Crime - Sacto 911

Report: Sacramento City College warning system caused delay during deadly shooting

One person is dead after a shooting Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, at Sacramento City College, according to Sacramento police. The shooting occurred in a staff parking lot near the softball field on the college campus.
One person is dead after a shooting Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015, at Sacramento City College, according to Sacramento police. The shooting occurred in a staff parking lot near the softball field on the college campus. rbyer@sacbee.com

An independent inquiry released Thursday on the Sacramento City College shooting last month faulted school officials for the delay in sending a mass emergency notification.

The independent review by former FBI agent Mike Rayfield said notification to students was “unacceptably delayed” due to human error and lack of practice with the system.

The review concluded that the nearly 40-minute delay “contributed to nothing more than uncertainty relative to this incident.” But, Mayfield added that the delay in sending the WARN message “could have been catastrophic” if there had been an active shooter on campus.

The report – which praised the police officers involved – also offers additional details of the chaos that erupted Sept. 3 when Roman P. Gonzalez and his cousin, Rico Ridgeway, began fighting with two men in a parking lot on the edge of campus. Ridgeway, 24, allegedly stabbed one of the men, Charlie Hola, according to authorities.

The fourth man fired shots, killing Gonzalez, 25, and grazing Ridgeway. At least three of the people involved had ties to the college. The gunman, who remains at large, has not been identified. Sacramento police spokesman Doug Morse said Thursday that the investigation remains active but did not give a timeline for an arrest. Police believe the altercation was not part of a larger plot for campus violence.

Within minutes of the shooting, Los Rios Police Chief Cheryl Sears decided to issue a mass warning via the WARN system – which sends text message notifications to the college’s 23,235 students and staff. However, protocol dictated Sears ask Mitchel Benson, associate vice chancellor for communications and media relations, to coordinate the request.

Benson had to ask the college’s public information officer, Rick Brewer, to send the message. But Benson could not immediately find Brewer.

Once found, Brewer couldn’t remember a special password to log into the system. Nearly 40 minutes after the shots had been fired, the text message was sent directly from the private vendor’s servers, according to the report. By that time, the suspected shooter had long fled the campus.

Even as administrators worked to resolve the mass message issue, a combination of emails and phone calls were sent out via the school’s internal system, which helped inform some staff members who began the process of lockdown. The report described some students trying to take shelter in classrooms with locked doors, while several high school-age students were using a swimming pool on campus, unaware of the potential danger.

“… Students did not know what was going on because no one had yet received a WARN notification,” the report said.

According to the report, one police officer noted that “it seemed half of the college was on lockdown and half was conducting business as usual.”

Los Rios Chancellor Brian King acknowledged the shortcomings in an interview Thursday and vowed to push for changes that would streamline future responses, including evaluating the recommendations by Mayfield.

The district’s Preparedness Assessment Team is to review and make recommendations on the report’s findings at its Nov. 4 meeting.

The recommendations include additional training and a change in who can authorize use of the WARN system.

“Everyone involved was doing the best they could to address the crisis,” King said, adding that the message should have been pushed out within 1 to 2 minutes.

Benson said Thursday he agreed with the report’s findings that concluded he “did not take the initiative to send the notification or ask someone else in the district office to send it once it became obvious there was considerable delay.”

“In hindsight, I could have and should have sent out the alert,” he said. “Hindsight is often very clear days and weeks after an event. There’s no good explanation for why I didn’t do it.”

Richard Chang: 916-321-1018, @RichardYChang

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