Retired Ventura County judge fatally shoots his girlfriend, then himself after hours-long SWAT standoff

Judge Herbert Curtis in 2001.
(Steve Osman / Los Angeles Times)

Investigators were looking for a motive Monday after a former prosecutor and retired judge fatally shot his girlfriend and then himself after a standoff with a SWAT team in Ventura over the weekend.

Authorities say 69-year-old Herbert Curtis III barricaded himself inside a home in the 5500 block of Dorsey Street on Sunday night with his girlfriend after neighbors called police reporting possible domestic violence.

“Officers arrived on scene and attempted to make contact with the individuals inside the residence, when officers heard what they believed to be multiple gunshots coming from inside,” Ventura police said in a statement.

Officers set up a perimeter and a SWAT team negotiator began communicating with Curtis, who said he was armed, police said. During a standoff that lasted more than two hours, a SWAT team listening device picked up Curtis’ girlfriend, Patricia Payne, 54, saying she had been shot.


When more gunshots were heard from inside the home, the SWAT team moved in, police said.

Curtis shot himself and was pronounced dead at the scene, officials said. Payne was taken to a hospital, where she died.

Curtis was a Ventura County Municipal Court judge from 1984 to 1998. He was then appointed to the Ventura County Superior Court, where he served until his retirement in 2007.

“The news of his passing is met with great sadness,” the court’s assistant presiding judge, Kent Kellegrew, said in a statement. “Judge Curtis invested decades of service to the county of Ventura, initially as a criminal prosecutor and thereafter as a judge. The court acknowledges Judge Curtis’ contributions and extends its condolences to his family.”


The events that led to Sunday night’s incident were not immediately known, officials said.

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