A Gilroy Police officer fired his service weapon at a suspect who drove a stolen vehicle through the Gilroy High School campus where hundreds of children and parents had gathered at midday on Sept. 9, according to authorities.
The single shot fired by the officer struck the front of the vehicle and did not result in any injuries to the suspect or bystanders, police said. The discharged round disabled the vehicle, allowing arriving police to subdue the driver, who Gilroy Police Capt. Joseph Deras said had been driving recklessly.
One adult male bystander who had entered the stolen vehicle in an effort to stop the suspect was uninjured, Deras said. The civilian, who was associated with a youth football game underway at the high school stadium at the time of the disturbance, was inside the vehicle when the Gilroy officer fired his handgun, but the officer did not know this at the time.
Deras said the officer fired his weapon as the suspect, Chad Browning, 42, of Fresno, drove a stolen Kia SUV directly toward the officer on a fenced-in service road from which the officer had “no escape.”
“The officer feared he would be seriously injured or killed and he discharged his weapon once in an effort to defend himself,” Gilroy police said in a press release. “The officer was aware of the risks in the area and knew his backdrop was clear of any other people minimizing risks to those uninvolved in the incident.”
Browning was ultimately arrested on suspicion of auto theft, assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer and possession of methamphetamine, according to police.
Gilroy police had received a statewide bulletin about 7am Sept. 9 that a Kia SUV had been stolen in Fresno, according to the press release. Browning, the suspect associated with the stolen vehicle, had no direct ties to the Gilroy area.
The statewide bulletin also noted that Browning is a former police officer who had access to firearms, police said. Browning had recently tried to acquire a firearm from a family member.
Authorities declined to say what law enforcement agency Browning was previously associated with, but noted he is not affiliated with any agencies in the Fresno area.
At 12:56pm, Browning called the Gilroy police communications center. He told dispatchers a confusing scenario about the stolen Kia, claiming the woman who reported the theft had been kidnapped and the car had been stolen from him while he was in Gilroy, according to police.
The suspect refused to provide further details to dispatchers, and officers determined the caller was the one who stole the Kia, Deras said.
Browning called Gilroy police again at 1:04pm. This time, he referred to the activities taking place at Gilroy High School and said he wanted to fight with police officers, according to authorities.
Officers immediately responded to the area of Gilroy High School on the 700 block of Tenth Street.
Browning had made the phone calls to Gilroy police using a cell phone that he initially borrowed from a developmentally disabled young man, Deras said. When he left the area to move toward the high school, Browning stole the phone from the young man.
When officers arrived to the campus, they found Browning driving the Kia in an unattended ball field, according to police. The field was directly adjacent to the Gilroy High School stadium, where up to 600 fifth- and sixth-grade children and parents were playing in and attending a series of Pop Warner youth football games, Deras said.
Several parents in attendance recognized that the vehicle was driving erratically and “clearly did not belong there,” Deras said. The parents thus rushed to close and lock a gate that led onto the football field where the children were competing.
“He could have drove the car onto the field, and I would hate to speculate what would happen then,” Deras said.
When adults in the stadium announcers’ booth realized an emergency was underway, one used the facility’s speaker system to ask attendees to “shelter in place,” police added.
The suspect and vehicle were then enclosed in a gravel service road that runs along the stadium, with fencing on both sides of the road, according to police.
Shortly after the parents closed the gate, a male witness “jumped into the car to attempt to overtake the vehicle,” Deras noted. Browning and the man “had some kind of struggle” inside the vehicle, while the suspect made a u-turn to attempt to exit the fenced-in service area the same way he entered.
With the Good Samaritan still in the car, Browning accelerated the Kia directly toward a Gilroy police officer standing in the service road, police said. That’s when the officer fired a round from his service weapon, striking the vehicle and forcing it to “spin out and lose control,” Deras said.
After the vehicle was stopped, other Gilroy officers on the scene approached and arrested Browning. The suspect cooperated with detectives and “offered his reasoning for his conduct, although much of it was incoherent and did not rise to any legal standard that would shield him from prosecution,” Deras said.
Deras declined to name the officer who fired his weapon at the vehicle. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office has been notified of the officer-involved shooting incident, and “will review all related reports upon their completion,” police said. The incident does not call for a comprehensive automatic investigation by the DA’s office because nobody was struck by the officer’s handgun round, Deras explained.
Gilroy detectives would continue to interview the many witnesses of the incident as they completed their investigation, authorities said.
In addition to the Pop Warner games in progress on the high school football field, youth and parents were also gathered at a nearby baseball game and a senior-class activity in the student parking lot. Browning had no affiliation with the school or any of these activities on the Gilroy High campus.
Nobody participating in any of the activities on the campus was harmed, according to a statement from Gilroy Unified School District. The Pop Warner Browns lease the football field from the district, the school district’s statement clarified.
“We are relieved that this situation was resolved quickly and without incident,” GUSD Supt. Deborah Flores said. “Many thanks to Gilroy Police Department and to the parents in attendance at the football game for keeping the attendees safe.”
Anyone with information about the incident can call Gilroy Police at (408) 846-0350. Those wishing to remain anonymous can call the WeTip line at (800) 782-7463.