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600 police gunshots during Stockton bank robbery were 'excessive,' report says

600 police gunshots during Stockton bank robbery were 'excessive,' report says
A Stockton police officer examines the bullet-riddled vehicle that authorities said was used by suspects attempting to flee the scene of a bank robbery on July 16, 2014. (Craig Sanders / Associated Press)

The more than 600 rounds that Stockton police fired during a rolling gun battle with bank robbers last year that left a hostage dead by officers' bullets was "excessive" and "unnecessary," an independent review found.

The Police Foundation, a research group based in Washington, D.C., released a detailed report Monday on how Stockton police responded to the July 16, 2014, armed robbery of a Bank of the West branch, where three gunmen took three women hostage and fired at officers from a speeding SUV.

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The group found that 32 officers unloaded more than 600 rounds during the hour-long rolling gun battle, which spanned three counties, 63 miles of highway and reached speeds of 120 mph. One of the hostages, Misty Holt-Singh, was killed when she was struck by 10 police bullets, authorities said. The two other hostages jumped or were thrown from the vehicle during the chase and survived.

Police officials said they fired on the vehicle to potentially save lives because the men in the car were shooting indiscriminately. The gunmen disabled 14 police cars with gunshots, the report stated.

But just how many officers should have joined the battle and fired at the gunmen is impossible to determine, the report found.

"Never in the history of U.S. law enforcement has a police force dealt with an event such as this," it stated.

The report called the Stockton robbery a "sentinel" event that will change law enforcement forever, similar to the 1997 North Hollywood shooting, in which Los Angeles police officers found themselves initially outgunned by two bank robbers in body armor, and the 2013 Christopher Dorner manhunt, in which a former LAPD officer hunted local police before he died in a Big Bear gun battle. Both tested the nation's public safety system and exposed its holes.

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FOR THE RECORD

Aug. 18, 9:19 a.m.: A previous version of this story stated that the Christopher Dorner manhunt occurred in 2012. It was in 2013.

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Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones, who called for the independent review, held a news conference Monday to discuss the findings.

"We said we'll accept responsibility, and that's what I'm doing here today," Jones said. "There's not a man or woman in the Stockton Police Department that does not wish it had a different outcome."

The report said that a few officers engaged in "sympathetic fire," in which officers fired their weapons because others were shooting.

In some cases, officers opened fire while colleagues were in front of them. The report highlighted an example during the final standoff, in which one officer lay prone on the ground and did not shoot while an officer next to him, standing, fired "round after round."

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"'What's your target?' the prone officer yelled, thinking he was missing something," the report stated.

"'The car!' responded the officer," according to the report.

Many officers were immediately sent to additional training after the incident, but none have been disciplined by the department, Jones said.

The report credited the chief with quickly acknowledging it was police gunfire that killed Holt-Singh and for requesting an outside investigation. But, it noted, there should be some kind of plan in place for potential large, complex incidents with multiple crime scenes like the one that occurred that summer afternoon. There was no planned response for when the SUV ultimately stopped.

"This lack of planning, along with the number of officers involved, created a level of chaos that was difficult to manage and overcome," according to the report.

Since the incident, Holt-Singh's family has sued the department, and the surviving gunman has been charged with murder.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.

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