Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office faces queries in fatal shootings
Deputies were unaware Elliot Rodger owned guns when they visited him because they had not checked the statewide gun-ownership database. They also had not watched the videos that Rodger had posted.
The New York Times
LOS ANGELES — A week after Elliot Rodger’s rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., left six other college students dead and 13 people wounded, state lawmakers are calling for an investigation of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office’s previous contact with Rodger. Some are calling for wholesale changes to how law-enforcement officers respond to calls that someone could be a threat to himself or to others.
Sheriff’s deputies visited Rodger on April 30, three weeks before his rampage, after receiving a call from his mother, who had been concerned by videos he posted online.
At the time, Rodger, 22, had already legally bought at least two firearms, which were registered in his name. But sheriff’s deputies were unaware of that when they visited Rodger because they had not checked the statewide gun-ownership database. They also had not watched the videos that Rodger had posted.
“When questioned by the deputies about reported disturbing videos he had posted online, Rodger told them he was having trouble fitting in socially in Isla Vista and the videos were merely a way of expressing himself,” the sheriff’s office said in a written statement. “Sheriff’s deputies concluded that Rodger was not an immediate threat to himself or others, and that they did not have cause to place him on an involuntary mental-health hold, or to enter or search his residence. Therefore, they did not view the videos or conduct a weapons check on Rodger.”
A few weeks later, Rodger stabbed his two roommates and another man to death in his apartment. He then shot 16 more people, three of them fatally, and died of a self-inflicted gunshot just outside the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Kelly Hoover, a spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, would not elaborate on why no weapons check was done, and declined to confirm whether the department was conducting an internal investigation of the visit.
But Hannah-Beth Jackson, the state senator who represents Santa Barbara, said a comprehensive investigation of the deputies’ visit to Rodger’s apartment — either internal or external — was needed to give the public a full accounting of the events leading up to the massacre.
“The community will not tolerate any half-baked approach to dealing with this,” Jackson said.
Law-enforcement agencies across California have said it is not necessarily standard practice to check the state gun registry before any check by officers on someone’s well-being. And the sheriff’s office has defended the six deputies who visited Rodger in April.
“Based on the information reviewed thus far, the sheriff’s office has determined that the deputies who responded handled the call in a professional manner consistent with state law and department policy,” Hoover said in an email Saturday.
Rodger had posted at least 22 videos before the attack, but none were overtly suicidal or violent until his final “retribution” video the night of the attack.
The sheriff’s department said Rodger uploaded his final video to YouTube detailing his “Day of Retribution” and stating his plans and reasons for the killings at 9:17 p.m. on the day of the shootings, May 23. One minute later, he emailed a lengthy written manifesto to his mother, father and therapist that also detailed his plans and contempt for everyone he felt was responsible for his sexual frustrations and overall miserable existence.
The first gunshots were reported at 9:27 p.m. The rampage was over and Rodger dead eight minutes later.
It was another half-hour before the therapist saw the emailed manifesto.
After Rodger’s rampage in Isla Vista, Jackson co-wrote legislation that would create a “gun-violence restraining order.” If relatives or friends alerted law enforcement that someone posed a threat to themselves or to others, law enforcement would be able to petition a judge to prohibit the person from purchasing firearms.
Jackson said she planned to introduce further legislation designed to keep guns from people who could become violent, including a major overhaul in protocol for how authorities follow up on calls from relatives expressing worry that someone could hurt himself or others.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.