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Surrounded By SWAT and K9 Units, Suspect Escapes Cops and Armored Vehicles in El Segundo, After Hours Long Standoff

4:10 PM PDT on May 31, 2022

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Three days after a gunman killed 19 children in Texas, the El Segundo Police Department (ESPD) and agencies from Manhattan Beach and Hawthorne, K9 units, armored vehicles, drones, and crisis negotiators surrounded an unresponsive driver with a reported handgun parked blocks away from two schools. Despite the overwhelming police response, somehow, the driver accomplished what nearly 3/4 of drivers in the state of California fail to do during police chases…they got away.

Bewildered parents and spectators are now speaking out on social media and criticizing the police department for failing to close the schools, contain the driver, and relay basic information to the public.

“I have never in my life spoken out against the police, I am so confused, and I just don’t understand,” someone commented on the mayor of El Segundo’s Facebook page. “I would think with the week that our country just went through, we would be on heightened alert! How in the world, with a helicopter, a drone, SWAT, and other police agencies, does someone get away?”

According to a statement from El Segundo Police Chief Jaime Bermudez, at around 7:30 AM on Friday, officers received a report of a suspicious “male slumped over a wheel.” Firefighters responded to the scene, and one paramedic “looked inside the vehicle and observed what he believed to be a handgun in the vehicle.” Police established a containment area, and additional resources—including K9 units, armored bearcats, drones, and crisis negotiators—were called in.

Hours later, the driver “suddenly opened his door and briefly exited the vehicle,” according to Chief Bermudez, before jumping back in and reversing into a $200,000 armored military vehicle used by police, known as a BearCat. “The suspect was able to maneuver just enough to break away from the armored vehicle, and he fled northbound on Center Street then eastbound out of sight,” said Bermudez. El Segundo police officers unsuccessfully attempted to catch up with the driver.

Meanwhile, students and faculty at neighboring schools, two just down the street, were on high alert after getting mixed messages from authorities. “My son was in an after-school club, and he locked down for a bit. He said there was an announcement for teachers to check their email…then a few minutes later, there was an announcement saying it was all fine. I’m not sure what to think about how communication this whole day has been handled, honestly,” one mother wrote on Facebook.

“I would think with the week that our country just went through, we would be on heightened alert! How in the world, with a helicopter, a drone, SWAT, and other police agencies, does someone get away?”

Hours after the driver got away, the ESPD received a call regarding a vehicle illegally parked in an alley near El Segundo Highschool. When they arrived at the scene, officers realized it was the same vehicle from earlier. A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed “numerous power tools,” including a sawzall (an all-purpose electric hand saw) but no handgun.

Was really hoping to see an explanation for this morning's police activity at Center and Walnut,” a woman wrote on Facebook. “Over an hour standoff??? And community members posting that they called ESPD for information...told the guy "fled" the area????  Really? How? With multiple departments and SWAT units??? Nothing on ESPD Facebook page. Nothing on Nixle.”

That day, the city released a brief statement acknowledging the incident without much detail. “Responding officers secured the area, attempted to wake up the driver, and issued a notification to the community to avoid the area. After approximately two hours, the man awoke and quickly fled the area in his vehicle. The El Segundo Police Department pursued the vehicle and later located it abandoned,” part of the city’s statement reads. The following day, Chief Bermudez released a more detailed update.

In public and private Facebook groups, people also took issue with the decision not to close the neighboring schools. “The idea [that] the car went missing and was found so close to the high school choir and band classrooms and boys gym during school hours is astounding,” someone wrote on the mayor’s Facebook page. “It could have had tragic results.” 

“I never like to speak out against the police, but this is pathetic, absolutely disgraceful that this person was able to get away, let alone wonder (sic) the city…I have friends who have kids that go to school here and people who live here,” another Facebook user commented on the mayor’s page.

Evading police officers during car chases in California, where televised pursuits sometimes feel like a spectator sport, is extremely rare, but it does happen.

Chief Bermudez defended their decision not to close the schools saying, “based on the information I was receiving from the incident commander at the scene, the decision was made not to shut down the school.” However, Chief Bermudez admitted that there were issues with relaying that information to school staff. “This is something I will review internally and take corrective action to ensure our messaging remains consistent during critical incidents.”

Evading police officers during car chases in California, where televised pursuits sometimes feel like a spectator sport, is extremely rare, but it does happen. In the city of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) made arrests in more than 80 percent of car chases between 2006 and 2014, according to data reviewed by the L.A. Times in 2015. Back then, the average for the state was roughly 68 percent.

When vehicles do evade police, they often do so by hiding in a parking structure or some form of covering that makes it difficult for aerial support to track them. In the case of the driver in El Segundo, video footage from the area revealed that the suspect fled on foot shortly after evading officers on Center Street, mere minutes into the pursuit.

“The amount of money wasted on all of that equipment, personnel, and alleged training is staggering because an overtired criminal can bluff his way out of an intense standoff,” someone reacted to the news on Reddit.

The City of El Segundo is responding to the situation by throwing even more cops and security officers at the problem. “The City Manager, ESUSD Superintendent, and Chief of Police are in regular communication regarding the incident that occurred on Friday, May 27th,” reads a Facebook post from the city. “To address heightened concerns in the local area, beginning tomorrow, May 31st, ESPD will have a significant law enforcement presence at all district schools for the remainder of the school year.”

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