Riverbank standoff ends safely

RIVERBANK -- A man suspected of attempted murder holed up inside an apartment for four hours Thursday afternoon until tear gas fired by the sheriff's SWAT team forced his surrender.

Robert Michael Cortez, 28, of Riverbank walked out of the apartment about 4:20 p.m. after the Special Weapons and Tactics team launched the tear gas through the front windows, said deputy Royjindar Singh, a Stanislaus County sheriff's spokesman.

Cortez is suspected of shooting Jason Lee, 35, of Riverbank on Wednesday. Lee underwent surgery and was in critical condition at a hospital Thursday, said sheriff's Detective Mark Copeland. Lee's condition was stable, and he was expected to survive, Copeland said.

The standoff Thursday forced the lockdown of two nearby schools and the evacuation of surrounding apartments in the small, single-story complex at 5900 Terminal Ave., on the corner of Virginia Avenue.

Other residents, who were away when the standoff started, were not allowed to return to their homes until 5:30 p.m.

Sheriff's investigators believe Cortez became involved in a fight between his friend and Lee over a woman. Singh said the fight occurred about 5 p.m. Wednesday at a home in the 3600 block of Virginia Avenue, less than a block east from where the standoff occurred.

Cortez fired a shotgun at Lee and then fled on foot, Singh said.

On Thursday, detectives were conducting a follow-up investigation when neighbors confirmed Cortez was hiding inside the apartment on Terminal Avenue.

The apartment belonged to Cortez's friend, but nobody else was inside during the standoff, Singh said.

The detectives called for deputies to surround the home before they made their first attempt about 12:20 p.m. to get Cortez to come out and turn himself in.

Nearby schools locked down

Singh said the detectives wanted to be extra cautious with a suspect considered to be armed and dangerous. Cortez did not have any weapons when he was taken into custody.

"He had already shot one person, and we didn't know if he already knew we were coming to get him," Singh said.

A hostage negotiation and critical incident team arrived about 1:30 p.m. and sheriff's officials used a public address system and telephone in an attempt to talk Cortez out of the apartment. He never responded.

Nearby California Avenue Elementary and Cardozo Middle schools were locked down and students were kept inside, said Joseph Galindo, superintendent of Riverbank Unified School District.

He said school officials were calling parents to pick up their children during the lockdown, but many students stayed at the schools until the standoff ended.

"The rest of these kids are just going to have to wait," said Ga-lindo before the standoff ended.

With assistance from a Ceres police SWAT team truck, the sheriff's SWAT team moved closer to the home before launching the tear gas.

The front windows were shattered by the projectiles. Cortez walked out the front door and was led away in handcuffs.

The Sheriff's Department asks anyone with information about this case to call CrimeStoppers at 521-4636. Callers can leave an anonymous tip and be eligible for a cash reward.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.