Skip to main content

Some terrible things happen seemingly out of the blue – consider the story of Lucía Godínez Martínez, who on Saturday, May 20, was making breakfast for her kids in her Salinas apartment when errant gunfire came through her window and struck her, leaving her paralyzed and her family’s economic future also uncertain; Martínez’s work as a farmworker requires physicality.

But the events are not just out of the blue. They started somewhere upstream, and many fit into a bigger context of problems our policymakers are trying to solve, too slowly for the people whose lives are caught in the crossfire. In this incident, there is of course the widespread presence of guns and the use of guns by members of criminal street gangs, in the case of these two alleged shooters. There’s a family’s need to rely on a GoFundMe campaign ( to pay for medical bills in our messy system of health insurance.

Less than two weeks later, gun violence struck again. The morning of Wednesday, May 31 seems to have begun like a pretty typical day for Monterey County Sheriff’s Deputy Jesse Grant, who at 7:49am went to serve a court-authorized eviction notice on a 67-year-old man named Erin Howard Fischer in an apartment in Salinas. When nobody answered the door, Grant requested non-emergency backup; at 8:46am, officials say Fischer fired at officers, striking Grant twice.

It quickly became an emergency, one that drew hundreds of law enforcement officers to the neighborhood and resulted in shelter-in-place orders; as a standoff ensued throughout the day, SWAT vehicles escorted some residents safely to outside of the area on lockdown. After nearly nine hours of negotiations and repeated exchanges of gunfire, an officer’s bullet struck Fischer in the head, killing him.

But I’d argue that the emergency that unfolded at Apartment 201 of Interim, Inc.’s apartment complex on Sun Street was years in the making. It only starts to feel like a public emergency, red lights flashing, when a shot is fired. But the essential ingredients for tragedy – heavy weaponry, mental illness, tenuous affordable housing options – are all emergencies unto themselves.

Nonprofit Interim, Inc. is one of the only entities that is providing critically needed housing to people with mental illness in Monterey County, serving as a safety net to catch people like Fischer (though of course tenants have to meet their end of the deal to stay housed). Interim properties include 50 beds in Monterey, 101 beds in Marina and 115 in Salinas, among them the apartment where Fischer was living – and where, authorities say, he stashed an arsenal of weapons: Officials report he had a total of three semi-automatic assault rifles, two bolt action rifles and two handguns, and he wore tactical attire, including a helmet. (For more about the sequence of events on May 31, as well Fischer’s history, read staff writer Rey Mashayekhi’s reporting on p. 10.)

Sometime after he served time at Atascadero State Hospital, a maximum-security psychiatric hospital in San Luis Obispo County, Fischer found his way to an organization that could serve him. But of course, mental illness is complicated – and coupled with a society in which it’s far too easy to acquire firearms, that became a dangerous combination.

What the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office could have and should have done differently when serving this eviction notice will undoubtedly become the subject of future stories; as Mashayekhi reports, Interim officials notified the law enforcement agency in advance of pertinent information.

But Sheriff Tina Nieto also sees this standoff and deadly confrontation in context. “Mental health is a huge problem and we keep doing the same things and it’s not working,” she says. “I have always been a proponent of evidence-based practices, and I believe we as law enforcement should not be in the business of mental illness – we’re not the experts, we’re not trained psychologists, we’re not trained clinicians… As a society, we’ve got to look at how we care for our mentally ill.”

Even if deputies had successfully served an eviction notice on Fischer that day, I’m not sure where he would have gone – another unsolved problem.

More Local Spin »

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


Breaking News

All New Stories