The three armed bank robbers who engaged Stockton police in a deadly shootout that left a hostage and two of the gunmen dead "had to be stopped," the department's police chief said Thursday.
More than 20 Stockton police officers discharged their weapons during the chaotic chase, which began after 2 p.m. Wednesday outside a Bank of the West in a strip mall.
Speaking to reporters at a news briefing Thursday, Police Chief Eric Jones said the three gunmen, identified as members of the violent Norteno street gang, emerged from the bank armed to the teeth and shielded by three hostages -- two female bank employees and a female customer.
The men forced the group into a Ford Explorer that belonged to one of the hostages and sped off, one gunman at the wheel and two in the rear seats, Jones said. As the driver sped across highways and residential streets, one of the robbers fired out the rear of the Explorer indiscriminately at police with an AK-47-style assault rifle.
Police said 14 police cruisers were hit along with countless homes and civilian vehicles during the hour-long chase.
“In my two decades, I’ve never experienced this level of total disregard for the community or intensity,” Jones said. “Although we have to remember there were hostages in the vehicle, these suspects at some point had to be stopped.”
Jones said that police protocol calls for officers to return fire in defense or to save the lives of others. The group of more than 20 officers who fired their weapons have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation, which is standard procedure.
“There was serious risk to the officers and the community all the time … every moment the stakes rose,” Jones said Thursday. “The assailants were shooting the entire time.”
The chase ended at Thornton Road and Otto Drive when police shot out the SUV’s tires. By that time, two hostages had already been shot and either jumped or were thrown from the vehicle, Jones said.
The third hostage -- identified by local media as Misty Holt-Singh -- was still being held by the Nortenos. Police mortally wounded two of the gunmen, but say 19-year-old Jaime Ramos used Singh as a human shield.
She was pronounced dead at the scene, where police recovered three handguns -- two 45-caliber and one a 9-millimeter -- along with several magazines.
Ramos, who Jones said was not shot, was being held Thursday on suspicion of murder, robbery, kidnapping and attempted murder of a police officer.
For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.