Gun shots that were initially believed to be fired at an Oakdale police officer late afternoon on Jan. 29 resulted in a multi-agency dragnet and the eventual arrest of two suspects. No officers were hurt or struck by the gunfire and by the end of the evening, both suspects were in jail. Police later determined the shot fired was “accidental” by one of the suspects who had just committed a burglary.
Around 5:10 p.m. police received a call of suspicious subjects near the area of the alley in the 400 block of Dodge Avenue, near Birdwell Street and Davitt Avenue. When officers arrived they found a sleeping bag wrapped around a shotgun. Officers continued to search the area and found two subjects walking in the 400 block of Church Avenue. As officers approached, one of the subjects fired a gun as he was fleeing.
“When the officers spotted the subjects, one ran eastbound and the other west,” said Oakdale Police Chief Lester Jenkins the night of the incident. “The guy running east fired a shot at the officer.”
Jenkins further described the subjects as wearing “gang-type attire” in red.
Oakdale Police “locked down” the area to contain a perimeter to search for the subjects in the area of South Yosemite Avenue to West F Street.
Residents reported scores of police cars with lights and sirens converging on Oakdale streets as well as law enforcement helicopters using search lights overhead. Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, Modesto Police, Ceres Police, and California Highway Patrol units responded to the city to assist in the incident.
“There was an exaggerated response,” said Jenkins about the number of units that came into the city. “There was a breakdown in communications and one agency put out an officer was shot, which was not the case.”
Police set up a command post and positioned officers in strategic locations throughout the city to contain the area, blocking off streets and access to houses by residents.
Oakdale High School was locked down and students for night courses at the facility were turned away as classes and an eighth grade parents’ night were cancelled due to the incident.
“I know it was an inconvenience to citizens, I apologize,” said Chief Jenkins. “But, it’s a necessity when dealing with armed suspects.”
Chief Jenkins said a Ceres police officer and police canine located one of the suspects in a yard of Mann Court around 6:07 p.m. That suspect was identified as Eric Silva, 18, of Riverbank and is believed to be the suspect who fired the shot. Silva was bit by the police dog when taken into custody.
When arrested, Silva did not have a gun in his possession but officers located a discarded handgun in the area after his apprehension.
Police with assistance from a Modesto PD SWAT team went door-to-door into the evening to search and found the second suspect, James Fitzjarrell, 19, of Oakdale hiding in a backyard in the 100 block of West J Street.
As the investigation continued, there was word that a nearby house had been burglarized with firearms taken on West J Street. Police recovered six rifles and two semi-automatic handguns in addition to the shotgun that had been discarded during their suspect search. Police confirmed the guns were taken in the burglary.
“We were able to trace their locations and where they went,” said Sergeant Joe Johnson. “That’s how we were able to get the firearms back.”
Sergeant Brian Shimmell, the on-duty patrol sergeant at the time of the incident, said the subsequent investigation showed the shot fired was unintentional and due to the mishandling of the gun by the suspect as he was fleeing.”
“Silva said when he was running away, the gun was starting to fall out of his pocket,” said Shimmell. “When he grabbed it, the gun fired.”
Shimmell said Silva was wearing loose fitting nylon basketball shorts. The low trajectory of the bullet and a hole in the shorts’ pocket confirmed Silva’s statement.
Because there was no intent to shoot at the police, Silva and Fitzjarrell were not charged with firing at the officers. They were booked for residential burglary, possession of stolen firearms, and resisting arrest and are being held on $500,000 bail each.
“I give kudos to the citizens that were calling us throughout this giving us updates,” said Johnson about the calls into police from residents reporting subjects running through or hiding in their yards. “All that helps.”