Police officer fatally shoots man with sword

A police officer shot and killed a man armed with a samurai sword in downtown Modesto early Sunday, authorities said. The officer, who has been identified only as a woman with three years of experience, was not injured.

Modesto police spokesman Sgt. Brian Findlen said a Fire Department official called dispatchers at 5:04 a.m. to report a man with a sword who was acting "bizarre and unusual" outside the DoubleTree Hotel on K Street near Ninth Street.

An officer arrived soon after and "within minutes" encountered the man holding a sword that Findlen estimated was 2 to 3 feet long. The officer shot the 44-year-old man, who was taken to a hospital and died about an hour later.

The man and the officer were "relatively close" to each other when the shooting happened, Findlen said. He could not say whether the armed man charged the officer or exactly how close the two were, because the investigation has not been completed.

Encountering someone with a knife or other "bladed" weapon can be terrifying, Findlen said.

"It's a fear of many officers. And your bulletproof vest is not going to help," he said.

Knives are a "serious threat" to officer safety, he said, because the protective vests they wear are not designed to stop pointed objects.

Officers learn in training that someone with a knife or sword can cover more than 20 feet before an officer can draw a weapon. And, if shot, a suspect with a knife can continue to approach.

"It's not like you shoot someone and they drop down to the ground," Findlen said. "Usually there's still some fight in them."

Findlen was stabbed in the back with a 6-inch screwdriver at the downtown bus station in 1997 while trying to take someone into custody. In his case, he said, shooting wasn't an issue because he was attacked from behind.

Findlen said investigators are trying to determine why the man had the sword, what he was doing downtown and what led the officer to shoot.

Spotted by Fire Department chief

A Modesto Fire Department battalion chief was responding to an unrelated call at the DoubleTree when he spotted the man with the sword, Findlen said. He called it in to the 911 dispatch center shortly afterward.

The man was not shot on hotel property, Findlen said. He was hit either in the street or nearby. The shooting took place near the downtown bus station, convention center and the Brenden Theatres movie house. Police blocked off K Street between Ninth and 10th streets. Investigators searched for evidence outside the George Bakus hair salon, not far from the Starbucks coffee shop at 10th and K streets.

The officer who shot the man has been placed on paid administrative leave according to department procedure, Findlen said. Such leaves tend to last about three days but can vary based on the situation.

The Stanislaus County district attorney's office is investigating along with police detectives, which also is standard procedure.

Police said they will withhold the officer's name for 24 hours in accordance with departmental policy. The dead man's name will not be released until officials reach his family.

Findlen said the officer was alone at the scene because she was the first to arrive.

Officers receive various types of training about how to disarm suspects, he said. They practice on a shooting range every two months and learn hand-to-hand techniques designed to help officers escape hostage situations or attacks from behind.

"No officer wants to have to take someone's life, to be in this situation," Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden said. "It's difficult for our officer and for our community."

Samurai swords, which have a gently curving blade, were carried by Japanese samurai, warriors in the middle ages.

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Fatal Shooting

Modesto police officers have fatally shot 16 people since 1990:

  • Sunday -- An unidentified man acting "bizarre and unusual" was shot in downtown Modesto.
  • June 14, 2008 -- A Modesto police officer, dropped on the scene from a Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department helicopter, killed Sergio Casian Aguiar, 27, of Turlock. Aguiar had parked on a dark rural road and was beating his toddler son to death.
  • May 7, 2005 -- Joel Farias Jr. of San Jose, 22, fired on Modesto police officers before he was shot to death in John Muir Park. According to police and neighbors, Farias turned around as officers approached and fired several rounds. The officers shot back.
  • Aug. 22, 2004 -- Police investigating a report of a domestic disturbance killed Sammy Raymond Galvan, 22. Galvan reportedly confronted officers with a knife outside his home in the 1500 block of West Roseburg Avenue.
  • Nov. 13, 2003 -- Officers killed Saul Costilla Alvizar, 30, of Modesto in the driveway of a home in the 900 block of Snead Drive in southwest Modesto. Alvizar had turned and charged at officers with a knife, investigators said. Police said Alvizar had stabbed another man a few minutes before officers arrived.
  • April 22, 2003 -- Two officers killed Eustolio Aguilar after the 22-year-old Modesto man pulled a gun from his waistband, police said. The officers had stopped to talk to Aguilar and another man who were standing at Oregon Drive and Empire Avenue in the airport neighborhood.
  • April 17, 2003 -- Earl Foster Jr., 40, wanted for the slaying of a Pittsburg police officer, was killed in a shootout at a College Avenue shopping center. Four Modesto officers and at least four other agencies took part.
  • April 12, 2002 -- Police killed 35-year-old Jose Luis Quezada near downtown Modesto after he allegedly steered his van at them. Authorities said Quezada was a suspected drug dealer, wanted for three years.
  • Dec. 8, 2000 -- William "Billy" Hull was killed in his front yard on West Orangeburg Avenue after he rushed at police with a cap gun that resembled a .38-caliber revolver. Hull, 55, who a longtime friend said had been drinking and was despondent over a recent divorce, had called police that night and said he "was ready to die and to send someone to come get him."
  • Sept. 13, 2000 -- An officer with the Special Weapons and Tactics team shot and killed 11-year-old Alberto Sepulveda during a drug raid at the boy's McAdoo Avenue home in Highway Village. Multiple investigations ruled the shooting an accident. The SWAT team conducted the raid at the request of federal agents. The city eventually agreed to pay $2.55 million to the Sepulveda family, which also received $450,000 from the federal government.
  • Jan. 14, 2000 -- Officers killed 41-year-old Miguel Peralta Torres in a shootout inside Gabriel Jewelers in McHenry Village. The shootout wounded Detective Kevin Bertalotto, hit six times, and officer Chuck Cahoone, hit once. Both recovered.
  • April 24, 1999 -- Two officers fatally shot 30-year-old Kenneth Lee Martin, who stabbed his landlord to death minutes before being confronted by police. Police said they opened fire after Martin tried to stab his girlfriend.
  • Dec. 22, 1995 -- Officers shot and killed 19-year-old Dennis Taylor after the teen tried to get an officer's gun. Police were called to the residence after a neighbor heard fighting.
  • Oct. 15, 1993 -- Police shot to death 31-year-old Carlton Paul White after they came to White's house with a search warrant for possible drug violations.
  • March 5, 1993 -- An officer investigating a report of a fight and gunshots shot 23-year-old Timothy Scott Mitchell, who reportedly pointed a handgun at police. Mitchell died later in surgery at Memorial Medical Center.
  • Feb. 12, 1993 -- A police officer, responding to a report of shots fired, shot and killed Kenneth Ray Lamb, 37, after he pointed a loaded rifle at the officer.

  • Police ask anyone with information about the shooting to call Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. Tipsters can e-mail Crimestoppers, or text tips to CRIMES (274637) by typing "Tip704" plus the message. Tipsters can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.