By RANDI ROSSMANN © 2999, Santa Rosa Press Democrat Staff Writer
WINDSOR - Two Windsor police officers shot and killed a woman Monday evening after entering a home in search of a woman reportedly being held against her will, authorities said.
Officers kicked in the door of the Windsor Victorian house and found a woman in a darkened bedroom, pointing what appeared to be a gun at them, police said.
The officers fired, wounding 31-year-old Erin McDonald, who died less than six hours later at Sutter Medical Center in Santa Rosa.
Police entered the home after receiving the call from a woman who said that she was tied up on the second floor of the home and that there was a woman on the first floor with a gun and a knife. The woman hung up after the 5:30 p.m. call and attempts by dispatchers to reach her went unanswered, authorities said.
Windsor Police Chief Dave Sederholm said officers surrounded the house at 8635 Old Redwood Highway before entering and confronting McDonald in the downstairs bedroom.
The two officers involved in the shooting were identified as Mark Fuston and Tom Howard.
Both have worked more than five years for the Sheriff's Department, including five years for Howard in Windsor and about three for Fuston in Windsor. Both officers were placed on administrative leave pending the investigation.
Authorities said no one else was found in the house. They would not speculate if the dead woman actually made the call. Authorities said a gun was found in the bedroom.
There was the scent of natural gas inside and outside the house, police said, and Windsor fire officials were called to turn off the gas.
Witnesses said officers kicked in the door and broke out a window before shooting the woman, the first police shooting in the county since July 1998.
McDonald was taken by ambulance to Sutter, where she underwent emergency surgery Monday night. Sederholm confirmed McDonald died just before 11 p.m. Windsor police would not say how many times she had been shot or how many shots had been fired. She was hit in the upper torso.
Witnesses, however, said they heard many shots.
"We heard two gunshots and a pause, and then five or six more," said Ruthine Bawden, who was on her porch barbecuing as the scene unfolded across the street.
"The guns were pulled right ready" as officers slowly moved to the front of the house, she said. Two Windsor officers and a CHP officer were first to arrive at the scene. A sheriff's deputy also responded "because of the type of call," Sheriff's Lt. Jay Farmer said.
A 19-year-old neighbor said he saw police arrive and went outside to see what was happening. "They kicked in the door, they broke out a window and fired through the window," said Dominick DeBari.
Police disputed that account, saying the shooting occurred in the downstairs bedroom.
DeBari said he heard police first bang on the door, but there was no answer, so they kicked it in.
"It is odd to see. This is a peaceful town," said Cory DeBari, Dominick Debari's father.
McDonald was the mother of at least one child, who was at a neighbor's house at the time of the confrontation, police officials said.
Neighbors said the woman rented the home and had lived there less than six months with her boyfriend, her child and perhaps one other child.
The boyfriend arrived home from work Monday night to find the house, a large, yellow Victorian with gingerbread trim, cordoned off, yellow police tape surrounding the property and officers directing traffic away from the scene.
Because Windsor officers were involved in the shooting, the investigation is being led by the Santa Rosa Police Department, with help from officers from other agencies. The county protocol is to call in another agency when there is an officer-involved shooting.
The last shooting by a police officer in Sonoma County was in July 1998, when a sheriff's deputy wounded an ex-convict threatening to kill himself and possibly harm his 2-year-old son.
Police shot and killed seven men in the county between April 1995 and March 1998. Santa Rosa police officers were involved in five of the shootings. Rohnert Park and Petaluma officers took part in the other shootings.
Each shooting was ruled justifiable by investigating agencies.
Community activists were galvanized by the 1997 shooting of 33-year-old Kuan Chung Kao, who was killed outside his Rohnert Park home as he threatened officers with a 6-foot wooden pole. As a result of their outcry, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights held a February 1998 hearing in Santa Rosa, but the commission has yet to release its report.
Staff Writer Robert Digitale contributed to this story.
U.S. CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION HOLDING UP THE SANTA ROSA REPORT FOR 2 YEARS! WHY?
In February 1998, the United States Civil Rights Commission held public hearings in Santa Rosa. Many individuals testified about police brutality, the kidnapping and abuse of children, the "legal" kidnapping of a child via court decisions, home invasions, and the death of an Asian American at the hands of the police in Rohnert Park. Within six months after the February 1998 hearings, the report of the commission was to be issued. THE REPORT HAS STILL NOT BEEN MADE PUBLIC. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat through Lori Davis, reporter has filed a Freedom of Information Request to obtain the report. WHY ISN'T THE REPORT PUBLIC?
The United States Civil Rights Commission voted unanimously to conduct a hearing in Santa Rosa, California in response to a very high number, per capita, of deaths involving the local law enforcement agencies. The panel wanted to learn more about the region's unusual number of "critical incidents", i.e. deaths. WHO IS HIDING WHAT HERE? WILL HEADS ROLL WHEN THE REPORT HITS THE PRESS? STAY TUNED!