1991 Sacramento hostage crisis

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1991 Sacramento hostage crisis
Sacramento Hostage.jpg
Hostages lined up at the front doors
Location Sacramento, California, United States
Date April 4, 1991
c. 2:00 p.m.-c. 10:00 p.m.
Attack type
Hostage situation, siege, shooting
Weapons Three pistols, Shotgun
Deaths 6 (3 of the 4 perpetrators and 3 hostages)
Non-fatal injuries
14
Perpetrators Loi Khac Nguyen, Pham Khac Nguyen†, Long Khac Nguyen†, and Cuong Tran†

The 1991 Sacramento hostage crisis occurred on April 4, 1991, in Sacramento, California, when four people took hostages at a Good Guys! electronics store located near the Florin Mall, after botching a prior robbery. During the hostage crisis, three hostages as well as three of the four hostage-takers were killed. The fourth hostage-taker was captured by authorities. An additional fourteen hostages were injured during the crisis. To this day, the 1991 Sacramento hostage crisis remains the largest hostage rescue operation in U.S. history, with over fifty hostages being held at gunpoint.[1]

Event[edit]

Start of the siege[edit]

Just before 2:00 p.m., on April 4, 1991, four young Vietnamese refugees, brothers Loi Khac Nguyen, 21, Pham Khac Nguyen, 19, and Long Khac Nguyen, 17, and their friend, Cuong Tran, 17, drove into the parking lot of The Good Guys! Electronics store, in the South Area of Sacramento County, after botching a robbery at a different location. The group left their vehicle, a 1982 Toyota Corolla, and entered the store armed with three pistols and a shotgun. They herded customers and staff into a group, including a shoplifter attempting to leave the store, and began shooting. Several customers managed to escape and alerted police to the situation.

Law enforcement and media response[edit]

When the call came in at 1:35 p.m., the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department Special Enforcement Detail (SED) was already in the process of gearing up in anticipation of executing a previously planned drug raid. They immediately paged off-duty team members, and began preparations to rush to the scene along with the Department's Critical Incident Negotiations Team (CINT) and other local and state law enforcement agencies.

As the situation developed, the local media descended on the area in force, broadcasting the unfolding incident. They were able to get footage of the event because of the store's huge glass front doors, which allowed video crews to see into the store where the hostage takers lined up some of the hostages in front of the entrance as human shields.

Surveillance and negotiation[edit]

In accordance with standard operating procedure, the team obtained a floor plan of the building, which was copied and distributed to team members. The SED team was told that there was only one entrance to the store which was not alarmed: a freight entrance located at the rear of the store. Their only option would be to enter the hostage zone through a fabrics store on the north side of the building. The entry team gained entrance to the fabric store, and slowly moved into position. The criminals apparently heard movement by the police amid shouts of "stay away from the door" coming from inside the store itself.

One of the entry team members removed a ceiling panel in the hallway between the two buildings and inserted a pole-mounted mirror. He was able to observe the subjects directing hostages to place large boxes against the back door to block entry. Once the door was barricaded, the area was abandoned. A fisheye camera was installed by the team but was of limited use because of the design of the store, showing only a portion of the showroom near the door. By this time, the hostages had been tied up with speaker wire and had been arranged inside the store's glass front entrance doors in standing and kneeling positions.

For more than two hours, the department's CINT tried to end the incident peacefully by negotiating with the hostage takers. The hostage takers began to make various demands from $4 million to forty 1,000-year-old ginseng roots, to a 50-troop military helicopter, to transporting everyone to Thailand after a refueling stop in Alaska. Throughout the incident, the hostage takers did not present a clear set of demands to the negotiators.

One demand that remained constant was the request for bulletproof vests. The vests were obtained by the police, and one was exchanged for several hostages. Another benefit of the exchange was that it allowed police to gain information on the current situation in the store. One of the released hostages revealed that the shots heard earlier had been the hostage takers shooting at the store's security cameras, and that none of the hostages had been harmed up to this point. Soon thereafter, more shots were heard, but this was the hostage takers testing the vest.

At one point during the negotiations, the negotiator for the hostage takers, who called himself "Thai", agreed to surrender to the police, but only if they were allowed to retain their bulletproof vests and weapons while in prison. He set down the phone and began to discuss the situation with his partners. By this point, many of the officers involved felt that the exchanges might lead to a negotiated settlement. Suddenly, the phone went dead, and the CINT immediately tried to re-establish contact with the store. On the first attempt, the phone was busy, and on the second attempt a suspect calling himself "Number One" answered the phone, informing everyone that he was now in control. From that point on, the situation began to rapidly deteriorate. Shots were once again fired at the store's security cameras.

Entry[edit]

Approximately eight hours into the incident, the subjects shot a twenty-year-old male hostage in the leg at his request in exchange for his freedom. All he had to do was deliver the gang's message and plight to the local media. They claimed they were trying to draw attention to the troubles of their home country and that they were on a suicide mission. At one point, the police attempted to have all the subjects move to the television area of the store by putting the hostage on the news, but unfortunately this tactic did not work, and the team was finally given the "green light". Sniper Jeffrey Boyes would issue the signal to execute the assault. Boyes had received permission to fire on any subject on whom he could obtain a clear line of sight.

Shortly after the hostage was shot in the leg, the decision was made to move in. A second bulletproof vest was delivered to the front door and a female hostage was sent out to recover it, with her wrists tied behind her and harnessed with more speaker cord. While this was happening, guns were placed to the hostages' heads. Another hostage was placed on the phone, and he informed the police that the subjects were going to begin executing hostages.

As the door was opened and the woman was halfway down the path to retrieve the vest, Boyce was able to line up the perfect shot of "Number One", and he fired with a .308 Win 168-grain HPBT.[citation needed] The bullet was deflected by the glass door as it swung shut. The failure to hit the target was judged to be, at least in part, due to deflection resulting from the door.

Immediately, the hostage takers ran back and forth, shooting at the seated hostages who were tied down in a row behind the glass door, in full view of the news cameras broadcasting the event live. Boyes radioed "Go", and the SED entry team immediately hit the door. A stun grenade was tossed into the store from outside, and Curt Warburton, one of the Good Guys employees, managed to scramble to safety through the now shattered glass door. "Number One", now stunned and disoriented, managed to stagger out of Boyes's sights and take cover behind a large pillar. He then immediately began firing his weapon at more bound hostages.

It took the entry team two to three seconds to gain entry through the back door of the building because of the barricades erected earlier. They then had to contend with the 100-foot distance to the front of the store. The team was armed with a variety of weapons for the entry. Sgt. Devlin, Price, and Smith were armed with SiGARMS Sig P220 pistols, Kelly carried a laser-sighted HK MP5, and investigators Hammel and Peterson carried H&K MP5SD3 submachine guns. Stanfill was still armed with his AR-15.

Hammel and Price cleared the west side of the store, Peterson and Kelly the east side, with Devlin and Smith going straight up the middle. Stanfill took up a rear guard position. As the team began its movement toward the front of the store, the remaining hostage takers immediately began to fire on the entry team and hostages. Peterson stepped on the wire that had been used to tether the female hostage sent out to recover the second vest. At that very moment, she was snatched to safety by officers outside the store, causing Peterson's feet to fly out from under him, forcing him to fall backwards, just as a shotgun blast immediately blew through the area where he was standing. His fellow team members mistakenly believed he had been struck in the face by the blast. As Peterson began to rise to his feet, Devlin and Kelly tried to flank the shotgun wielding suspect who fired on them once again, before being taken under fire by the team.

Neutralization[edit]

Simultaneously, on the west side of the store, the team took out one of the suspects (Cuong Tran) before he could react, and then spotted a second armed suspect (Pham Nguyen) and fired on him, but he disappeared into the chaos of the screaming and panicking crowd of hostages. Then, "Number One" (Long Nguyen) was shot.

At this point, the team could only account for three of the suspects, and immediately began a systematic search for the fourth. Price and Hamell discovered an unarmed Asian male (Loi Nguyen) wearing a vest and lying on the floor. Once he was rolled over, they discovered he had a .223 caliber entrance wound, accounting for all four suspects.

Fernando Gutierrez[edit]

One of the victims of the crisis was 28-year-old Fernando Gutierrez, a resident of Sacramento, who was fatally shot in the back by one of the assailants. Within days following the event, his family expressed outrage over authorities' handling of the situation, planning to sue the department for "incompetence and negligence." However, a subsequent search of the dead hostage's body revealed that he had several pieces of merchandise hidden on his body at the time of the shooting, possibly indicating his intention to shoplift. Shortly after this was revealed to Gutierrez' family, the family stopped pursuing their case against the Sheriff's Department.

Fernando was the father of three daughters. He was held hostage with two of his nieces, Lisa Joseph (five months pregnant at the time) and Priscilla Alvarez.

Aftermath[edit]

Casualties[edit]

During the assault, the suspects wounded eleven hostages and killed three. Three other hostages were injured by broken glass. Of the four suspects, three were killed by the entry team and one, "Thai", was wounded. None of the SED entry team was wounded. Dead were store employees Kris Edward Sohne and John Lee Fritz, and customer Fernando Gutierrez. Gutierrez's niece, Lisa Joseph, was also a hostage. She later wrote the book Heads or Tails: A True Hostage Story of Terror, Torture and Ultimate Survival about her ordeal.[2]

Trial and prosecution[edit]

When the case went to trial, Judge W.J. Harpham remarked, "It's hard to find the adjectives for the terror the defendant put these hostages through." He sentenced Loi Khac Nguyen to 49 consecutive life terms in prison. He was convicted of three counts of murder—for Kris Edward Sohne, John Fritz and Fernando Gutierrez—and 38 counts of kidnapping.[3] Nguyen is currently serving his consecutive life sentences at the California State Prison, Lancaster.[4]

The former Good Guys! building later became a Dollar Tree store slightly changed, with the doors being on the side of the building as opposed to the front. This Dollar Tree still stands today and is in business.[5]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In 2000, a play titled The Good Guys: An American Tragedy was created by Michael Edo Keane and Miko Lee and presented by Theater of Yugen, a theatre group that presents work relating to the Pan Asian Diaspora, at the Theater Artaud in San Francisco, California.[6]
  • The hostage crisis was examined in detail in the first season of the documentary series Shootout!, aired on the The History Channel, for the first time in September 2005.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Taclink -Sacramento County Sheriff's Department SED". Retrieved February 28, 2012. 
  2. ^ Blair Anthony Robertson (April 2, 2007). "Ordeal was her defining moment". Sac Bee. Archived from the original on May 16, 2007. Retrieved January 4, 2009. 
  3. ^ "History – The Sacramento Bee: 150 Years – From the pages of The Bee". sacbee.com. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Inmate Locator". California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilition. Archived from the original on 11 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-13. 
  5. ^ "McGinness Remembers Good Guys Hostages - YouTube". YouTube.com. Retrieved 2012-03-19. 
  6. ^ Playwrights turn attention to tragedy at "Good Guys" store a Berkeley Daily Planet article about the play adaptation.
  7. ^ IMDb. ""Shootout!" SWAT Team Shootouts (TV Episode 2005) – IMDb". IMDb. Retrieved 2012-02-28. 

External links[edit]