Last week, as I was headed home from my daily shelter-in-place walk through Oldtown Salinas, one of the affable security guards who patrols the area stopped me and asked if he could show me some pictures. He held up his phone – social distancing protocols in full effect – and showed me a series of blurry photos of a man who had been captured on security cameras prowling around the new Togo’s restaurant on Salinas Street. Over the previous few weeks, the guard explained, it’s believed the man had broken into a number of businesses, broken the windows of at least one restaurant and burglarized some vehicles. The guard asked that if I saw the guy around the neighborhood, I give him a shout or call the police. I filed it away in my SIP-addled memory bank and headed home.
A few days later, the neighbor’s dogs started howling (as they do, regularly) when emergency vehicles with sirens on arrived, speeding through the neighborhood. The sirens stopped seemingly outside my house. I looked out a window and saw 10 police cars, and an equal number of Salinas officers (not counting two furry K9 cops), starting to search the three-story office building across the street. The man in the pictures had apparently escalated his behavior, getting into a physical confrontation with the owner of a nearby gas station and pulling out a machete. The business owner called the police and trailed him, at a distance, to the office building.
For an hour, I sat on my porch, livestreaming what I saw, talking about the police presence and the search and commenting on the goings-on in my often colorful neighborhood. After an hour, having not found the man, the police pulled up stakes and left.
And then came Friday, May 8. At noon, the sirens came screaming toward my house again. It’s a frequent occurrence because I live on a main artery between South, North and East Salinas. But once again, they stopped in front of my house.
The police were back across the street. A manager at the office building had found the man hiding in an electrical service room, and he’d likely been there all night. And so I sat on the porch and watched, for five hours this time, as Salinas police tried to talk the man into surrendering. I livestreamed off and on, again talking about the neighborhood and what I was seeing. “LivePD? Who needs LivePD?” I said. “Kidding. Just kidding.”
I did say, though, that my greatest hope was that police would be able to end the standoff without any of them being injured, and without the suspect being injured. It occurred to me he might be on drugs, or mentally ill, or both, but I hoped he would have a moment of clarity and give himself up.
Most of all, I thought about how scared he must be.
My hope was both that the officers go home safely, and that the suspect give himself up safely.
At about 4pm, the officers seemed to pull back while at the same time expanding the crime scene tape they had wrapped around trees to keep people from walking down the sidewalks and through a potential line of fire. KSBW reporter Christopher Salas was relegated to a spot down the block, but it’s a spot that proved important. As police cars moved out of the way, Salinas Police Department SWAT vehicles moved in. And it was close to 5pm when repeated quick bangs were heard and Salas’ cell phone camera captured images of smoke from tear gas projectiles officers had fired into the man’s hiding place, billowing out a small window at the side of the building.
A few minutes later, a group of police emerged with 22-year-old Fernando Becerra in handcuffs. He’s been charged with assault, making terrorist threats, trespassing and obstructing/resisting police.
“Hey, I like your Facebook livestream,” one officer called to me.
“Eh, it’s not like I have anything else to do right now,” I said.
And neither, apparently, do a lot of people, because when I later looked at the video I had posted on social media, nearly 3,000 people had viewed it.
While we shelter in place, any little clip online can be a welcome distraction. But some little clips, as seen through the windows of our homes, are more interesting – and disheartening – than others.