Deputies didn’t know Elliot Rodger owned guns, officials say
Flowers placed at the I.V. Deli in Isla Vista on May 25, 2014, form a part of a makeshift memorial to victims of a shooting rampage.(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Santa Barbara County sheriff’s officials acknowledged Friday that deputies had not known that Elliot Rodger was in possession of any weapons during three interactions they had with him in the year leading up to his rampage in Isla Vista.
“The issue of weapons did not come up,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said. “We had no information that he had weapons or reason to believe he had weapons.”
Rodger had legally purchased handguns, which would have come up during a check of law enforcement weapons databases. At least two of them had been purchased before Rodger’s encounters with authorities.
The Sheriff’s Office has defended its handling of the Rodger case. It said its deputies acted properly, including an April welfare check at Rodger’s apartment.
Law enforcement experts said most departments don’t have explicit rules requiring officials to check gun registration or ask about weapons when officers perform welfare checks.
That decision, they said, is often left to the discretion of officers.
The Sheriff’s Office had three interactions with Rodger in the year before the May 23 rampage, which left seven people dead, including Rodger.
In January, officials said, Rodger accused a roommate of stealing three candles worth $22 and performed a citizen’s arrest. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office eventually arrested the roommate and booked him on petty theft charges.
Last summer, Rodger accused several people of assaulting him. But investigators concluded that he was the aggressor in the incident and a detective dropped the case.
Then on April 30, four deputies, a UC Santa Barbara police officer and a dispatcher in training went to Rodger’s apartment to perform a welfare check, officials said Thursday.
The visit occurred after a person who identified himself as a friend of Rodger called a county mental health staff member. Based on that call and information from Rodger’s mother, sheriff’s officials said in a statement released Thursday, the staffer requested the welfare check.
Sheriff’s officials did not detail what information the deputies had when they made the visit. But a Rodger family friend told The Times that his mother had contacted his therapist in April out of concern over bizarre videos that Rodger posted on YouTube. The family friend said the therapist contacted a mental health service, who referred the matter to authorities.
When the group spoke to the 22-year-old outside his apartment, the department said, he was “shy, timid and polite.”
“Based upon the information available to them at the time,” the statement continued, “sheriff’s deputies concluded that Rodger was not an immediate threat to himself or others, and that they did not have cause to place him on an involuntary mental health hold, or to enter and search his residence. Therefore, they did not view the videos or conduct a weapons check on Rodger.”
Hoover, the sheriff’s spokeswoman, did not provide details Friday beyond her statement. In his writings, Rodger said he purchased a Glock 34 semiautomatic pistol for about $700 and got it in mid-December 2012. He said he purchased a Sig Sauer P226 for $1,100 in the spring of 2013. He purchased the third weapon early this year, according to a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation.
Ed Obayashi, a veteran police trainer and legal advisor to several California law enforcement agencies, said most departments don’t have a set policy on asking about firearms during welfare checks.
“The decision is very much in the hands of the officers at the scene,” he said. “They are the ones who are going to make a decision whether this person is going to harm themselves or others.”
In this case, Obayashi said, the deputies would not have had probable cause to search Rodger’s apartment without more information to show that he was a threat to others.
Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andrew Smith said a standard welfare check by his department’s patrol officers wouldn’t prompt a gun ownership inquiry. But the LAPD’s mental health unit might run such a check, depending on the circumstances, he said.
Former LAPD Capt. Rick Wall, who works as a consultant on mental health and safety for businesses and educational institutions, said he thought it would be appropriate to inquire about weapons in a case like Rodger’s because of concerns that he was suffering from depression.
It remains unclear what authorities could have done if they learned Rodger had weapons. Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown said last Sunday that because Rodger had never been institutionalized or held by authorities, he was permitted to have the guns.
In a 137-page document, Rodger wrote of the April 30 visit by law enforcement officers. He wrote that he had semiautomatic weapons hidden in his bedroom at the time and had written up plans for the assault.
“I tactfully told them that it was all a misunderstanding, and they finally left. If they had demanded to search my room ... that would have ended everything,” he wrote.
Authorities say that after Rodger killed six people, he was found dead of what appears to be a self-inflected gunshot wound.
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