’s the thing I want you to think about: As this is unfolding, it’s unfolding real quickly and officers are trying to make the best decision they can,” said retired Florida police Capt. Tom Gleason, an expert on police pursuit policies and other law enforcement procedures. “We can sit back here and we can spend days and months and years second-guessing those decisions they had to make in a matter of seconds.”

Gleason, who retired from the Lakeland Police Department, now teaches at the Florida Public Safety Institute and serves on the board of PursuitSAFETY, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the number of deaths and injuries in police pursuits.

He said agencies nationwide have tightened their policies to make sure pursuits are largely limited to fleeing felons. And in those cases, officers are typically given leeway to decide whether to pursue depending on factors such as danger to officers, risk to the community, traffic conditions and weather, he said. Guidelines published by California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training call this “the balance test.”

In Stockton, Gleason said, the string of serious crimes allegedly committed by the suspects necessitated a strong response.

“From my standpoint, they’re almost obligated to do something,” he said.

Gleason added that a “progressive” police agency will thoroughly review an incident such as Wednesday’s and look for lessons to be learned. But he said the facts known so far indicate no major mistakes by Stockton police.

“I’m all about us doing the job right,” he said. “But based upon what I saw on the news, I think the officers were doing the best they could with what they had unfolding in front of them.”

On Friday, the investigation into the incident continued. Police found a four-door Buick sedan that detectives “strongly believe” was used to transport the three known suspects to the bank, said police Officer Joe Silva. Police are asking anyone with information about that vehicle to come forward. The driver’s identity still is not known.

Next week, the case against the surviving suspect will begin, as Ramos is arraigned in San Joaquin Superior Court. Earlier this week, he was declining interviews with the media from his cell in county jail.

Efforts by The Bee to reach family members of Ramos and his alleged cohorts, Martinez and Renteria, have been unsuccessful.

At least one family has been praying for them this week. Singh’s older sister, Dawn Holt, made an emotional plea to the community to not ignore the suspects’ families and their pain.

“We do need to give those families respect,” Holt said. “They lost someone they love, too.”

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