Modesto police won't say why swordsman was shot

Details about a violent predawn confrontation Sunday between a troubled man with a red-handled samurai sword and the Modesto policewoman who killed him began emerging Monday, though authorities would not reveal what they've learned about why or how it happened.

Modesto police identified the dead man as Richard Phillip Robles Jr. of Modesto. Family members said Robles, who celebrated his 45th birthday two days before his death, recently was afraid someone was out to get him.

Fire Chief Jim Miguel said a battalion chief told him Robles was "pacing back and forth" and leaning on what first appeared to be a long stick outside the DoubleTree Hotel at Ninth and K streets. Some people stuck in an elevator there had prompted a fire call. The stick turned out to be a sword measuring more than 3 feet in length, with a blade of about 2½ feet, estimated from close-ups of Bee photos.

Curved-blade samurai swords were carried by Japanese warriors in the Middle Ages.

Police identified the shooter Monday as officer Latisha Leap, 34, who has worked three years for the department. She was placed on administrative leave, following policy in such incidents. Authorities said Sunday she was uninjured; on Monday, they would not comment on how she was doing or provide a photograph.

A neighbor said Leap's pickup was parked in front of her Turlock home, but that she also rides a motorcycle. The Bee was unable to reach Leap on her home phone.

Stanislaus County records reveal Leap previously was a deputy probation officer for Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties and worked as a group supervisor at Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall. She referred to "many hours donated to fund-raising and collecting donations for minors who otherwise wouldn't have much" in a 2003 application to join the Juvenile Hall Service League, which no longer exists.

"She's very quiet, just sticks to herself and waves as she goes by," said neighbor Jackie Ott.

Fire battalion chief Hugo Patino led a contingent of 16 firefighters on three engines and two firetrucks responding to a fire alarm at the DoubleTree shortly after 4 a.m. Sunday.

It turned out to be a false alarm and occupants were not evacuated, though "a couple of people were stuck in an elevator," Patino said. He didn't know if that was related to the alarm.

Acting 'kind of weird'

Outside, Patino noticed "a guy acting kind of weird, pacing back and forth and leaning up against a car," Miguel said Patino told him. "It's not unusual to see people wandering around at all times of night in downtown Modesto, so (Patino) didn't think about it at first. But he continued to act weird."

The firefighters rushed off moments later to douse flames that claimed the life of a man inside a recreational vehicle in southeast Modesto. At 5:02 a.m., Patino recalled the suspicious man at the hotel and, typing to an emergency dispatcher, suggested police check him out, Miguel said.

"He said it kind of stuck with him and he thought it was kind of strange," Miguel said. "(Patino) felt there was something really weird about the person. He said it just kind of haunted him."

What happened next is the subject of an ongoing joint probe by police detectives and the Stanislaus County district attorney's office. Police Sgt. Brian Findlen declined to speculate how long it will take.

In a video interview, Findlen said: "This is an extremely difficult split- second decision our officers are faced with. We train for these types of circumstances."

He confirmed Monday that carrying a sword is listed as a misdemeanor in the Modesto Municipal Code.

But Findlen would not comment on specifics, including the blade measurement, how many times Leap discharged her weapon or how many times Robles was shot, the distance between them, whether security cameras filmed the shooting, whether anyone saw the shooting or whether anyone had responded to police's public request for information.

An employee at the nearby Starbucks said the store opens at 6:30 a.m. on Sundays and no workers saw the shooting.

Patino said he was surprised to learn that his tip ended in tragedy.

"I'm glad the police officer wasn't hurt and no citizens were hurt, but it was an unfortunate loss of life," he said.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390.

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