3.20.2010

TS - 'I could have been killed so quickly'; Thursday shootings in Eureka believed to be linked

'I could have been killed so quickly'; Thursday shootings in Eureka believed to be linked

Authorities now believe that the Eureka man killed in an officer-involved shooting Thursday was on the run, having just fired two shots at an acquaintance in an apartment complex parking lot about a block away from the fatal shooting.

David Sequoia, 25, also known as David Gabriel Barger, was shot and killed by Eureka police officers Thursday morning during a struggle in a carport in an ally off Summer Street. Just minutes before the shooting, there was a report of two shots fired on California Street.

Eureka Police Chief Garr Nielsen said Friday that authorities now believe Sequoia was involved in an argument with an acquaintance of his, when he fired two shots before fleeing the California Street scene on foot, and eventually trying to take refuge in the carport.

”Allegedly, (Sequoia) had stolen some money from this person and there was a dispute over that theft,” Nielsen said, adding that the theft was allegedly in excess of $1,500 and that Sequoia was chased from the scene while still armed with a handgun. “Someone was pursuing him on foot. ... One witness saw the pursuit, and actually called out to the man chasing Sequoia and asked why he was chasing someone with a gun.”

Nielsen said he believes Sequoia was attempting to hide from his pursuer when he ducked into the carport off of Summer Street, which is owned by Kris Coon.

In an interview Friday, Coon said he heard a rustling in his carport and -- thinking someone was again attempting to steal his tools -- came out of his house to confront the man. He said he then found Sequoia, who looked scared and was wearing a backpack.

”I was fighting him, thinking he was stealing from my carport,” Coon said. “But, once I slammed him to the ground, I saw him reaching for the gun.”

A deadly struggle ensued.

Coon said he grabbed the barrel of the gun in Sequoia's hand, desperately trying to keep it pointed away from him and his house, where his 12-year-old daughter and wife were inside. Coon's wife quickly dialed 911.

The two struggled in the carport for about 30 seconds before police -- already en route to the scene of the California Street shooting -- arrived. Coon said the police initially didn't know the particulars of the struggle and attempted to separate Coon and Sequoia, using their knees and arms to try to pry the two men apart.

Once the officers saw the gun, which was still in Sequoia's hands, Coon said they instantly began yelling at Sequoia to drop the weapon. Nielsen said officers issued numerous verbal commands, and also attempted to physically wrestle the weapon from Sequoia.
Finally, Coon said, his grip on the barrel of the weapon began to weaken, and he felt the gun turning toward him.

”The cop made a split-second decision,” Coon said, his voice trailing off. “The barrel of that gun was getting closer and closer to being pointed at me. They saw that I was about to be shot, and they took (Sequoia's) life trying to save mine. That's all there was to it. They did a damn good job.”

Coon said he saw one shot to Sequoia's head, and then Sequoia slumped to the ground.
Nielsen said Friday that officers fired two shots in the exchange, but declined to comment on whether both rounds were fired by one officer or whether two officers discharged their weapons. The shots, Nielsen said, were fired “one very quickly after the other.” He said the officers involved were scheduled to be interviewed by the California Department of Justice on Friday, and that more information would likely be available early next week.

Nielsen said it's Eureka Police Department policy to have the Department of Justice investigate any deadly force incidents. The chief declined to identify the officers involved in the shooting, saying it's department policy to not release the names of officers involved in deadly force incidents for several days.

”While I think it's important that the identities of the officers be released, I also think it's fair to give them some time to deal with the situation privately first,” Nielsen said, adding that he thinks it's right to give the officers a chance to notify their families, including extended family living outside the area, before their names are made public.

Nielsen said the officers have been placed on administrative leave, where they will stay until they feel ready to return to duty. At that time, he said they will have to undergo a psychiatric evaluation before returning to work. Deadly force incidents generally take a huge toll on the officers involved, Nielsen said, adding that he spoke to the two officers involved in this shooting a short time afterward.

”When I talked to them, I think they were both still in a state of shock, but clearly they were upset about what had happened,” Nielsen said.

Coon, who said he saw the gun go off “about 12 inches” from his face, said the whole thing has been like a dream.

”I could have been killed so quickly,” he said. “If it wasn't for those cops making a split-second decision to shoot this guy in the head, I would have been shot. Eureka PD did a damn great job, and I'll stand up and tell that to anyone.”

Humboldt County Deputy Coroner Charlie Comer said his office is not releasing any details about the shooting, but said a forensic autopsy is scheduled to take place on Sequoia's remains Tuesday morning in Shasta County.

This isn't the first time Sequoia has been in the public eye for a firearm-related incident. He was acquitted by a Humboldt County jury in October 2008 of a murder charge, stemming from the 2003 shooting death of Rex Shinn. Standing trial under the name of Barger, Sequoia was accused of shooting Shinn twice in the head and once in the neck with a .357 revolver at point blank range on the premises of a Southern Humboldt marijuana growing operation.

The jury acquitted Sequoia of a charge of first-degree murder, but hung on the lesser included offense of second-degree murder. In November 2008, Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Max Cardoza announced that he had decided not to re-try Sequoia on the second-degree murder charge, saying jurors in the case told him that they were concerned about credibility issues with some of the prosecution's key witnesses, many of whom had felony criminal records and were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony in the case.

According to court records, Sequoia also faced two other attempted murder charges and two allegations of felony assault in relation to a 2004 incident in which an alleged attempt to trade firearms for drugs went awry. One of the attempted murder charges was thrown out due to insufficient evidence in 2006, and it's unclear what came of the other charges. A call placed to the prosecutor handling the case was not immediately returned by the Times-Standard's deadline.

As the dust began to settle from Thursday's shooting and DOJ investigators continued their work, Nielsen said that based on the information currently available, he believes his officers acted appropriately in the face of a grave threat.

”Were it not for the actions of the officers in this case, I think either (Coon) or one of my officers would have been shot,” Nielsen said. “Sequoia had already demonstrated he was not afraid to use his gun.”

Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or
tgreenson@times-standard.com.
Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard
Posted: 03/20/2010 01:32:25 AM PDT