Report on murders of Stanislaus County deputy, locksmith delayed

gstapley@modbee.comDecember 27, 2012 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textGarth Stapley
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: Regional water, growth, land-use and transportation; civil law, real estate fraud and special projects
    Bio: In his 19 years with The Bee, Garth Stapley has focused on city and county government
    E-mail: gstapley@modbee.com

— Results of an independent look into the April murders of a deputy and a locksmith, previously promised by year's end, will wait until Feb. 1, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said Thursday.

Outside investigators need more time before publicly unveiling their report, awaited by authorities throughout California and beyond, the sheriff said.

He revealed that federal criminologists, working apart from the peer review, have not determined how a fire, which engulfed a fourplex on Chrysler Drive in Modesto, started after deputy Bob Paris and locksmith Glendon Engert were gunned down while carrying out an eviction.

The inferno ended a tense, 11-hour standoff with the shooter, whose body was recovered in ashes surrounded by a weapons arsenal. An autopsy determined that Jim Richard Ferrario had committed suicide.

Christianson said in October and again in November that he hoped the "critical incident review" would be done by the end of the year. Consultants decided Wednesday that they can't finish until late January, and the sheriff said a Feb. 1 unveiling is "definitive."

"This is a much larger investigation than even I initially thought," Christianson said. Hired experts "need time to get it done right and I'm not disappointed at all. I made a commitment that this will be transparent, but I'm not asking them to rush to the finish line."

The review also covers the Dec. 30, 2011, death of crime scene technician Mary Donahou, who was struck and killed by a vehicle just before dawn while investigating a shooting in Hughson.

Goal is 'lessons learned'

Christianson has said neither section of the two-part report will trump the other and previously blamed delays on difficulty getting conclusions regarding Donahou's death from California Highway Patrol inspectors. They finished Oct. 29 but shared results only with the Sheriff's Department.

The sheriff said he discussed with consultants whether to postpone their report beyond Feb. 1 because the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has not determined the cause of the fire that ended the Chrysler standoff. They decided Wednesday to proceed without that information, Christianson said.

Whether the fire was started by Ferrario or by SWAT officers trying to flush him out with incendiary flash-bang and tear gas devices isn't likely to shed light on the slayings hours earlier of Paris and Engert. They were gunned down outside the town house by shots fired from an assault rifle inside through a closed security door.

"Our goal is lessons learned," Christianson said. He added, "The purpose of the critical incident review is to look at every factor you can imagine or is possible and apply them to say what we need to do to prevent this from happening again."

The department has made adjustments to its procedures for serving civil papers and expects other law agencies to do the same based on the upcoming report, the sheriff said.

However, he said, extreme caution and preparation can't always account for mental illness, a likely factor in recent high-profile acts of violence, from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut to the upstate New York ambush of firefighters.

Neighbors and family members described Ferrario, faced with losing his home, as antisocial, paranoid, aggressive, angry and intimidating.

Despite the delay, Christianson said he retains "great faith and confidence" in the Peace Officer Safety Institute, which is conducting the review. It is run by Los Angeles and Huntington Beach police veterans Edward Deuel and Richard Wemmer.

"When you look at the complexity, the voluminous documents, all of the allied agencies, the audio dispatch records — it's just a tremendous amount of information to go through," the sheriff said. "At the end, I want it to be accurate, thorough and comprehensive, and that's the product we're going to get."

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.


Critical Incident Review Timeline

A chronology related to the deaths of two Stanislaus County Sheriff’s employees:

Dec. 30 — A vehicle strikes and kills crime scene technician Mary Donahou as she investigates a Hughson shooting.

April 12 — Deputy Bob Paris and locksmith Glendon Engert are slain while serving an eviction notice on Modesto’s Chrysler Drive, sparking an overnight standoff ending with the shooter’s suicide and the fourplex destroyed by flames.

May 9 — Sheriff Adam Christianson tells The Bee’s editorial board he will commission an independent review of both tragedies.

June 5 — The county Board of Supervisors approves spending up to $60,000 from the sheriff’s budget for the review.

Aug. 7 — The sheriff presents the department’s Medal of Valor to deputy Mike Glinskas, who escaped gunfire in the April murders.

Aug. 24 — Engert’s widow files a wrongful-death claim against Stanislaus County.

Oct. 29 — The CHP Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team completes a separate Donahou probe and gives the report to the Sheriff’s Department to aid in the critical incident review. Christianson says the combined results should be released publicly by the end of the year.

Nov. 28 — A Sacramento County animal control officer is slain in an eviction-related ambush similar to the Modesto murders. Christianson reaffirms the year-end report deadline and says authorities across the state want to see it.

Thursday — The sheriff delays the report until Feb. 1.

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