Interview Offers First Glimpse Into Sagon Penn’s Inner World

Times Staff Writer

The interview had just started and Sagon Penn was asked to describe how he killed one police officer, shot another and wounded a civilian. Penn’s response was abrupt and unexpected.

“I didn’t get a chance to meditate to God,” he said.

There followed prayers and praise to God, a long soliloquy in which the 26-year-old man talked to God and said: “I didn’t know what was going on. . . . I don’t even know what’s going on right here.”

The investigators tried again. They took Penn back to the beginning, asking him who was sitting next to him when the police car pulled his truck over.


Again he abruptly evoked the Almighty. He spoke in general of human failings, of sin and guilt and money and how, “once you have God in your life, the important thing is to do your best, that’s all, just do your best.”

The conversation was halted. Penn was given 10 minutes to pray alone. He then returned to the interview.

And, for the first time since the night of the March 31, 1985, shootings, he told investigators what happened that night--an incident that law-enforcement officials and community leaders say still carries deep emotional scars in San Diego.

A transcript of the five-hour interview details how Penn slowly and painfully recounted the events of that night. He described how police hit him with their fists and batons, how he enlisted his martial arts skills to defend himself from their blows, how he grabbed the officer’s gun.

“Yes, it’s true that I was forced into a position where I knew that I was gonna die,” he said. “And I didn’t wanna die. I had fear in me.”

Glimpse Inside Penn

The transcript also provides for the first time an insight into what it is like to be Sagon Penn, a glimpse at his inner thoughts about the shooting and the ways in which he continues to grapple with its consequences. Penn sat silently through two long public trials and has never spoken publicly about the events of that night.


At times during the interview he was incoherent and unresponsive, often rambling and difficult to understand. He attempted to act out the fight with the two police officers, and he became so involved that several times the investigators had to ask him to sit down.

Yet, the more he talked and unburdened his feelings, the more it became clear that he is a man still deeply troubled by the events of one night more than three years ago.

“Everybody in this room could attack me and I have the capabilities right now to take everybody in this room’s life with my bare hands,” he said.

“But I’m not a violent person. I learned self-defense and the martial arts for a purpose, and the purpose was to protect my own life and the person’s that’s attacking me.”

He described his feelings toward Agent Donovan Jacobs, who was shot and wounded by Penn after using what two juries concluded was excessive police force. And he explained why he did not want Jacobs prosecuted for assaulting him.

“You know what (God) wants to say?” Penn said. “. . . He’s saying, give Donovan Jacobs a chance to receive me. To receive Christ into his life, to receive God in his life. That’s why he lived through that.”


He described the pain he suffered from the batons and said Jacobs repeatedly swore at him, calling him a “f------ nigger”--words that Penn said God wouldn’t want him to repeat, so he spelled the words for the investigators.

“I ain’t gonna say the cuss word,” Penn said.

He described how Jacobs and Riggs kicked and punched and came at him “like two vicious wild dogs,” and how he struggled to protect himself from their swinging batons.

“I could hear ‘em just grunting and just grunting with anger and just breathing real hard and just trying to take my head off.”

One of the officers drew his gun and, Penn said, “my heart just went boop, boop, boop. It just beated real hard.”

He described falling to the ground, with Jacobs “sitting on top of me . . . punching (me) in the face . . . both hands, both fists you know.”

“He was just like gritting his teeth, he was just real mad. . . . He was reaching for his gun, he was reaching like right there for his gun. . . . And I reached, and I grabbed it before he did.”


At one point in the interview, Penn cut off the questions and said that, if he were in the same position again, he would behave differently.

“I should of just (gone) ahead and let ‘em just blow my head off,” Penn said. “Lord, is that what you want? . . . You know, that’s a tough faith, but at the same time it’s like saying, ‘Well, Lord, if that’s your will, then I’ll just close my eyes and just pray.’ . . . That’s what I would do right now. If it ever happened again like that, I would just close my eyes and I would just pray. . . . I’ll just accept that pain, I’ll just accept that bullet to my head.”

Cause of Shooting

He described the fragility of life, and what he believes was the true cause of the shooting incident.

“Donovan Jacobs, he’s just a human being and this is the world that we live in, and I was in Buddhism, and I’ll still have my heart with Christ, and (the) devil was trying to take my life through Donovan Jacobs. He tried to use Donovan Jacobs to kill me to take my life so that I would go to hell.”

He described Riggs, also shot, “breathing and everything and he was moving around while he was on the ground. . . . I felt that they was all gonna live and I was, like, hoping that they’d be all right. . . . You know, I went through a lot of pain, you know, and I said, ‘Wow, God,’ I said. . . . ‘Why does everything have to happen like this?’ ”

Later, Penn said: “When he lost his life, Christians were telling me they were trying to help heal that part of my life. Because I would cry, I couldn’t live, I hated holidays, I’ll always be worrying and praying and thinking about his two children and crying . . .


“And I never knew where he was buried at. I’ll just go to any cemetery and pray. Pray to God for him and stuff.”