In what could have turned into deadly exchanges, police were able to use crisis intervention techniques to help defuse two separate incidents with reportedly suicidal subjects Tuesday — including one man who is now facing multiple felonies after firing at Redwood City officers and into occupied homes.
San Mateo and Redwood City police dispatched officers with specialty Crisis Intervention Training to assist with the distraught subjects who both called 911 in their respective cities Tuesday.
In San Mateo, a man said he was armed with a gun and a knife near the downtown Caltrain station and was detained and taken to a hospital for evaluation. The Redwood City incident ended with a resident being charged for assault with a deadly weapon and for shooting into an occupied dwelling after several tense hours on the 500 block of Harrison Avenue.
The peaceful outcomes were welcomed by the departments and come after more officers have undergone CIT programs following the 2014 deaths of two people in San Mateo County who were killed while reportedly in a mental health crisis.
The specialty training teaches first responders techniques on how to help defuse a situation and recognize when mental health may be a factor. Redwood City police Sgt. Sean Hart said this type of program, along with de-escalation training, was vital in resolving what could have been a tragic incident.
“We had some veteran officers and some highly-trained officers,” Hart said. “You can see incidents like today, where all this training pays off.”
In Redwood City, 57-year-old Frank Leon was taken into custody after more than six-hour standoff during which he shot at officers and into his neighbors occupied homes, according to police.
Leon first called around 1:30 a.m. March 7 and indicated he had taken pills and intended to end his life. Officers responded for a welfare check at Leon’s home on the 500 block of Harrison Avenue when the man began firing a semi-automatic handgun, according to police.
While neighbors were evacuated and police established a perimeter, Leon reportedly told one person fleeing the scene he intended to kill officers, according to police. Leon continued to fire numerous shots at officers and into two occupied apartments where two families, including children, were sleeping, according to police.
Over the course of several hours, Leon allegedly continued to fire shots from his apartment. At one point, he attempted to lure officers into his apartment while claiming he was unable to walk and out of ammunition, according to police.
The Redwood City department’s SWAT team and its Crisis Negotiation Unit were dispatched to assist and police were eventually able to persuade Leon to leave his apartment. Even while exiting the residence, Leon allegedly attempted to provoke officers to shoot him by acting as though he was carrying a concealed weapon, according to police.
“Very early on they recognized some red flags,” Hart said, adding officers showed tremendous restraint but recognized “this individual may be trying to set up the suicide-by-cop situation we see too frequently.”
The specialty-trained officers continued speaking with Leon who finally surrendered without officers needing to use force on him. He was then taken to a hospital for psychological evaluation. The entire situation ended at 7:52 a.m., according to police.
“In these situations, if you can slow things down and get time and distance, sometimes you can bring them to a peaceful resolution versus having to use force,” Hart said. “Redwood City takes this very seriously. We’ve used the force-option simulator [training], we’ve done de-escalation training, we’ve done CIT. … It’s really a department philosophy because you really have to work at it because it takes a lot of training and discipline.”
A subsequent search of the home revealed Leon had left the loaded gun inside, along with a significant amount of ammunition, according to police. After receiving medical clearance Tuesday, Leon was arrested on two felony charges of assault with a deadly weapon and shooting into an occupied dwelling, according to police.
The incident prompted the nearby McKinley Middle School and North Star Academy to be canceled for the day, and four families were temporarily displaced during the standoff, according to police.
In San Mateo, police responded to their own 911 call from a distraught man who also indicated he wanted to commit suicide by cop, according to San Mateo police.
The 24-year-old transient, whose name is being withheld, first called around 9:22 a.m. saying he was armed with a handgun and a knife near the downtown Caltrain station, said San Mateo police Sgt. Amanda Von Glahn.
CIT officers and negotiators provided assistance and were able to talk to the man who eventually disclosed he was near the intersection of Villa Terrace at the Caltrain tracks. When located, it was determined he was unarmed and he was transported to a hospital for a mental health evaluation, Von Glahn said.
The department’s downtown unit is expected to work with county mental health providers to help ensure the man receives further assistance after his release from the hospital, she added.
Noting the case started out as an apparent attempt for the person to commit suicide by cop, Von Glahn said having all San Mateo officers trained in crisis intervention is critical to safely resolving these types of encounters.
“We find [CIT] to be a necessity to help de-escalate incidents similar to these,” Von Glahn said. “We definitely take these situations extremely seriously and make sure they are treated as such. And we’re always hoping for that successful resolution like we had today.”