Crime

Sheriff releases video in deputies’ fatal shooting of west Modesto kidnapping suspect

Watch body camera footage of officer-involved shooting in Modesto

The Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department has released body-worn camera footage from an officer-involved shooting on Vine Street in Modesto, California on July 17, 2019. Stephen Murray, 52, of Modesto, was killed in the shooting.
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The Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department has released body-worn camera footage from an officer-involved shooting on Vine Street in Modesto, California on July 17, 2019. Stephen Murray, 52, of Modesto, was killed in the shooting.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse released Thursday body camera footage from a July 17 incident in which deputies fatally shot a kidnapping suspect in west Modesto.

This is the first time the Sheriff’s Department has released footage since deputies started wearing cameras in April.

The footage is part of a video titled “Critical Incident Community Briefing” that Dirkse released and includes remarks from him as well as details of the incident that provide context for the shooting.

The body camera footage is from two of the four SWAT team members who fired at the suspect, later identified as 52-year-old Stephen Murray of Modesto.

The body camera footage is dark (the shooting occurred about 10 p.m.), graphic and chaotic and shows SWAT team members repeatedly yelling at Murray to put his hands up and then firing at him as he held what authorities believed to be a handgun and his female hostage as a shield between him and deputies.

The handgun turned out to be a replica.

Dirkse said in an interview that his department’s interaction with Murray started the day before when Ceres police asked for help in finding Murray, who was a suspect in a car theft in that city.

Dirkse said when deputies contacted him in west Modesto on July 16, he said he was armed and had a hostage. Deputies did not know whether that was a credible threat or a ruse by Murray to get them to leave him alone.

Sheriff’s detectives followed up the next day, July 17, and learned Murray’s statements were credible. They followed him throughout the day, and authorities repeatedly tried to resolve the matter peacefully through the use of “patrol resources” and the hostage negotiation team.

“During these interactions, statements were made by Mr. Murray threatening law enforcement and the hostage,” according to the video. “Additionally, information was received that Mr. Murray was armed with a firearm.”

Before the shooting, detectives and SWAT team members were monitoring a South Jefferson Street home that Murray and his female hostage were seen entering.

When Murray and the woman left the home after more than two hours, SWAT team members “seeing an opportunity to conduct a rescue, approached the pair at” Vine and Madison streets, about a block from the home. That ended with SWAT team members firing upon Murray.

Dirkse said in the video and reiterated in his interview that it is important the Sheriff’s Department share as much as it can about these incidents with the public. And he asked for patience in the video because the investigations into this incident are in their early stages.

He expects to release a video regarding the July 16 death of a man after he had struggled with deputies in south Modesto. Deputies were dispatched after reports that the man was acting erratically and fighting with a family member.

Dirkse said the release is taking longer because there is more body camera footage to review and he wants to produce a version with Spanish subtitles because of the large number of Spanish speakers in south Modesto.

This comes as Assembly Bill 748 took effect July 1. The law calls for state and local police agencies to release audio and video, including body camera footage, from critical incidents within 45 days unless doing so would hamper an active investigation.

Dirske said the new law is part of the reason for his decision to release videos of critical incidents, but he said he also is doing it because the public expects it.

He said he decided to release the body camera footage from the fatal shooting of Murray as part of a video that included additional information to ensure the public had the context to make sense of the incident. He said that is a best practice being followed by law enforcement agencies.

But he said he would release just the body camera footage if the media or members of the public requested it through the provisions of AB 748.

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Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general assignment for The Modesto Bee. He is a graduate of San Jose State University and grew up in San Jose.
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