Archive · Fresno

108 Hours: Taking down Kori Muhammad and where Fresno goes from here

I began by asking if the Police Department kept City Manager Bruce Rudd and the Mayor informed of what was happening during the 100-plus hours between the April 13 shooting and the April 18 shootings.

Dyer: “No, not in terms of ‘What do we do?’ I seldom, if ever, seek advice on operational issues.

“It’s just like the former city manager, Mark Scott, said one day. He said, ‘I’ve learned over the years to not involve myself in police issues because I’m a civilian and I see it from a different perspective. I don’t have the training and the experience and the expertise to get involved.’ But, he said, ‘I do hire a police chief who does that.’

“I keep them (top Administration officials) updated on incidents that occur – not every incident – but incidents that occur, calls for service that, when we start to get to a certain level that might get someone calling into their office and complaining about something. That’s when I really make them aware of things. But operational issues, search warrants, active investigations – they’re not involved at all.

“I believe that you have to do that to keep the integrity of an investigation. Because there are a lot of things that are brought to my level that no one else really needs to know about – intelligence information, operations that we’ve got going a week from now, serving eight, ten, 12 search warrants. You just learn to keep it in-house; the fewer people that know about it, the better.”

I asked if the April 13 shooting of Williams, the security guard, struck the police as unusual in any way.

Dyer: “It was unusual in the sense that we had a security guard who was shot and killed who was unarmed. That automatically made it high profile in the sense that I knew right away that there would be an increased level of fear for two reasons. You had a security guard that was shot. He was shot without provocation.

“We had video of that shooting. The shooting did happen on the north end, on Blackstone. All of those things cause a (rise in) the fear level. This wasn’t any type of a shooting that occurred between gang members. This wasn’t a lifestyle-type victim. This was a victim who was out there trying to do his job. Carl Williams was out there trying to do what he gets paid to do. So, in and of itself, it rose to a higher level.

“So much so that I engaged myself right away on the homicide in speaking with our homicide detectives, wanting to see the video the very next day when I came in. Watching that video, having a conversation about what we were doing to apprehend the individual – first identify him and how certain we are with the identification – and then we really pulled out all stops to locate this guy with our special response team, our street violence bureau tactical team, U.S. Marshals.

“We had identified potential locations where this guy might be. We utilized our plainclothes officers from the street violence bureau to surveil those locations. We immediately started contacting confidential informants to determine if, in fact, they might know who he is. We started getting some calls from the community. For a number of reasons he’s not necessarily tied to any of these West Side gangs, so there’s no allegiance. There was no attempt to protect him, cover up, anything of that nature by members of the community.

“So, we did – we pulled out all stops every single day. We had information that he was in Atlanta; we reached out there. We had information that he was at Madera, at a park. We sent our folks there to surveil it. We went to a number of different locations where we were actively looking for this guy.

“The debate internally is always this: When do you put that out to the public? Because we do know that once you put it out to the public, a couple of things happen. Once the individual knows he’s wanted, there’s a high likelihood that that person is going to go underground or go out of town, which makes it more difficult for us to locate him and apprehend him. And he’s also less likely to interact with people he commonly would interact with because he knows he might get turned in. So, we always wrestle with that: When do we let the folks know?

“We also wrestle with: When do we let our own folks know in patrol? Because sometimes they may go out on their own and start actively looking for this guy and inadvertently send the person underground or out of town when you contact a family member and say, ‘Hey, we’re looking for so-and-so.’ Phone call made. (Chief snaps his fingers.) He’s gone. So there were a number of investigative things that we were doing behind the scenes to locate him.

“I’ll tell you, the question was asked of me at the initial news conference by a reporter, ‘Chief, when did you identify the person? When did you know it was him?’ Well, it would have been several hours after the shooting (when) we a positive ID. It would have been Friday morning. And then the question was asked, ‘Why didn’t you alert the media?’ I said, ‘Well, we had investigative leads, we were pursuing each and every one of those. We didn’t want to drive him underground and all the things I told you. And I said, ‘But at some point when you exhaust those investigative leads, then you seek the public’s assistance, hoping that they can turn him in.’

“Well, later that evening I had a news conference, after he was arrested he provided a statement, and we find out that it was (that) very thing – when we did release it to the public, and he found out he was wanted, that he made the decision – at least in his mind and according to what he told our detectives – that it was at that point in time that he wasn’t going to go to prison simply for one murder of an individual who disrespected him – he was going to kill as many white men as he could.

“So, there is the delicate balance. Are we going to trigger somebody to do something they normally wouldn’t do? Are we going to trigger somebody to leave town or go underground, disguise their appearance? Or, by alerting the public, are we going to get the assistance we need to identify him and locate him? On cases, we do both, but at the appropriate time and with the appropriate individuals based on the information we have at that time.”

I asked if police reviewed Muhammad’s social media accounts, such as Facebook, once he had been identified as the Motel 6 shooter.

Dyer: “In fact, that’s how we had information he may have been in Atlanta – because he made a post, something about ‘from Atlanta.’ We (now) know that to be untrue. But we had been monitoring – he had a lot of different Facebook identities. So, we weren’t aware of all of them at the time. But we were monitoring all of his Facebook accounts, and pursuing those.”

I asked if anything on Muhammad’s Facebook profile suggested to police that Muhammad was a serious danger to any particular group of Fresnans.

Dyer: “No, because there was no indication that he ever said he was going to go out and shoot white men.

“There are a lot of people that have prejudices in our city and biases in our nation. But to say ‘I hate government’ and then somebody goes and blows up government, or to say ‘I hate a certain race’ and then takes it to the next step and actually goes out and does something (the Chief doesn’t complete this thought). As you know, monitoring social media, there are a lot of people that say what they want to say because they have the anonymity and they feel they can say exactly what they want to say and get away with it. We have people all the time that we visit and who make threats against government officials. They say they’re going to kill the police chief. Do you go out and round up and roust up all of those hundreds (of people)? It would be impossible.

“But, that doesn’t mean we don’t monitor those types of statements. And when they cross the line and we believe that somebody’s life is in danger, then we have a responsibility to tell that person whose life may be in danger.”

I asked if that responsibility extends to a specific cohort of Fresnans, such as a particular gender or race.

Dyer: “Had this been a random shooting of a white person, and that was tied into Facebook, that he doesn’t like white people, I think maybe you’d have some validity to what you said. But the fact is this was the shooting of a security guard who didn’t necessarily look white. And it was as the result of an interpersonal dispute that happened between the security guard and a female and him. There was a motive for that shooting other than ‘I’m going to shoot this person randomly because they’re white.’ The motive was there was an interpersonal dispute where the suspect got angry at one point in time and decided to shoot the security guard. That happens in our city, unfortunately more than we would like. But there was no indication at that point that he was going to be a random killer and go out and target people. No information at all from anybody we had at that time.”

I noted that the shootings on April 18 weren’t random.

Dyer: “Right. But remember at that time there was no indication in the investigation that he shot Carl Williams for any other reason than that he got angry at him in an argument, not because he was white or black or – in fact, he (Williams) looks Hispanic. So, that would have been the last thing on anybody’s mind about that. That’s not to say we didn’t think he (the killer) was a danger. But, quite frankly, we thought he was a danger to the entire population.

“Because anybody that can do what he did, and what I saw on the video, he was a callous individual to do what he did. In fact, I made the statement, ‘I don’t think this is his first shooting.’ Individuals don’t just pull a gun in the way that he did and shoot somebody point blank. And remember, he pointed at another security guard, too, but ran out of bullets – didn’t have any ammunition. We had that on video. So, it wasn’t just one. It was two security guards he was going to shoot at. So, there was absolutely no indication – I don’t see this as where you’re going to have some type of investigation in terms of ‘how did we respond as an agency?’

“But, honestly, in the midst of all of this evil, what I got to see was something that was very good. And that was how 75 to 80 of our officers and detectives came together and did what they needed to do, whether it was establishing a perimeter, putting up crime-scene tape, looking at where evidence was and isolating witnesses and victims, getting rescue efforts to victims who were shot. I was so proud of this agency. And I’m not sure how we could have done it, as I look at it today, any better in terms of what I saw and the leadership that was out there in terms of supervisors. And the fact that we had technology in place that alerted our people to respond immediately. And the fact that we took a cold-blooded killer into custody shortly after he was in the shooting when, absent an immediate response, absent ShotSpotter technology, he may still be out there, which would have been a much different story. The story today would be – there would be an incredible amount of fear in this community. But there’s not, fortunately.”

I said it has been my experience covering the Police Department under this chief that it always takes a dramatic incident and turns into a learning opportunity. I asked if there’s something to be learned from events from April 13 through April 18.

Dyer: “I do think that way, but it’s very dangerous. I think it’s dangerous when you become hypercritical as the leader of an organization. I think it’s extremely valuable – and what we’ve done over the years is we do after-action reports. (For example) We have a SWAT call or a critical incident. We go back after the fact and we look at everything that occurred to see if there is a lesson to be learned. We do it on every officer-involved shooting. We have what’s called officer-involved shooting review committees. We look at policy, equipment and training. Is there anything we could have done better? In those instances, we send out roll call training bulletins, or we change policy. We purchase equipment. We’ve done this a significant number of times, multiple times per year, probably seven or eight times a year. We do something of that significance.

“But I have to also be careful to not do those overly – where people start to feel you’re second-guessing their every move – or even when something goes really good and really right. And internally right now there’s a terrible feeling that this (the shootings) occurred. But there’s a real good feeling in terms of how it’s been handled. From our initial investigation, our response – he’s in custody. The feedback we’ve gotten from the families of the victims, the feedback we’ve gotten from citizens across the country. Police chiefs. New York (police commissioner) Jim O’Neill – I talked to him in Boston on Sunday. I talked to Jim McDonnell, the sheriff of Los Angeles County, this weekend. Across the nation – because it obviously went national and international – and I’ve gotten nothing but praise for how we responded, not only in catching the guy but in how we responded with the media in telling the story. So, for me to go back and say (Chief doesn’t complete his thought). Now, if there is any indication in there from anyone that there is some way we could have improved, then yes, I’ll do it.”

The Chief said some lessons for improvement might emerge as the investigation continues.

Dyer: “Every single case you learn from. But there’s a difference between learning something on these cases than doing a full-blown, exploratory exam or review that creates ‘Did we do something wrong, Chief?’ And I have to be careful with that.

“Right now I just finished writing an article to all of our officers for the (department news letter) about how impressed I was with their response – from the chaplains who worked quietly behind the scenes with the families, how we met in here with Zack Randalls’ wife and prayed with her and held hands and cried with her, and how we’ve done all the things that we’ve done with the victims and for the victims; how our crime scene investigators came to the scene, knew exactly what to do in terms of processing evidence. Our dispatcher, Judy Garza – I sent her a thank you for her incredible calm on the radio. I went back and listened to the radio traffic. Is there something we can improve on in radio traffic? It was near perfection, the way she coordinated all this information. Was there helter-skelter on the radio? There was absolutely none. There was calm. In fact, there was one particular detective that came on the air, so calm, and said, ‘I’ve located the victim; I’m doing this.’ He did life-saving efforts – ‘I’ll need this, I’ll need that.’ I’d like to say: If you’re going to have one of these incidents, this is the way you want the outcome to be.”

I suggested to the Chief that the April 18 killings were “Fresno’s first assassination, that this was a political crime. This is a different type of homicide in Fresno. We’ve been blessed that there haven’t been any assassinations. But this crime was designed to have a political ramification. It was political murder, and is having political ramifications. For that reason I thought there might be a post-incident analysis, one that says, ‘This is a different type of murder, fellow officers, and we need to rethink how this might happen again and what we might do differently.’ Could it be an assassination, Chief?”

Dyer: “I don’t know what an assassination necessarily means in terms of – I know what it means in terms of if you target a public official, or if the leader of a particular gang is assassinated. They have them (the gang leader) get on their knees and they shoot them in the head. They’re assassinated. Generally, those are the terms I’ve heard – it’s been political leadership, it’s been a person of status. The only thing that these individuals had in common, and not just the three that were shot and killed, not just Mark Gassett and David Jackson and Zach Randalls, the thing that they had in common was they were white males. They weren’t people of status. In fact, at least one of them, if not two of them, came from Catholic Charities. These were ordinary people. And you had an individual that came out of 934 East Mildreda and was shot at. You had three individuals at a bus stop who happened to be all white males who were shot at. You had a white male passenger and a Hispanic male driver in a PG&E truck where he looked directly at the driver, saw that he was Hispanic, walked around to the other side, and shot at very close range the white passenger. You see, this was a hate crime. He targeted white males. He said he was targeting white males. And so, under the statute, whether under the California statute or the federal statute, it is a hate crime. I think at this point in time everybody agrees. Now, you can say it’s terrorism. I totally agree. He terrorized this neighborhood. He terrorized this neighborhood for a cause. But you know, gang members terrorize neighborhoods for a cause.”

I asked if the Chief had anything else to add.

Dyer: “One thing you did say: Learning experience. (That would be) an awareness for officers to know that when individuals run from a scene, they could be close by. And in this case, we have an individual, at least based on what he said, who hid himself up on a roof. Now, are we going to go out and search every roof on a crime scene? We’re probably not able to. But at least officers will be aware that there are individuals that may be close by, hiding when they respond, and it could be somewhat of an ambush. And we know we’ve had that before. We’ve had officers – and we constantly remind them – not every 911 call is a real 911 call. Sometimes they just want to get you there. So, that’s something that might happen. And I’ve had two officers shot on an ambush call like that. So – constantly being aware of the dangers out there. Now, can you plan for every situation? Absolutely not. But we can be aware that people are out to get us.”

It was at this point, at the end of our interview, that I brought in Mr. and Mrs. Fresno. The police and the Brand Administration did everything they could to protect the city after the Motel 6 shooting. Still, three Fresnans died. The Chief wants his officers to be aware that some people out there “are out to get us,” and this reality has to be a lesson from what PD calls the “critical incident review.”

I said to the Chief: “Mr. and Mrs. Fresno do ‘critical incident reviews.’ They sit at the dining room table or the kitchen table, and when discussing something like this five-day tragedy in Fresno’s history, they may go, ‘OK, what do we do? How do we handle this? How will we respond? Well, it happened Downtown, and we all know the politics of Downtown over there at City Hall. Do we need to go there? When we do go there, who watches what when we have the kids? Or do we just pretend everything is fine?’ Maybe Mr. and Mrs. Fresno say, ‘We have a lot of responsibility. We need to rethink how we do this.’ That’s why I wondered if this was an assassination — because doing critical incident reviews around the kitchen table has political ramifications by the decisions that Mr. and Mrs. Fresno make. That’s why I brought the Brand Administration into our chat. Because if they’re not thinking along those lines, I think they’re making a mistake. Because there are critical incident reviews going on around the kitchen table. And I haven’t gotten anything from the Brand Administration that says, ‘Here’s how you should do your critical incident review on this, Mr. and Mrs. Fresno.’ That’s why I thought there might be a report to help Mr. and Mrs. Fresno.”

Dyer: “There is. And it is called a crime report. It is a report that is going to be exhaustive and extensive. It is being done for the purpose of prosecuting this individual so he can get the death sentence.”

George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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