Six law enforcement officers were shot, one killed in a Colorado ambush. Two civilians in a neighboring apartment were also shot …
That was part of the evening news report I heard and took with me on a New Year’s Eve ride-along with Plumas County Sheriff’s Sgt. Matthew Beatley.
At a little before 6 p.m. on Dec. 31, we introduced ourselves and shook hands on the front steps of the Sheriff’s Office in Quincy. It was the first question I asked the 13-year law enforcement veteran. “Did you hear about the shootings in Denver?”
He’d heard something about it. I intended to ask him more about his thoughts concerning the incident and trainings he might have participated in locally, but the evening and the opportunity just seemed to slip away.
With live music here, a dance there, bonfires and fireworks reported sporadically throughout Plumas County, New Year’s Eve and the first day of 2018 could be considered relatively peaceful.
Climbing into Beatley’s Ford Explorer I learn we’re heading off toward Indian Valley and then Chester and the Lake Almanor areas. We would be crossing paths with Deputy Chris Driscoll and any Quincy Area California Highway Patrol officers assigned to duty that night.
On this ride along — by no means my first — I had an opportunity to get to know a little about another officer.
The sergeant represents at least two generations of law enforcement officers. It’s a small county and I covered the sheriff’s department years earlier so knowing of Matt and his brother Jeremy was one thing, but I also used to work with their father, now retired Undersheriff Michael Beatley. Therefore I wasn’t surprised when I asked the sergeant how long he had been interested in becoming a peace officer.
His response was that he thought he knew fairly early in his childhood. Perhaps as early as the age of 5, he was interested in following in his dad’s footsteps.
That didn’t mean Beatley immediately set out to pursue that career. For eight years he was involved in the restaurant management business. Becoming disillusioned with that career, Beatley said he thought about becoming a game warden, but that didn’t work out.
He wasn’t disappointed when he was offered a job as a Plumas County deputy. Training in Butte County followed.
Beatley’s now working his way up the chain of command and has been a sergeant for about the past six years.
It’s the tail end of the year and it’s cold outside. Not much traffic is on the roads and only in certain places are people even evident on this night.
It’s still early as we meander through Taylorsville. The local tavern shows signs of life. Pulled pork sandwiches are promised a little later. A dance with a DJ will happen in the Grange Hall.
A quick check through town and Beatley moves on to Greenville. Here even the local bar seems a little quiet. But it’s early. Only a few cars are parked outside the Main Street location, but a man in a black cowboy hat indicates he’d like to talk.
It seems the first unfriendly drunk has been run off from the place already that night. The man in the hat said an older man who had had too much to drink was threatening to knock his teeth in. He didn’t seem too concerned that the man would make good on his promise, but it was something he didn’t want to be bothered about when he was more interested in seeing others have a good time.
While still listening to the man in the hat, Beatley nodded to a CHP officer who pulled up on the driver’s side of the Explorer in the middle of the street.
Then it was off to cruise again through the streets. Up and down one roadway after the next, perhaps through an alley here and there, I thought the Christmas decorations looked a little forlorn. Just a week earlier I’m sure the very same ones seemed far more splendid.
With a final trip through Greenville, Beatley headed toward Chester. Mile-wise it isn’t all that far away, but at night when the traditional landmarks aren’t as visible it seems to take longer.
Chester’s not a whole lot busier. Beatley comments that the town now sports two bars. People are arriving at one of them and a small-enclosed trailer behind a car is parked right in front and indicates music of some kind.
After cruising up and down some of the streets, making sure that residential areas are secure, we head to spots around Lake Almanor.
Here and there around parts of the large lake are other communities and clusters of businesses. We pass one where there are quite a few cars, but the activities seem to be well contained inside. It’s quiet and Beatley begins to yawn.
The night shift is what Beatley’s worked for years. With two young daughters, his schedule allows a few hours of sleep when his shift ends and before his wife heads to work. And then he’s ready to attend to their needs throughout the day.
At some point, dispatch directs units, including medical, to a residence for what’s known as a welfare check. A woman was concerned about her son’s wellbeing. It seems the man is a veteran and has post-traumatic stress disorder. According to a web site devoted to PTSD, 540,000 soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan have it. The symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, depression and confusion.
Beatley heads toward the address dispatch provided. Using the outside searchlight mounted on the front side of his car, he drives up and down the street seeking the right address. A quick check again with dispatch and we’re soon pulling up to the right place.
It’s here we meet up with Deputy Chris Driscoll, another officer based in Quincy, but who frequently covers this part of the county. Flashlights out, they check out the house and then knock loudly on the front door. It seems to take a while for the man to open the door. I think I hear yelling, but it isn’t coming from either officer.
Before long, a big, boxy red ambulance pulls up right in front of the address. I suppose they’ve quickly evaluated the man’s mental state and whether weapons are apparent and then allow medical workers to do their job.
It’s a few days later when I ask Beatley about his state of mind when he answers a call. He said he tries to stay alert for surprises — possible ambush situations. It’s “in all our guys’ head to be prepared for that,” he said.
I ask because I’m still hearing reports about the incident near Denver. It was a disturbance call that sent Colorado officers to a housing complex earlier that same day.
In reality, it was an ambush. According to national news reports, law enforcement officers responded to the apartment of Matthew Riehl of Highland Ranch, a Denver suburb. When they returned to the complex a few hours later to investigate a second report, Riehl apparently talked to officers for a while before barricading himself in a bedroom where he’d stored guns and ammunition. He opened fire shooting 100 rounds at officers and anyone in the surrounding area.
Initial reports of Riehl showed that he was a former veteran who served in Iraq briefly. Apparently, he was attending a local law school, but officials there indicated they had concerns with the individual.
This doesn’t mean that all veterans have PTSD or are a threat, but regular training scenarios offered even at small sheriff’s department like the one in Plumas County, let officers know not to let their guard down.
Following the sheriff’s office official crime reports throughout Jan. 1, officers would be called to the Chester resident’s home two more times that night and the following morning.
The most exciting call
Considering his career and given time to think about his experiences, Beatley said the most exciting call he’s ever made was to a Jackson Street home in Quincy on Oct. 3, 2012.
He, deputy Jake Vickery and two CHP officers responded to a call concerning a home invasion by a lone man wielding a knife.
Initially, the father, Dan Brandes, was alone attempting to protect his sleeping wife and children from a Marysville resident who suddenly broke into his home. According to Brandes, David John Crawford, then 32, demanded to know where Brandes’ children were.
Attempting to keep his family safe and yelling for help, Brandes would attempt to lure the man outside and away from others.
More than five years after that event, Beatley still remembers every move he made from the time he entered the house and tried to subdue Crawford.
Step by step, Beatley described his movements, gun drawn, as he and other officers tracked Crawford’s progress through the house.
And then sometime just before they had him, Beatley said he’d put his weapon away and grabbed his Taser. Crawford reappeared. He no longer held his knife, but was holding a hammer. It was then that Beatley was able to tase Crawford and stop him in his tracks.
Most memorable incident
It would be just a little over a year later — Oct. 20, 2013 — that Beatley was called to respond to a report of a man barricaded in a hospital room in Portola.
“I was 30 minutes away,” Beatley said about the incredible drive from Quincy to Portola. He didn’t know how fast he was driving he was so focused on trying to get there to assist another officer. “Fast,” was how to described his speed.
“I remember that every day,” Beatley said about the intense pressure he felt when trying to get to fellow officer Deputy Tom Klundby who was struggling with a hospital patient named Mariano Mauro, 53. Klundby was the only officer in eastern Plumas. Beatley was the closest available support.
According to a file story, Klundby responded to a 911 call from one of the Eastern Plumas Health Care staff reporting that a man was acting aggressively inside the hospital. Shortly after the deputy arrived, Mauro attacked him. Both men were described as large and powerful and Klundby, who was taller, but weighed 40 pounds less, was unable to restrain Mauro. Their struggle was intense and aggressive.
During the fight, Mauro did get his hands on Klundby’s Taser and baton. And despite warnings from the officer, Mauro swung the baton at his head just missing Klundby’s face. That’s when the deputy fired four shots hitting and killing Mauro.
While Klundby was placed on administrative leave, the sheriff, the California Department of Justice and the CHP assisted with the investigation.
Three months later, the district attorney announced the investigation revealed that the officer involved shooting was justified.
There’s a lot more to the story and what an investigator learned from those who witnessed the scene. But even with the hiring of more deputies immediately following the incident, there’s always a risk.
Although Beatley wasn’t able to cover the distance to assist in the life and death struggle, the incident served as a terrible reminder of how quickly things can go wrong.
Covering the county at night
I wasn’t thinking about either incident — both seemed like a long time ago — but apparently, Beatley keeps these incidents along with his training in mind as he answers a call to respond.
Back in Taylorsville, Beatley responds to a call that a homeowner’s windows were rattling. A man who appeared to talk to the sergeant said he thought maybe someone was knocking on them. It was determined that loud fireworks in the area were the problem.
After cruising the streets and some alleyways again, Beatley heads back to Quincy.
The next call is to respond to the home of an elderly woman who heard strange noises in her garage.
We arrive just about the time a second unit with officers Vickery and Klundby pull up in front of a house.
This time three officers approach a garage on a dead-end street. After searching the inside, they attempt to contact the resident. Despite repeated knocking at the door, she didn’t respond. It’s late. She’s probably gone back to sleep.
“Did you hear that?” Beatley asked as he returns to the patrol unit and deposits his hefty black flashlight into a panel on the driver’s door. “It sounded like a baby crying.”
What the three officers determined was that it was the sound of a rabbit dying.
Beatley had barely gotten organized inside his unit when he receives a dispatch that I completely missed hearing. Before I knew it, he was rapidly turning around and speeding off down the residential road behind the other unit.
Not wanting to interrupt, but still wanting to know what was happening, I finally ask. He said there was a report of a fight in another residential area.
Going fast through areas usually posted as 25 mph or even less was a first for me.
The fight appeared to be over when we got there. When Beatley returned, he said the man who started the trouble had left on foot heading up the street and around a corner. A BOLO was issued — be on the lookout — for the person. We followed the other unit as they checked the area, but there were no sign of him.
What he hoped to find
Beatley didn’t just spend his 10-hour shift driving around and responding to calls. Although that was a big part of it, he and other officers were also looking for signs indicating thefts or burglaries. It’s winter in Plumas County and as usual, both crimes are up. Beatley wanted to catch someone in the act or discover evidence that might lead to something important.
It was approximately 12:30 a.m. when I said good night to Beatley. We’d wished each other Happy New Year at 12:08 a.m. somewhere along the way. It was low key, no hats or horns or toasts, but there wouldn’t have been at home either.
Despite it being a quiet, uneventful ride along, I’d gotten to see parts of the area I’d never visited and learned a little bit about one of our brave officers along the way.
Preparing for everything
Plumas County is too small, too remote, too friendly for an ambush-style or open shooter situation. Right? Wrong.
Members of the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office regularly train for all kinds of scenarios.
“It’s always on the forefront,” said Special Operations Sgt. Carson Wingfield.
One of Wingfield’s responsibilities is keeping local law enforcement up-to-date in training for whatever dangers life brings.
Following the Dec. 31 ambush-style shooting involving six officers and two civilians near Denver, Wingfield said, “It’s trendy to blow away a cop.”
He apologized for the straightforward way of stating the problem, but he added, “Media attention popularizes it.” And the worldwide web enhances it.
A study of many similar attacks confirms Wingfield’s point of view. Facebook rants are often part of the process leading up to an attack. Mental health and the shooter’s state of mind are also part of the problem.
That was the case in December 2013 — just a few months after a Portola resident and a Plumas County deputy were involved in a fatal shooting inside Eastern Plumas Health Care.
On Dec. 17, a Hamilton Branch resident walked into a Reno medical office. With a history of mental illness, the man opened fire wounding two doctors and a woman with a shotgun. He then killed himself.
A detailed note left behind at his home described the actions the man was going to take.
One might argue that the county resident was disgruntled with Reno doctors and didn’t take action in Plumas. But when it comes to dealing with those with mental illness it’s sometimes difficult to determine what might or might not happen.