Wednesday, December 19, 2001
Sheriff’s Report on Santa Clarita Shootout Asks More Questions Than It Answers
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The results of a three-month investigation by the Sheriff’s Department released yesterday on a late summer shootout in a Santa Clarita housing tract which left a sheriff’s deputy and the suspect dead asked more questions than it answered, and the report failed to reach a conclusion.
Numerous questions that can only be answered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which was in charge of the operation, must be answered before the Sheriff’s Department investigation can be complete, according to a statement released by the department.
“Until then, we cannot adequately assess the whole situation or operation,” the statement said.
Most notably the department wants to know if the ATF jeopardized the operation, and placed a sheriff’s deputies in fatal danger, by violating its own plan once 35-year-old James Allen Beck barricaded himself inside of his Stevenson Ranch home.
Also in question is whether the ATF considered other tactical options for serving the warrant such as “surveillance” or serving the warrant away from Beck’s house and if the operation met all ATF standards for planning, operations and implementation. The department also wants to know if the ATF considered “worst case scenario contingency planning.”
The ATF is currently conducting its own investigation of the incident, a sheriff’s department spokesman said.
The report, which was a result of an internal investigation of the Sheriff’s Department, was presented to the county Board of Supervisors yesterday afternoon in closed session. Sheriff Lee Baca did not attend the briefing, Deputy Darren Harris said, but Undersheriff William T. Stonich was present.
Supervisors did not immediately return calls for comment.
The gunfight began early Aug. 31 after federal agents, along with two assisting sheriff’s deputies from the Santa Clarita Valley Station, tried to execute a federal search warrant Beck.
When agents tried to serve the warrant Beck barricaded himself inside his home and refused to come out.
The gun battle went on for four hours with 18 sheriff’s deputies and seven federal agents firing at least 555 rounds of ammunition, according to the report. It is unknown exactly how many shots were fired by Beck.
Beck had three prior convictions for burglary, receiving stolen property and possession of an assault weapon.
Among those questions the department still needs answered is did the ATF conduct a thorough threat assessment of Beck? Was the threat assessment accurate?
According to the department’s report, Beck had “hundreds, if not thousands,” of rounds available to him in his house.
ATF agents begin surveillance on Beck’s home on Brooks Circle at 6:30 a.m., almost two hours before attempting to serve the warrant.
Two U.S. Marshals, eight ATF agents and an assisting sheriff’s deputy and sergeant arrived on the scene at 8:20 a.m. with ATF agents deploying around the house and sheriff personnel stand by their vehicles which are parked in front of Beck’s house.
It was not until Beck barricaded himself in his house that the supervising ATF agent authorized his agents to try to ram Beck’s door open. After several unsuccessful attempts, an ATF agent tries to enter a window and a shot is fired from inside the house.
According to the report, Beck begins firing from an upstairs window and authorities begin exchanging fire with him after an ATF agent hiding behind a wheel of an SUV in the driveway yells he is hit.
The sheriff’s sergeant on the scene calls the Santa Clarita station and asks for assistance. Sheriff’s Deputy Hagop “Jake” Kuredjian was among the many officers who rushed to the scene to respond to a call of shots fired.
Just five minutes after his arrival, Kuredjian is shot in the head by Beck while behind a SUV parked next door to the suspect’s house.
After exchanging gunfire with Beck members of the Special Enforcement Bureau SWAT Team fire tear gas canisters into the house at 11:42 a.m. and minutes later the second story of the house begins to burn. As it burns, gun shots can still be heard coming from inside the house until the roof collapsed.
Beck’s remains were later found in the debris.
The Sheriff’s Department is currently in the process of developing a Memorandum of Understanding with the ATF and the U.S. Marshal’s Service to establish protocols for serving future search and arrest warrants.
The department will also participate in mutual training exercises with the ATF and U.S. Marshal to practice for future joint operations.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company