Risky tactics in standoff with elderly woman paid off, officials say

SWAT team stripped off protective gear to crawl under house and seize armed, elderly woman

The 74-year-old woman was frail and had trouble walking.

But whatever had seized control of her mind gave her the strength to hold off a SWAT team, even after she was hit by tear gas and rubber bullets.

The woman, holed up under a mobile home in Woodland Hills with a six-shot revolver, had fired five rounds at a police robot. Deputies thought she still had one bullet left.

Commanders concluded that, because of her “confused, delusional” mental state, they could not persuade her to come out. They worried about leaving her too long in the cold of night, fearing that she could die under the house.

At a news conference Tuesday, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials released details about the high-stakes standoff that unfolded last week between deputies and the woman, who refused to come out after brandishing a revolver at paramedics, deputies and neighbors.

The 22-hour standoff began after someone called 911 about 5:30 a.m. Thursday to report that an elderly woman was suffering chest pains.

When paramedics arrived at the mobile home park in the 4200 block of Topanga Canyon Boulevard, the woman grabbed a paramedic’s arm, pulled out the revolver and fled toward a neighbor’s house, said Capt. Patrick Davoren of the Malibu Lost Hills Station.

She waved the gun at residents, yelling that she was going to shoot and that it was her last day on Earth. The mobile home complex was quickly evacuated.

When law enforcement officials realized they were dealing with someone who possibly was mentally ill, they decided to play a waiting game.

Sheriff’s deputies hoped to avoid firing their weapons, but the woman seemed impervious to the tear gas and nonlethal bullets, officials said. At one point, she declared she no longer was holding the gun, but that turned out to be a ruse.

Hours later, officials decided to act. In a risky move, SWAT deputies stripped off much of their protective gear so they could fit under the house and try to handcuff her.

A surveillance camera on the robot, which also acted as a two-way radio for crisis negotiators to communicate with the woman, showed that she had dropped the gun, but that it probably was still within reach.

Deputies subdued her and pulled her from underneath the house about 3:30 a.m. Friday. She was suffering from hypothermia.

“They were going headfirst against an armed suspect with no tactical protection, no helmets, no vests, and she had the ability to shoot one of them,” Lt. Bruce Chase said.

The woman, who has not been identified, remains hospitalized. Family members came to the news conference to praise sheriff’s officials for their restraint in not firing at her.

Her son, who asked not to be identified, said his mother began sending strange emails a few days before the standoff, including a message full of spelling errors when she was normally “an editor at heart.”

The woman has not been charged as investigators continue to examine the incident.


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