Crime

Stanislaus County deputy ‘executed’ near Hughson; suspect caught in Tulare

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson discusses shooting death of deputy Dennis Wallace

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christian discussed the shooting death of Deputy Dennis Wallace during a Sunday morning press conference in Hughson, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2016.
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Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christian discussed the shooting death of Deputy Dennis Wallace during a Sunday morning press conference in Hughson, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2016.

Authorities in Tulare County on Sunday afternoon captured a man suspected in the killing of Stanislaus County sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Wallace that morning near Hughson. The arrest of David Machado, 37, followed a statewide manhunt started shortly after Wallace was gunned down while investigating a stolen vehicle.

Evidence showed that a gun had been held to the head of Wallace, 53, and the trigger pulled twice, Sheriff Adam Christianson said. “This was an execution,” he said.

Wallace – alone, in uniform and driving a marked patrol car – had come upon a suspicious van in the Fox Grove fishing access near Hughson at 8:24 a.m. Sunday. When a dispatcher advised that the van had been reported stolen, Wallace asked for backup.

“Within seconds, he was murdered. He was executed,” Christianson said.

Deputy Christian Torres soon after found his body outside of the patrol car with two gunshots to the head, the sheriff said. The shooter had fled.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson talks about the arrest of David Machado, who is suspected of killing deputy Dennis Wallace in Hughson, Calif., on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016.

At 8:40 a.m., a white Kia was carjacked about 8 miles away in Keyes. Machado was identified as the suspect, Christianson said. Authorities issued an alert asking people to look for the car, a Kia Rio.

Nearly four hours later, Machado reportedly tried to rob a woman of her purse near a convenience store in Lindsay, about 150 miles south of Hughson. At 12:33, Christianson said, Lindsay police caught Machado, in an alley and on foot, after the attempted purse-snatching. They didn’t immediately know they’d just nabbed a suspected cop killer, but quickly identified him by photographs and his tattoos.

“We will bring him here. He will stand trial here,” Christianson said at a second news conference Sunday afternoon in Modesto. “Justice will be done in this case.”

Authorities recovered both the van and the Kia, the sheriff said.

The last Stanislaus deputy killed in action was Bob Paris, who was gunned down with a locksmith while trying to serve an eviction at a Modesto fourplex in 2012.

Deputy was a ‘fixture’ in Hughson

Wallace was a popular figure in Hughson, where he lived and was assigned to work and where he was deeply involved in youth soccer, refereeing football and serving as a liaison between schools and law enforcement. A vigil for Wallace was set Sunday evening.

“He wasn’t just assigned to Hughson; he’s a fixture in Hughson. He was so well-loved,” said Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, who also lives there.

“You should never speak in a moment of anger, but I’m glad we didn’t do away with the death penalty,” said Chiesa, referring to Tuesday’s rejection of Proposition 62 by California voters. It would have abolished capital punishment.

Wallace is survived by his wife, Mercedes, and children. A visibly shaken Christianson asked that people pray for them, and for officers throughout the United States, where too many violent confrontations have shaken humanity in recent times.

“Where does it stop? Where does it end?” the sheriff asked rhetorically. “These men and women put their lives on the line every day to stand between good and evil.”

An impromptu tribute to Wallace appeared around noon Sunday on a lawn outside the Hughson Police Department. People left flowers, candles, notes and balloons in his memory. A similar outpouring was evident at the sheriff’s headquarters on Hackett Road.

Wallace, a 20-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, will be remembered in many communities throughout the county, including Salida where he was stationed several years before being sidelined by a knee injury. He was unpaid and off-duty for two years and tenaciously fought county administrators in court to win back his job in a lengthy, well-watched lawsuit that went all the way to the California Supreme Court and had not been fully resolved.

The lawsuit’s early phase sparked headlines in 2012 with revelations that sheriff’s management referred to certain injured employees as “limp, lame and lazy,” prompting Christianson to issue a public apology. That civil trial ended in a hung jury; Wallace pushed on, claiming disability discrimination and two years of missed wages and benefits and emotional distress, and asking for $468,000 in damages.

County administrators said he could not safely perform duties, but eventually reinstated him in 2013. Meanwhile, a second verdict favored the county, but he appealed and earlier this year appellate justices sided with him, ordering the case to return to a local court to determine how much Wallace might be owed. The county appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case, handing Wallace a victory pending retrial.

Wallace had openly discussed his case over the years, sharing angst while idled against his desire, and relief when appeals courts agreed with his position.

Wallace sued county, was relieved to return to work

“Who knows when I (will) get a chance to prove my fitness?” he said in a November 2012 email, noting that he was anxious to referee a high school football playoff game that evening, a position requiring running. In January 2013, another email said: “I’m finally getting tested! It took four years and the urging of the court, but I’m blessed to finally get a chance to prove myself.”

Later that month, he wrote, “I can’t thank those enough who have prayed for me and my family.” He also mused about county leaders “treating my injury cases as discipline and punishment versus treatment to make me whole,” and closed with this now-chilling thought: “We honor our dead but disrespect the injured who survived.”

Wallace recently received a statewide award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and said he was the only Stanislaus deputy to earn both that and another for auto theft recovery in 2015.

A Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department deputy was killed in the line of duty at Hughson's Fox Grove Park early Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016.

“To think 10 years ago my career was threatened” by a previous manager, Wallace said in a Sept. 15 email. He reflected on his years in the department and his legal struggle, expressing desire for a world where bosses would “support or empower the employees they claim to respect.”

There was nothing but respect at two news conferences Sunday, held before and after Machado’s arrest.

“He was more than just a law enforcement officer,” said Jill Silva, a Hughson City councilwoman and county probation chief. She said the deputy had befriended and counseled many youth, including her now-college-aged daughter.

Silva recalled Wallace’s tireless efforts helping to rebuild a soccer league and improve recreation fields.

“Dennis was always out there supporting everything,” she said.

Terry Withrow, a county supervisor, said the county workforce is “just devastated.”

Christianson called for an end to violence involving peace officers.

“It is time to stand united,” the sheriff said. “It is time to stand together, with public safety and law enforcement, to stop what is happening in our nation.”

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390

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