After strange proceedings, hearing set for accused deputy killer Bracamontes
Even a year and a half after being charged with gunning down two Sacramento-area deputies, Luis Enriquez Bracamontes still seems amused as he hears the details of his alleged crimes.
On Monday, as law enforcement witnesses described the emotional events of Oct. 24, 2014, in a preliminary hearing that could lead to him facing the death penalty, Bracamontes appeared animated and bemused – and sometimes bored – as he listened to testimony about the violence that day and watched as photos of bloodstained parking lots were projected onto a courtroom wall.
Much of the evidence presented Monday to Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White focused on the slaying of Danny Oliver, a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy who was the first to die that day.
The first witness in the hearing, which is being held to determine whether there is enough evidence to set a trial date for Bracamontes and his wife, Janelle Monroy, was Sacramento County sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Swisher, who interviewed Oliver’s partner, Deputy Scott Brown, after the shooting that began in a Motel 6 parking lot near Arden Fair mall.
“Scott Brown was extremely upset,” Swisher testified under questioning by Sacramento prosecutor Rod Norgaard. “He was crying, sobbing.”
Swisher said Brown described that Friday shift as starting off in a routine fashion.
The two deputies delivered a parolee to the Main Jail downtown and stopped by the district attorney’s office to drop off a warrant request.
Then, Brown told Swisher, the pair drove off on Highway 160, exited onto Arden Way and headed for the motel, where the veteran deputies frequently patrolled what was known as a high-crime area and where Brown had patrolled at least 100 times before.
Oliver was driving and pulled into the lot as the deputies ran license plates to check for violations. As they pulled around to the rear of the motel on the south side of the lot, they spotted a blue, four-door Mercury parked in a stall with the trunk lid up.
“Two in a car,” Oliver said to his partner as a warning.
Both men got out, with Brown approaching the passenger side until a woman emerged from the car and shut the trunk lid.
Brown ordered her back into the car and suddenly heard a gunshot from the front of the car.
Brown said he didn’t see his partner but realized a man in the car was firing at him repeatedly with a handgun, and he returned fire with his Glock 9mm pistol, Swisher testified.
“He said he fired seven or eight times,” Swisher said, adding that detectives later determined Brown had fired 13 times. Such errors are common when officers are questioned about the number of times they fire when being shot at, Swisher said.
Brown radioed for help five or six times, and during the shootout he saw the gunman switch weapons and begin firing at him with an AK-47-style rifle, Swisher said.
“When he saw the front sight of that rifle, he knew he was outgunned,” Swisher said.
The pair in the vehicle fled, leaving Brown with his dead partner, who never unholstered his weapon, Brown told Swisher.
As the testimony continued and photos of Oliver were shown on the screen – as well as a photo of the bloodstained parking lot where Oliver died – Bracamontes sat at the defense table grinning and smiling at times.
His lawyers, who have argued that Bracamontes is too mentally ill to face trial, Monday asked for a continuance as they appeal to the state Supreme Court.
“The situation has not improved, and in our opinion it has declined,” defense attorney Jeffrey Barbour argued.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White rejected that request, saying the high court could order a stay if justices wanted to postpone the case.
The hearing is scheduled to continue today and move its focus from Sacramento to Placer County, where Deputy Michael Davis Jr. was killed in a shootout before Bracamontes was found holed up in an Auburn home and arrested. His wife also was arrested near Auburn, and faces life in prison if convicted of assisting in the rampage that shut down schools throughout the region that day.
Most of Monday’s testimony came from sheriff’s investigators recounting what victims and witnesses told them about what began at the Motel 6, a crime-plagued complex that was subsequently demolished.
Sheriff’s Detective Cathy Crowley testified that a witness she interviewed called 911 after hearing gunshots at the motel.
Crowley said she interviewed a Cal Expo worker, Jose Urena, who had stopped at a nearby Chevron station to gas up his box truck.
Urena told Crowley that he was driving past a cinder-block wall in the parking lot separating the motel from a nearby domed movie theater when he heard loud sounds.
“He heard three loud pops,” Crowley said of Urena. “He wasn’t sure if it was gunfire or fireworks.”
Urena told Crowley he could see over the cinder block wall into the parking lot and saw a gunman.
“He saw the gunman standing outside a vehicle and he saw an officer lying on the ground,” Crowley said under questioning from Norgaard.
Urena also told Crowley that he saw the gunman “firing nonstop” at another officer in the parking lot, and that he sped away and called 911.
Later, Crowley said, Urena picked two people out of a photo lineup as possibly being the gunman: One was a “filler” used in the lineup who was not related to the crime; the other was Bracamontes.
A third witness, sheriff’s Sgt. Michelle Hendricks, told Norgaard that she later interviewed a witness who called 911 after seeing a man with a gun in a car near Cal Expo.
The woman told Hendricks she was in a Honda Pilot when she saw a man in a car next to her preparing to make a left turn from Ethan Way onto Exposition Boulevard, heading away from the motel to Business 80.
Looking down, the woman saw an assault-style rifle in the front seat that the man was trying to hide under a towel, the witness told Hendricks. After the man made eye contact with her, she said, he threw his car into reverse and instead turned right onto Arden Way headed toward Howe Avenue.
A fourth witness on Monday afternoon described the injuries suffered by Anthony Holmes, a Sacramento man who was gravely hurt when Bracamontes allegedly tried to commandeer his car after Deputy Oliver was killed.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Dennis Prizmich, who interviewed Holmes several times after the shootings, said he first visited the victim at UC Davis Medical Center, where Holmes was in critical condition with a bullet wound through his face and others through his wrists.
A photo of Holmes – in his hospital bed with a series of medical staples holding his neck together and stitches along his jawline – was broadcast on the wall of White’s courtroom as Prizmich testified.
Holmes told the sergeant that he was on his way to a 10:45 a.m. doctor’s appointment on Spanos Court near the Motel 6.
He pulled into the doctor’s office parking lot, choosing a shady spot, Prizmich said, when a light blue car that he thought was a police vehicle pulled up diagonally to his vehicle.
Holmes initially thought he was being pulled over by police, Prizmich said, but then a man got out of the vehicle and demanded his car.
“I don’t know you,” Holmes replied, according to Prizmich.
“The suspect smiled at him, grinned at him, and then shot him,” Prizmich said.
Holmes told Prizmich the gunman shot at him six or seven times.
He identified Bacamontes from a photo lineup presented to him in the hospital by Prizmich, who showed him six photos from a Manila envelope with Bracamontes’ photo last.
Holmes still could not speak because of his injuries, but when Prizmich showed him the final photo Holmes recognized his assailant, Prizmich said.
“Mr. Holmes tapped on the picture,” Prizmich said. “He mouthed the words, ‘That’s him,’ and I repeated it.”