D.A. Clears Officers in Slaying of Holden : Police ‘Acted Responsibly, Reasonably’ in Killing Knife-Wielding Man in San Carlos

Times Staff Writer

Two San Diego police officers who shot and killed a knife-wielding student in San Carlos last month acted “responsibly, reasonably, and in necessary fulfillment of their duties as peace officers,” according to a review of the event by San Diego County Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller.

In a seven-page letter given to San Diego Police Chief William Kolender on Friday, Miller said the officers acted legally when they killed 21-year-old Wayne Douglas Holden because they feared he would attack the man whose residence he had entered by breaking a window.

“It is our conclusion that the shooting of Wayne Douglas Holden was legally justified,” Miller said.


He said that residents of the neighborhood and photographs of the incident showed that Sgt. Robert Stinson and Officer Carl Smith used “restraint” in early stages of the incident.

Holden, a UC San Diego student despondent over a fight with his girlfriend, threatened to kill himself at his father’s house on May 28. Police came to the scene after his father, Robert Holden, called officials at the county’s mental health hospital in Hillcrest.

When police arrived, the younger Holden ran through the quiet neighborhood in a raincoat and underwear, swinging a 12-inch kitchen knife, and broke into a nearby home. He was shot to death there by police.

Robert Holden said the uncritical district attorney’s report is “like Richard Nixon investigating Watergate . . . . The system is investigating itself and the problem is the system is wrong itself. The police came to prevent a suicide and they pumped six bullets into him . . . . That’s police incompetence.”

Robert Holden said he has hired a detective to do a private investigation of the incident and a lawyer who is looking into a possible negligence suit against the city. He said he was too emotional to comment on the specifics of the district attorney’s review of the case.

“This has been three weeks of absolute hell. It has been very hard on me,” Robert Holden said.

Miller began the letter to Kolender: “The nighttime and early morning hours of May 28, 1985, were tumultuous ones at 6733 Sunny Brae Drive in the San Carlos area, owing to the bizarre, explosive, and threatening conduct of Wayne Holden.”

Miller reconstructed the events leading up to Holden’s death as follows:

Holden began to fight with his father about 3 a.m., armed himself with a knife in the kitchen, and threatened to kill himself and anyone who came near. Throughout the early morning, Holden continued to scream, jump up and down, utter threats, and to “urinate in a glass and drink it.”

Police were called about 7 a.m. and told that “Wayne Holden was holding the knife in his mouth, had not slept in three day, was very anti-police and ‘has been struggling with life for quite awhile.’ ” When officers arrived, about 7:20 a.m., they were told Holden might be under the influence of LSD.

Several officers standing in a semicircle and confronted Holden across the street from his father’s house. They tried unsuccessfully to convince him to put down the knife, and called for a nonlethal Taser gun to immobilize him with an electrical charge. But before Stinson could get into position to use the gun, Holden ran away from the officers, stabbing at parked cars and at drivers in moving cars. Stinson accidentally fired one of the Taser gun’s two rounds.

“Photographs of the standoff and foot pursuit . . . eloquently attest to Wayne Holden’s lunging actions with the knife, the restraint that officers used in not exercising deadly force under circumstances that may well have justified such use, and the high degree of risk and danger to which both the officers and civilians were exposed,” Miller’s wrote.

At the intersection of Golfcrest Drive and Sunny Brae Place, where officers cut off Holden’s path, Holden broke into the home of William Ballard through a front glass window. As Holden struggled to get up from a sewing machine and mini-blinds that he had fallen into, Stinson fired the remaining round from the Taser gun. The shot was deflected by the blinds.

“Casting aside the now useless Taser, Sgt. Stinson then drew his service revolver,” Miller wrote.

Ballard entered the bedroom of his home, where he saw Holden and a uniformed police officer pointing his gun through the broken window. Ballard turned and ran back down the hallway, hearing gunshots as he fled.

“Stinson feared that Wayne Holden would stab (Ballard) or take him hostage. Absent the use of deadly force, Sgt. Stinson knew that he and other officers were not in a position to protect persons inside the house,” Miller said.

Holden got to his feet with the knife and headed toward the doorway. Stinson fired a single round, striking Holden in the middle of the back. Officer Smith, who had followed Stinson to the window, then fired five shots from his six-shot revolver in immediate succession. All six rounds struck Holden, who died at Sharp Hospital at 9:57 a.m.

Miller said evidence gathered at the scene and the autopsy corroborate Stinson and Smith’s accounts of the shooting. An autopsy showed that Holden was not under the influence of LSD, but may have smoked marijuana.

The officers “shot Wayne Holden in order to prevent him from inflicting death or great bodily injury upon Mr. William Ballard and/or any other person who might be inside the house,” Miller concluded.