Violence of chase led cops to fire despite hostage

Published 10:12 am Friday, July 18, 2014

STOCKTON, Calif. — Misty Holt-Singh planned to be gone for just a few minutes when she stepped into her local bank. Instead, she became the victim of three robbers who had gone there, too, planning to take both money and hostages.

As her 12-year-old daughter sat waiting in the car, Holt-Singh and a pair of bank employees were forced into a stolen SUV at gunpoint just as police converged on the parking lot. What followed was a chaotic, hour-long chase through this Northern California city that ended with a furious gun battle. When it was over, the 41-year-old mother of two was dead in the back of the vehicle.

Police said that a suspect, the only one of the three to survive, used her as a human shield as the bullets flew back and forth. An autopsy may determine whether the one that killed Holt-Singh was fired by officers or the robbers.

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Most police departments discourage shooting at getaway cars during chases. But the taking of hostages and hail of bullets coming from the suspect’s vehicle forced Stockton police to make the split-second decision to use their own weapons while knowing they might harm an innocent civilian.

“When you have a hostage in there it changes the ballgame altogether because you can’t risk the life of a hostage to stop the bad guy,” said Timothy Clemente, a retired SWAT expert for the FBI.

But, he added, “if these guys are driving down the highway and they’re spraying AK-47 fire and a lot of innocents are put in danger by that fire, then maybe my return fire is absolutely needed to cease their action.”

Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones said Thursday that any and all responsibility lies with three hometown robbers.

“The fact that these three violent gunmen put our community at such jeopardy is deplorable,” Jones said. “The gunmen had not the slightest intent of a peaceful resolution as they continued to cause mayhem and havoc. Every minute the incident continued, the stakes rose intensely for our officers and for our entire community.”

In the drama that unfolded Wednesday afternoon, the suspects entered the Bank of the West branch wearing hooded sweatshirts and sunglasses and with guns drawn, San Joaquin County Chief Deputy District Attorney Ronald Freitas said. They tied up a security guard, took over the bank and went to the vault to get money, he said.

On the way out they abducted Holt-Singh and two women who work at the bank as they made their getaway. It’s not clear whether the employees were targeted before the holdup.