One Cold Night

By Matt Lyons

On a cold night in December 2007, just three days from Christmas, Officer Erik Ellgard was working the night shift in Oceanside, California. He was attached to the uniformed Gang Suppression Unit (GSU), specifically targeting gang crime, violence, and their criminal enterprise. Policing efforts included being active on the streets, making arrests, seizing drugs, property, and guns, and collecting evidence useful in obtaining convictions.

Erik, a seven-year police veteran at this time in his career, was also a member of the department’s elite SWAT unit. After a hitch in the U.S. Navy as a Corpsman, he had joined the police force and had established a reputation among his peers as an honest, hardworking, team player; who loved his job and serving his community. He was a regular guy who decided to become a police officer and make a difference.

As a very active GSU officer, Erik knew what was going on in his beat at all times. He knew who the players were, and how to get information to stop and curb crime. During an arrest the day prior, Erik had developed intelligence from a source that an armed and dangerous “Parolee At Large” (PAL) and known gang member was hiding out in an apartment complex that was known for its problems of gangs and drugs. This was not an uncommon scenario for a GSU officer.

Trying to confirm this information, Erik recruited the aid of Oceanside Police Gang Detective John McKean. At this point it was a little past 1800 hrs on December 22, 2007 and darkness had already fallen over the city. John, a retired U.S. Marine from the nearby military base, (Camp Pendleton) and a veteran Oceanside Cop himself, set up surveillance in an undercover (UC) vehicle and began watching the target apartment for the suspect. Many times these tips don’t always turn out to be accurate and officers come up dry with no suspect on scene. Not on this night!

It wouldn’t be long before Detective McKean would observe the suspect walking out and getting into a car, carrying a suspicious black bag. Additionally, the suspect was also in the company of a second unknown subject.

This observation, at face value, might seem harmless to the average person. It’s not illegal or out of the ordinary for a person to be carrying a bag. However, what was just observed by Detective McKean could also mean that the PAL had a firearm concealed, drugs, or both in that black bag or even on his person. McKean’s years of training, experience and this type of thinking had kept him alive on the not friendly streets of southern California.

As the suspect’s car pulled out of the apartment complex, McKean trailed behind, still in his UC vehicle. McKean contacted Ellgard who was staged nearby and out of sight. Ellgard was accompanied by Police K-9 Officer Ryan Erwin, both of whom were in separate vehicles waiting.

Erwin was a five-year veteran of the force at this time and a two-year veteran of the Police K-9 unit. He had quickly established himself as a mature, tactically sound, and talented police officer; first in patrol with numerous narcotics and felony arrest to his credit while assigned to the Patrol Division and prior to being hand selected to the Police K-9 unit.

Officer Erwin’s previous experience would help keep him and his partners alive that night. Once on the public roadway and away from the apartments, Erwin and Ellgard pulled in behind the suspect’s vehicle as McKean moved one lane over. Looking for a safe location to conduct the stop, Ellgard advised dispatch he was going to conduct a traffic stop of a PAL and needed additional units. While waiting for other responding cover units to get in position, Officer Ellgard continued thinking about a safe place to make this high risk stop.

Anyone who has been a cop for any amount of time knows that it is the suspect who makes the decision to comply with police, to stop immediately or not, and they can further control the location of the stop. This PAL must have realized that the police were onto him at this point, and as his vehicle approached a four-way intersection with Officer Ellgard and Erwin following behind; he ran the stop sign and began to flee. Officer Ellgard and Erwin activated their police emergency lights and sirens and began to call out the pursuit of this armed and dangerous suspect. The suspect continued to drive recklessly, speeding, “running” stop signs and red lights, fleeing from police, and not yielding to their lights and sirens behind him. At one point the suspicious black bag mentioned earlier was thrown out of the car and left resting in the road as police continued to make chase in this pursuit that was becoming more and more dangerous as this suspect became brazen and unpredictable.

Any other time this pursuit would have been cancelled. But this PAL- whose criminal history/record as a documented gang member spanned a lifetime of committing violent crimes starting as a juvenile in 1994 and continuing into his adulthood- was a great risk to the public if left at large and not captured.

As the pursuit continued a third officer, Police K-9 Officer Jon Seabron, joined in. Seabron was a 13-year veteran of the police force at this time and a 3-year veteran of the Police K-9 unit. Additionally, Seabron more then proved himself in patrol as a professional lawman prior to his assignment to K-9 and with his prior experience assigned to the Gang Unit early in his career. Seabron knew all too well how violent this could turn out.

All three officers involved in this pursuit would quickly learn how important their tactics, communications, and officer safety training would play into their survival in what some might call ‘Modern Day Combat.”

The pursuit eventually made its way into a heavy populated nearby mobile home park (MHP), whose residents were comprised mostly of senior citizens. Fortunately due to the cool temperatures and those demographics, there were no pedestrians out that night.

The suspect eventually found himself at the dead end of cul-de-sac and concrete wall located within the MHP. He crashed into an adjacent fence and further into the backyard of a nearby home.

In an attempt to stop the driver, Officer Ellgard stopped behind the suspect’s car, which was stopped briefly due to the collision. Ellgard exited his police car and deployed his less lethal pepper ball toward the driver’s side window; however, it was not effective due to the window being up. The suspect then deliberately accelerated his car in reverse attempting to run over Officer Ellgard, just missing him and striking the front of Ellgard’s police car and the adjacent concrete wall. The area was small and there was not much room to move a vehicle around. Any reasonable person would have known that driving a car in this reckless manner in the close proximity of these exposed officers would cause a significant and reasonable threat to their welfare.

Eventually, the PAL got out of his car, leaving his passenger behind and attempted to flee on foot. Based on this PAL’s clear defiance of law, failure to comply with the officer’s orders, and his dangerous and violent behavior; Officer Erwin gave a command and warning prior to deploying his police K-9. As the police dog grabbed the PAL’s leg, Officer Ellgard simultaneously forced the suspect to the ground with his hands. While attempting to take the suspect into custody, the PAL refused to show officers his hands, which were reaching for his waistband area. This is a deadly area and commonly a place where suspects carry weapons. Weapons they can easily retrieve and kill cops with.

Ellgard immediately took his TASER from his holster and deployed it. The TASER was not effective and the suspect continued to resist, all while Officer Erwin’s K-9 held the suspect’s left leg. The threat of a weapon and further danger to the officers on scene grew with every second this attack continued.

Seeing all this, Officer Seabron specifically targeted the suspect’s right side by putting his K-9 on the suspect’s right arm on the opposing side that Officer Erwin and his K-9 were trying to control. When it was stated aloud by an officer that he thought the PAL had a gun, the suspect yelled, “You’re damn right, Mother Fucker! I’ve got a gun! I’ve got a gun!” At this point the PAL rolled over to his side and began to fumble around his waistband area and all officers believed he was retrieving his aforementioned gun. Fearing for their safety, all three officers addressed the threat and fired at the suspect who would later be declared deceased at the scene. The PAL in fact had a loaded semi-automatic handgun in his waistband area and it was later learned he was high on methamphetamines and tested positive for them in his system at the time of this violent confrontation with police. The passenger who was with the PAL at the time was uncooperative with police and had been on his cell phone with an unknown subject while officers were dealing with this violent PAL. It was suspected that another subject had come to the scene during the chaos and retrieved the bag that was seen and later thrown from the car at the time of the pursuit. Police never found the bag.

Officer Ellgard had dislocated his shoulder at some point during this confrontation. Yet he remained in the fight for his life and pushed through the pain to address the threat that was in front of him and his partners. Oceanside Fire Department paramedics who responded reset Erik’s dislocated shoulder on scene and he was back to full duty three days later. He was sore for a while, but is as healthy today as ever. When all three of the officers were asked about their state of mind, they were quoted as saying the following:

Officer Ellgard: “I believed I was “looking death in the face.”

Officer Erwin:  “I have a family at home that I want to go home to at the end of the night. We’ve lost two officers since I’ve been here. I promised my wife I’m not going to be the third.”

Officer Seabron: “I didn’t want to die.”

In closing I leave the reader with this.  No officer wants to be put in this situation, or to be exposed to this type of violence and evil. Even though police officers are trained to deal with many types of crisis, one never knows how he/she will respond. You never know how you’ll respond until you are put on that proverbial “Blue Line” that separates civilized society with all its peaceful niceties from the opposing side that is violent, evil, and senseless in nature.

On this cold December night back in 2007, these three officers were personally tested in a real life combat situation. Their solid knowledge of the “Use of Force Continuum” was evident by their actions during this fight, along with their quick response to identifying and addressing a threat. I personally know each of the officers involved and admire that they take their position as law enforcement professionals seriously. They practice defensive tactics in preparation for a violent attack like this and master those techniques.  All three are students of the law and the enforcement of it, and take great pride in trying to resolve problems peacefully. They also know that many times how a scenario will play out depends entirely on the suspect’s intentions and if they will comply peacefully or not. This PAL had no regard for the public’s safety and answered to no one but himself. Officers Ellgard, Erwin & Seabron all fall under a set of rules of engagement, ethics, and the knowledge that they could not just walk away when things became more dangerous and their personal safety was threatened. They had to work through the tunnel vision that occurs when we turn the lights and siren on, and the adrenaline jump that naturally kicks in. They had to remain focused by recognizing what they were seeing and addressing it appropriately. They all did just that, and did so with dignity and professionalism that many times is taken for granted by some in the general public. They all had the right mindset to survive. I’m glad they made it home and proud to call them my brothers.

One Cold Night they all stood on the “Thin Blue Line” and made this city a much safer place. Great job. Be safe!

10_22_14_matt_lyonsABOUT THE AUTHOR: Matt Lyons is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement and has been working with the Oceanside Police Department in California for almost 15 years, after he first retired as a Marine CID Special Agent from the U.S. Maine Corps Criminal Investigations Division (USMC C.I.D.). He has been employed part-time with the Central Texas College, since 1998, where he teaches in the Criminal Justice Department and speaks on subjects related to the criminal justice field. He has authored several articles in newspapers and magazines related to law enforcement and is the author of a historical book, Images of America: Oceanside Police Department, Arcadia Publishing. – 2006.


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