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Man shoots, kills San Jose officer who was checking on him after suicide threat

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POSTED March 25, 2015 9:56 p.m.

SAN JOSE (AP) — A man threatening to commit suicide unleashed a barrage of gunfire on Northern California officers called to check on him, killing a 14-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department.

Scott Dunham, 57, fatally shot Officer Michael Johnson, 38, Tuesday night, launching an hours-long manhunt for the gunman and forcing nearby apartments to be evacuated. The search ended when Dunham was found dead early Wednesday on his apartment balcony, San Jose police spokesman Albert Morales said.

Police had no communication with the suspect between the time Johnson was shot about 6:45 p.m. Tuesday and when Dunham was found dead more than eight hours later, at 3:20 a.m. Wednesday. It was unclear if he killed himself or died when officers returned fire.

Police Chief Larry Esquivel said at a news conference early Wednesday that it was difficult to pinpoint Dunham’s motive or mindset. A neighbor said that Dunham had recently lost his job. A niece also told the television station that her uncle had untreated mental health issues. Police classified him as intoxicated at the time.

“It’s unfortunate that this person had the nerve, the audacity, to shoot at our officers that were responding to a call for service, for assistance,” Esquivel said.

Officers approaching Dunham’s apartment building were met with gunfire. After Johnson was shot, authorities swarmed the area in search of the shooter. Johnson was a field training officer, but he did not have a trainee with him at the time he was shot.

Officers, armored vehicles and a helicopter came from neighboring law enforcement agencies and the California Highway Patrol. At 1:30 a.m. officers used explosives to breach the apartment and then used a robot with a camera to check inside. Dunham was found dead about two hours later.

Police were called to the apartment because Dunham reportedly threatened his wife and said he would kill her if “she didn’t leave,” according to the 911 police tapes. The woman left the apartment and called one of her children, who called police, according to the tapes released by police.

The police recordings show that officers told dispatchers Dunham was thought to be in possession of one or two handguns.

A neighbor, Steve Helmer, his wife and young daughter heard the gunfire and then later ran into Dunham’s wife outside their apartment building.

“She was surprisingly calm,” Helmer said of the wife.

A few hours later, she rang the Helmers’ doorbell and asked if she could borrow a blanket because she was cold and wasn’t allowed into her apartment. She was accompanied by two police officers.

Helmer said he never spoke to Dunham, but saw him around the complex often.

“He was quiet,” Helmer said. “He kept to himself.”

Laurie Richmond lives in the trailer park directly across the street from Dunham’s apartment. Richmond said she knew Dunham, but not well. She would bump into him at the liquor store a half block away every couple of weeks or so, and they would exchange pleasantries.

“He seemed normal,” Richmond said. “I never saw anything out of the ordinary.”

Richmond said she was leaving the liquor store with her dog when she heard the gunshots. She didn’t see the shooting but was concerned enough to seek cover in the store. She said that after she emerged about 15 minutes later, the area was “flooded with cops.”

Johnson is the 12th officer to be killed in the San Jose Police Department’s 166-year history.

The last San Jose officer killed in the line of duty was Jeffrey Fontana, who was shot during a vehicle stop in 2001. DeShawn Campbell was convicted in the case.

Johnson and Fontana were in the same police academy class.

Mayor Sam Liccardo expressed sympathies to Johnson’s family, telling reporters: “This has been San Jose’s darkest hour.”

The officer’s family issued a statement Wednesday afternoon. “Last night Officer Michael Johnson of the San Jose Police Department was shot and killed while trying to help the community he loved. We are deeply saddened by his loss and cannot express in writing how deep a hole in our hearts we are left with by his passing,” the statement said, in part.

Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statement Wednesday saying Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff in his memory.

“Anne and I extend our deepest condolences to Officer Johnson’s family, friends and fellow officers. Officer Johnson will be remembered for his courage and dedicated service and we join the entire San Jose community in mourning this tragic loss.”

He is survived by his wife, Nicole, and parents, Katherine Decker and Daniel Johnson.

Johnson was one of two law officers to die in interactions with suspects Tuesday. In eastern Wisconsin, State Patrol Trooper Trevor Casper, 21, was killed in a shootout with a bank robbery suspect. Casper was just three months out of the academy. The suspect, who is also believed to have killed a motorist, died in the shooting in Fond du Lac.

 

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