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Officer Fired Point-Blank at Captive in Escondido Siege, TV Film Shows

December 08, 1987|ERIC BAILEY and NANCY RAY | Times Staff Writers

SAN DIEGO — A sheriff's deputy fired from point-blank range at a gunman as he was held on the ground at the conclusion of a bloody 12-hour siege in Escondido over the weekend, a department official acknowledged Monday.

The spokesman said, without elaboration, that there were "legitimate reasons" for the deputy's action. The killing of the suspect came just hours after another Sheriff's Special Weapons and Tactics officer was killed by the gunman, Robert Gary Taschner.

Law enforcement officials said they would not explain those reasons until the conclusion of an investigation into the Saturday shootings.

Shot in Chest

Deputy Lonny Brewer, 29, was hit by a bullet that lodged in his chest during the first of two assaults by SWAT team members on Taschner's apartment. He died a few hours later at Palomar Hospital. Two other deputies received minor wounds.

Taschner, 37, suffered an "undetermined number" of shotgun and other gunshot wounds of unknown caliber to the head, chest, abdomen and extremities, Deputy Coroner David Lodge said.

But he would not say whether coroner's officials have been able to determine if Taschner was struck by the shot fired at point-blank range. In addition, Lodge declined to say if an autopsy performed on Taschner had revealed that the gunman was already dead by the time the deputy, who has not been identified by department officials, fired the final shot.

Drugs Suspected

Police suspect that Taschner, a diagnosed schizophrenic, may have been under the influence of drugs during the siege Saturday. But Lodge said results of toxicology tests performed during the autopsy would not be available for several more days.

The controversy over the shot fired by the deputy was prompted by television footage of the final seconds of the siege. As Taschner, an Army veteran and former Escondido public works employee, ran out the front door of his apartment firing an AK-47 assault rifle, he was struck by several shots fired by SWAT officers.

San Diego television station KGTV broadcast a videotape Sunday showing that as Taschner was lying on the ground restrained by one officer and a police dog, he was quickly surrounded by other officers. One member of the sheriff's SWAT team then raised his handgun and fired a shot in the direction of Taschner's head, from inches away.

Instant Replay

Slow-motion replays of that footage do not make it clear whether that shot struck or missed Taschner. Nonetheless, the video footage prompted Taschner's mother to charge that SWAT team members used excessive force in the incident, saying her son had been "exterminated."

The incident began after 10 p.m. Friday when gunshots shattered plaster on the living room wall of Taschner's next-door neighbor. The shots had come from Taschner's apartment.

The neighbor, Soledad Hernandez, said a relative called the police and that the police came, apparently talked to Taschner and then left.

About five hours later there were more shots, this time in the upstairs bedroom adjoining Taschner's apartment. Hernandez' family fled.

A police-Taschner standoff ensued shortly thereafter.

It was during the attack that Brewer was shot.

By late afternoon, sheriff's SWAT officers attached percussion charges to the common walls between the two apartments in an attempt to surprise and overcome Taschner. The resulting fire virtually destroyed both apartments, prompting Taschner to emerge.

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