A rookie Sacramento police officer who died during a domestic violence call was ambushed by a gunman and had no chance of surviving her wounds, police said Friday.
Tara O’Sullivan, 26, was shot several times and one of the wounds was “non-survivable,” Sgt. Vance Chandler said at a late-night news conference during which police released police body camera video of the Wednesday night confrontation.
The department has been under scrutiny because it took 45 minutes to rescue the downed officer, who died at a hospital.
Police Chief Daniel Hahn said the gunman had stashed two assault rifles , a shotgun and a handgun in different rooms and opened fire as officers knocked on the door.
“The officers were essentially ambushed,” Hahn said.
O’Sullivan was standing behind her training officer, Daniel Chip, when she was struck, police said.
Bodycam footage from Chip showed him approaching a detached garage with gun drawn and knocking, calling out: “Hey, Adel, Police Department… You’re not under arrest, you’re not in trouble.”
The officer then opens the screen door and proceeds to cautiously enter the open doorway, asking Adel if he is inside and repeating: “You’re not in trouble, dude.”
At that moment, more than 20 rapid shots are heard. The officer runs for cover and as shots continue to ring out, he radios that a high-powered rifle is being fired and adds: “Officer down! Officer down!”
Police said the gunman opened fire behind the officers from a house, where he had barricaded the front door.
On Friday, Adel Sambrano Ramos, 45, was charged with murder, the attempted murder of a fellow officer, and possessing two illegal assault rifles. The charges include special circumstances, including that he killed her while lying in wait, that would allow authorities to seek the death penalty. However, that decision is months away and Gov. Gavin Newsom has imposed a moratorium on executions.
Ramos is set to appear for his first court appearance on Monday. Public defender Norm Dawson said he couldn’t comment until he receives more details in the case.
Police described the gunman as strategically shooting at officers for hours, using all the weapons in different rooms. He surrendered after an eight-hour standoff.
Hahn said patrol car doors and protective vests couldn’t stop the high-powered rifle rounds and if officers had tried to rescue their fallen colleague before an armored vehicle arrived, “we would have additional officers murdered at that day.”
The armored vehicle also was peppered with gunfire, Hahn said.
“This was an ambush-style attack on Sacramento police officers that lasted for hours. Under the most dangerous and trying circumstances, our officers performed admirably,” the chief said.
Nine days before the officer’s killing, a judge issued a warrant for Ramos’s arrest for failing to appear on a charge of battering a young woman.
Police said he opened fire as O’Sullivan and other officers helped an unidentified woman clear out her belongings from the garage of a North Sacramento home.
Police earlier had found two guns in a neighboring home associated with Ramos and so a total of five officers went to the garage, where they were ambushed, police said.
Authorities said lower-level warrants like the one Ramos faced rarely lead police to actively seek an arrest.
California Police Chiefs Association President Ronald Lawrence said that’s typical, but in this case tragically allowed the “appalling” slaying of an officer.
“I cannot tell you even in my (30-year) career where we had a misdemeanor bench warrant and we went out looking for somebody. That’s just not practical,” said Lawrence, now chief of the Citrus Heights department in suburban Sacramento.
“In this scenario, now you’ve got somebody who was wanted — whether they were for misdemeanors or felonies is irrelevant — and then he takes an officer’s life. That is appalling,” he said. “Clearly you had a person who had a propensity for violence and wasn’t held accountable for earlier crimes.”
It is not uncommon for young rookies, like O’Sullivan, to be sent even on notoriously dangerous domestic violence calls as they experience different aspects of police work as part of the training process.
The Sacramento Police Department’s newest officers, who were sworn in Thursday night, said they practice what to do if they are ambushed during traffic stops or building searches. Newly minted Officer Berlinda Cato said they have an entire class on domestic violence and train with different scenarios on handling domestic violence calls.
“We understand that domestic violence calls — well, any call for that matter — can turn south really quick, can be really bad really quick,” said new Officer Thom Panen. “You can’t really train for every eventuality. You just have to keep your head on a swivel and make decisions as they come.”
O’Sullivan graduated from the police academy in December. She was expected to be on her own in a couple of weeks.
Ramos has a history of domestic violence restraining orders, but most recently was charged in November with simple battery against a minor woman in September.
Defense attorney and former prosecutor William Portanova, who is not associated with the case, said simple battery “means a slap or a push or a shove, but there’s no bruises or stitches or bleeding and nothing is broken.”
Ramos failed to appear in February and a bench warrant was issued then withdrawn when he resurfaced. Another was issued June 10 and was active when O’Sullivan was shot.
Bench warrants, which are issued by judges, are generally a lower priority even among warrants. A higher priority is usually given to search warrants, used to seek evidence of a crime, or arrest warrants, issued by a judge when there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.
Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Sgt. Tess Deterding said many times deputies won’t arrest lower-level fugitives even if they discover an outstanding warrant, because the offender would simply be released again with a new order to appear in court.
“I think it largely depends on the scenario at the time. Is this a person that needs to go to jail right now? Is this a solution to the problem that I have?” she said. “A lot of time the deputy will say to the person, ‘You ought to go down and take care of this warrant'” without making an arrest.
“Citizens are paying the price,” Portanova said, yet it’s a reality of understaffed police agencies that so many warrants remain outstanding.
“Counties like Sacramento process several thousand of cases per month in front of dozens of judges. There are a lot of no shows, especially in misdemeanor cases,” he said. “They start with the felonies and work their way down. And frankly the volume is so high and the staffing is so low that it’s rare for them to get down to the misdemeanors.”