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Santa Monica Hostage Standoff Ends as Gunman Surrenders

Aired July 4, 2000 - 9:37 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Developing story still in Santa Monica, California -- this on the pier there, where apparently, members of the local police force have moved into a position outside of that pier.

CNN's Jim Hill showed up about an hour ago, where it was still early morning hours there in Southern California.

What we know is this, is that apparently police were tipped off late last night, some time around 1:00 in the morning, Pacific time, about a possible suspect about a -- involved with a triple homicide, possibly inside the pier there. I don't know if the suspect they were talking about last night is indeed the man who is on the ground now being handcuffed with his shirt off. But it's possible it could be.

Again, the guns are pointed into the window, inside the pier, where it's described as an area where there are video games, etcetera -- that a number of people here now. As we switched to camera here, obviously this man is being taken away.

Jim Hill, are with us on the line here? OK, Jim, we are seeing what appears to be pictures from a high-angle view camera here, possibly from a helicopter -- a man without a shirt on, being led away with handcuffs, his two arms behind his back. From your perspective, what can you tell us about what is happening there?

JIM HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a man being led away in handcuffs, without a shirt on. That could be either a hostage, or a suspect, or someone police are not sure who it is. We can get the latest now from the police chief in Santa Monica, California. This is chief James Butts.

Chief, what have you learned?

CHIEF JAMES BUTTS, SANTA MONICA POLICE DEPARTMENT: The suspect has just been taken into custody. And the last two hostages are -- been taken away by the police. And this is finally at an end.

HILL: So, it looks like that this is now resolved, and that you have a clear situation?

BUTTS: Yes, at this point, we have both suspects in custody. Fifteen hostages have released, none of them harmed. And this suspect on the pier will be transported and booked at Santa Monica Police Department. HILL: What can you tell me about the suspect, and what apparently led to the big break here?

BUTTS: Well, at about 1:03 this morning, we received a call from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's that possibly a suspect or suspects involved in three homicides and an assault on a police officer were on the Santa Monica Pier. Officers responded in less than two minutes and confronted the primary suspect at a payphone. He attempted to withdraw a semi-automatic weapon from his waistband. Officers wrestled him to the ground, took him into custody.

The second suspect fled on foot. He fled into the Playland Arcade. Officers gave pursuit. As he exited the rear, officers were fired upon by the suspect. Three of them were hit. At least one civilian bystander was hit, possibly a second, but we don't know. That bystander suffered a minor injury. We don't know if it was a gunshot, or from falling. Anyway, that person was treated and released.

At that point, the suspect retreated back inside, took 15 hostages. And we have been negotiating with him steadily since about 1:10 in the morning. And finally, this has been resolved.

HILL: The release of the hostages, was this all at once or was it a steady progress throughout the morning?

BUTTS: No, we had crisis negotiators in contact with the suspect all morning long. And he released some in one, sometimes two. The largest release was of four children at once.

HILL: Now, I am being told that it appears they're also escorting a woman away. Can you shed any light on what that might be?

BUTTS: Well, she was one of the last two hostages. There was a male and a female left inside with the suspect. And so she was one of the last two hostages.

HILL: All right, so you still have two suspects and two only, both of them now in custody, one from the original incident, arrested without incident, apparently, and now the second suspect in the triple-homicide, surrendering in the last five minutes.

BUTTS: Yes, but I want to make it clear. This was not a triple homicide. They are wanted for three homicides, one in Ontario, one in Victorville, one in Baldwin Park. And the assault on a San Bernardino County deputy sheriff occurred in Fontana. All of those crimes have been related to one another by ballistics, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. And that is what led us to this event tonight.

HILL: Describe these suspects. Do you know much about them?

BUTTS: Yes, we do. Both of them are Latins, one 25, the other 30. Both are residents of Baldwin Park. Jose Flores is the primary suspect that we arrested upon responding to the pier. And the second suspect has a last name of Ameycua, A-m-e-y-c-u-a. HILL: OK, do you know the -- we are being told now, by way of update, another man being escorted. Could this possibly be the male hostage, the last one?

BUTTS: Yes that would be the second and last hostage.

HILL: All right. Do you know what these men were doing in the Santa Monica area -- apparently both of them heavily armed, two handguns taken from one man; this man, obviously armed, firing on officers.

BUTTS: Well, these -- we don't know what they were doing here, but at the time that we were notified of them, we were looking for murder suspects. And so it wouldn't be unusual to find them armed.

HILL: What do you attribute to the success of this, a final release of the last two hostages -- all hostages now safe, unharmed, and the suspects surrendering. What do you think really made this latest development happen?

BUTTS: Well, first of all, I think that the police presence that we have here in Santa Monica in general and specifically on the pier led to our rapid arrival and the capturing of these two very dangerous men. I have to give all of the credit in the world to our crisis negotiators: very professional, very skilled, very trained. And they maintained a free-flowing dialogue with the suspect throughout the night. And I have to give a lot of credit to our negotiators.

And also, we had our SWAT team, which surrounded the building and made it clear to the suspect that he had no way out, no alternatives.

HILL: OK, recapping now information from Santa Monica police chief James Butts: The second suspect, the one who had apparently taken the hostages, is now in custody. The final two hostages, a man and a woman, released, apparently unharmed. So the situation has now been resolved by not only the SWAT team, and their heavy presence here, but also by the hostage negotiators, which the chief said were the key people who talked the suspect out of this potentially very, very dangerous situation.

HEMMER: Yes, Jim...

HILL: So, that's the latest from the Santa Monica Pier. After about, what, five hours now, we have a resolution, a peaceful resolution to this.

Any questions from your end?

HEMMER: Yes, Jim, I was just wondering if the gentlemen is still with you. Apparently, the big break in this came when police were tipped off the suspects that they were looking for were indeed inside that Playland Arcade. Was there any indication given as to how the police were notified or how these two suspects were spotted?

HILL: Yes, Santa Monica police say that the original contact with the two suspects came from information from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department -- San Bernardino county being an adjacent county to Los Angeles. The authorities in San Bernardino County had warrants and were looking for the two suspects in relation with three different homicides.

Now, they learned through their sources that these two suspects were in the Santa Monica area, perhaps on the pier. They alerted the Santa Monica police, gave them descriptions and so forth. And at that point, it was that the Santa Monica police entered the pier area, spotted the two suspects, and made contact, arresting one man -- the man described as a primary suspect in three homicides -- arresting him apparently without incident.

But it was at that point that the second suspect -- the man described to us by police as an accomplice in those three homicides -- that man ran from the scene firing at officers as he went, and eventually took the hostages, holding them some five hours now before releasing them unharmed and surrendering himself.

HEMMER: OK, all right, Jim Hill live there at the Santa Monica Pier in Southern California.

Jim, thanks.

And again, what appears to be a hostage situation for the better part of five hours has indeed ended peacefully -- both suspects now in police custody.



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