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Sheriff responds to Minkler shootout report

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims has responded to a report critical of her department's handling of a 2010 shootout in Minkler.

Mims says her department is going to learn some important lessons from the tragedy. The sheriff commissioned an independent investigation into "The Minkler Incident."

It happened on Feb. 25 of 2010, when deputies attempted to serve a search warrant at a trailer home in the small Fresno County town of Minkler. A huge gun battle followed.

Fresno County sheriff's detective Joel Wahlenmaier and Reedley police officer Javier Bejar were killed in the incident.

The report cites confusion, lack of communication, lack of equipment and inadequate preparation in the sheriff's departments handling of the Minkler incident.

Sheriff Mims acknowledges there were problems, and some procedures were not followed properly, but she emphasizes the deaths and injuries were the result of a criminal's actions, and not the fault of the officers involved.

"The report is very clear that the blame for the law enforcement deaths and injuries rests solely with the suspect Rick Liles," Mims said.

The report questions whether detective Sgt. Joel Wahlenmaier properly assessed the situation before breaking down the door on Liles' trailer in serving a search warrant. Liles shot the deputy as he smashed it down.

The search warrant was being served on Liles because he was a suspect in a series of arson fires in Minkler. Residents complained that the Sheriff's Department did not take seriously enough previous reports of gunfire coming from Liles' home, and the wounding of a neighbor two days earlier.

The report also notes deputies should have known Liles had an arsenal of weapons registered in his name.

The report suggests the SWAT team should have been called in to serve the search warrant.

"This does not mean that if everything had been done by the book that there would not have been a loss of life or injuries," Mims said.

The report suggests Wahlenmaier may have decided against calling in the SWAT team because he'd been teased by co-workers for calling in the team on a previous incident when it proved unnecessary.

The report notes that once Wahlenmaier was shot, other law enforcement officers pumped more than 600 bullets into his trailer. Liles fired more than 80 shots in return.

One of those doing the shooting was Reedley police officer Javier Behar. He was 240 feet away when he was killed by a rifle shot from Liles.

"I think the biggest lesson is that we all cannot take for granted that there aren't people out there who want to do us harm," Mims said.

The report offers 87 suggestions for improvement.

The sheriff says meetings with staff started Wednesday to begin implementing any needed changes in procedures.

One suggestion already implemented is giving deputies more bullets. Others that will have to wait include buying another armored car, and a robot to enter dangerous areas.

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Tags:
minkler, sheriff margaret mims, fresno county, crimetracker, local, gene haagenson
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