Shooting ruled justified in case where officer fired at suicidal woman driving to estranged husband's home with gun.
The fatal shooting of Rebecca Lynn Stebbins was ruled justified by the Butte County Officer-Involved Critical/Incident Protocol Team, District Attorney Mike Ramsey announced at a Wednesday morning news conference in Oroville. Although he called the incident “tragic” several times, Ramsey said the officers involved shot to protect themselves and the the people they're sworn to protect.
Stebbins was shot and killed June 12 by Gridley-Biggs Police Officer Scott Smallwood. Officer Brandon Wilson also shot at Stebbins. Both men were placed on administrative leave, which Chief Gary Keeler said was standard procedure, and went through a psychological evaluation. Now that the shooting has been ruled justified, they will be able to return to their jobs.
“It's a difficult time for our department to go through, it's hard on obviously Rebecca's family, my officers at the department, their extended families,” Keeler said.
The Gridley Police Department received a call from the Chico Police Department about 9:52 p.m. to inform them Stebbins was suicidal, armed with a .357 magnum handgun and likely headed toward her estranged husband's house in Gridley. They had been using GPS tracking on her cell phone while a dispatcher spoke with her.
Officers were sent to the man's house on Flyway Court, and one tried to intercept her on Highway 99 but couldn't. Wilson, positioned at the end of Flyway, spotted Stebbins' 2005 Ford Expedition and tried to flag her down by aiming his flashlight at the vehicle and at himself. She ignored him and accelerated down the cul-de-sac. Wilson radioed the other officers to warn them she was coming, and he ran after the SUV.
Officer Scott Olsgard went to his vehicle in front of the man's house and turned on his lights and spotlight to illuminate the approaching car.
He saw Stebbins driving with one hand on the steering wheel and another holding up the gun as if displaying it to the officers, Ramsey said.
Smallwood then moved from the estranged husband's front door to a position in front of the man's state truck in the driveway. Stebbins stopped the car and got out with the gun still in hand. Neighbors verified to Ramsey that all the officers yelled at her to drop the gun. Instead she faced Smallwood, about 38 feet away, and began to raise the gun.
“As the weapon got to and past a 45-degree angle, Officer Smallwood and Officer Wilson, from their respective positions, opened fire,” Ramsey said.
Wilson fired three times, with all of his bullets striking the car. Smallwood shot four times, with one hitting Stebbins in the chest, going through her heart and out her back into the SUV.
Not being in park, the car continued to roll, with the open door striking Olsgard's car and then careening off into Smallwood's car. Meanwhile, the officers radioed for medical personnel while trying to resuscitate Stebbins themselves. She was pronounced dead on the scene.
Stebbins had been treated for depression in March 2006 and 2007. On June 11 she filed a restraining order against her father due to a fight the two had the night before. She believed her father was going to kill her the next time he saw her.
“That is not exactly correct,” Ramsey said. “In her state, it was obvious that many things that were said to her were taken somewhat out of context, and somewhat overblown in her depression.”
The night before the incident, while staying at a hotel, she wrote a note to her husband that read, “I'm going to bed and hoping that I wake up feeling better than I do now. But if you are reading this letter, then it must mean I didn't feel better.” It went on to talk about the problems with her father, the divorce and other problems in her life.
Ramsey said she was also planning on dropping off the dog at her estranged husband's house, which was significant because the dog had been the subject of a bitter custody dispute before and she had refused to give the dog back in the past.
On the night of the incident, she had a fight with her boyfriend in Chico and took his .357 magnum handgun from its hiding place before leaving the residence. The boyfriend attempted to stop her by stepping in front of her SUV, but she then placed the gun in her mouth, threatening suicide. He backed away, but called Chico police about 9:38 p.m. and told them what had happened and that she might be going to her father's residence in Chico or to her estranged husband's residence in Gridley.
A dispatcher was able to get Stebbins on her cell phone but couldn't talk her out of her plan.
“Everyone has given up on me and I've given up on myself,” Stebbins told the dispatcher. “I am dropping off the dog, giving her back to my ex-husband and that's the end of the story.”
“I've been through so much in two years that ... nothing is going to change the way I feel,” she went on to say. “And I will tell you this: if you find where the dog is and I get to my ex's house and you guys are there, I will shoot myself.”
Ramsey said the dispatcher tried several techniques to make a connection with Stebbins, but to no avail.
He made a point to say that the children had not seen their mother's body in the street. Stebbins' daughters are 2 and 5 and slept through the shooting. When they were taken out of the house, they remained asleep with blankets over their heads and the Protocol Team shielding the body.
“The examination of all of this evidence has led my office to conclude that the shooting was justified,” Ramsey said. “Officer Smallwood shot to protect himself. Officer Wilson, as he explained, shot to protect Officer Smallwood.”