State Parks ranger stopped SLO County beach shooter alone with malfunctioning gun, he says
The California State Parks ranger who apprehended the man accused of fatally shooting a man and child at a San Luis Obispo County beach took the stand Thursday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, walking jurors through the incident moment by moment.
Now-retired State Parks ranger Charles “Chuck” Jackson arrested Stephen Deflaun on July 8, 2001, after Deflaun allegedly killed Stephen Wells, 37, and his 11-year-old nephew, Jerry Rios Jr., in a dispute over a Morro Strand State Beach campsite.
Deflaun, 64, is now on trial for two counts of murder with a firearm and one count of assault of a peace officer with a firearm 22 years after the alleged crime.
Deflaun was originally declared incompetent to stand trial.
Then, in April, California State Hospitals deemed him competent and sent him back to San Luis Obispo Jail custody, where he remains as of Thursday.
Deflaun’s attorney said voices told Deflaun to kill Wells and Rios Jr. Deflaun has entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to his charges.
State Parks ranger: Gunman stopped with malfunctioning shotgun
Jackson testified Thursday that he began heading to Morro Strand State Beach from Morro Bay campground on July 8, 2001, after he received a call about a disturbance at the campground.
As he was driving, he said, dispatch told him the situation had escalated.
So Jackson turned on his vehicle’s blue and red lights and siren and began to speed up, he testified.
It took him around four minutes to arrive at the beach from the campground he was patrolling, according to a recorded dispatch call played in court.
When he arrived, Jackson said, he saw two bodies that appeared to be dead — they were face up, bloody, and motionless — and reported it back to dispatch.
He testified that he drove about 20 feet from the kiosk when he spotted a man with a gun, later identified as Deflaun.
Deflaun was pacing back and forth while holding his handgun at a right angle by his side and yelling or talking out loud, Jackson said.
It didn’t seem that Deflaun was speaking to anyone nearby, Jackson added.
Jackson said he grabbed his shotgun from his patrol car and exited his vehicle, shouting, “State Parks peace officer, drop your weapon!”
Jackson said Deflaun raised his gun and pointed it at his face.
Fearing for his life, Jackson said, he pointed his shotgun at Deflaun and pulled the trigger.
The only thing that happened was a sound — click.
Jackson said he was so “dumbfounded” from seeing the two bloody bodies he was distracted and forgot to load a round into his shotgun.
Jackson retreated and hid behind a recreational vehicle that belonged to Wells, where he loaded his shotgun with a round, he testified.
He said he continued to yell, “State Parks peace officer, drop your weapon,” but Deflaun did not drop his gun.
Jackson said he felt Deflaun was shooting back at him during the exchange, but did not confirm that. When Jackson shot a round from behind the RV, Deflaun fled to take cover behind a nearby parked car.
Jackson said he could see Deflaun’s feet moving from underneath the parked car, so he shot a round on the ground so that the pellets in the shotgun would skip toward Deflaun.
It worked, and Deflaun fell to the ground, Jackson said.
After Deflaun was injured, Jackson testified, he went to check on the the two people he saw when he first came in.
Jackson said he knew Rios Jr. was dead — he was face up, motionless with a bloody bullet wound in the forehead — but Wells was still alive.
Wells was shaking, gasping and struggling to breathe, Jackson said.
Jackson said he noticed Deflaun scooting, still trying to point his gun at him.
Jackson began to walk toward Deflaun, he testified.
This time when he raised his shotgun, Jackson said, he noticed a discharge round was stuck and surmised that the weapon wouldn’t shoot properly if he attempted to fire, so he set the shotgun aside and raised his handgun toward Deflaun.
“As he was pointing (his gun) at me, I started to pull the trigger and he immediately flung his gun straight up over his head backwards,” Jackson said of Deflaun.
Jackson testified that he then put Deflaun in handcuffs as a second law enforcement officer, now-retired State Parks ranger Dave Berry, arrived on the scene.
Alleged shooter had ammunition in pocket, former park ranger says
Berry testified Thursday that when he arrived on scene, he didn’t know whether the shooter had been apprehended or not.
When he saw the two bloody bodies, Rios Jr. wasn’t breathing.
Wells, however, was breathing in agony and “very close to death,” Berry said.
Berry began giving Wells CPR, he testified, and noticed Deflaun yelling as if he were in pain while Jackson held him in custody.
Berry and Jackson soon switched places, Berry said, and Jackson took over CPR while Berry held Deflaun in custody.
Berry said Deflaun was injured on his neck and leg and was bleeding, but not excessively.
Berry said Deflaun told him something to the effect of, “I don’t have a problem with you guys,” meaning the park rangers.
Deflaun did not indicate with whom he had a problem, Berry said.
Berry testified that Deflaun seemed lucid and cooperated as Berry searched his pockets.
Berry said he found pepper spray, a knife, an empty speed loader, a full speed loader that held six bullets and pocket ammunition in Deflaun’s pocket, he said.
Ariane Leiter, who was working for the Morro Bay Fire Department as an engineer paramedic at the time of the fatal shooting, also took the stand Thursday.
Leiter said that, when she arrived at Morro Strand State Beach, there were already several police officers and at least one other paramedic on the scene.
She said Rios Jr. had already been determined to be dead and had a yellow blanket placed over him, but a paramedic and Jackson were still working on Wells.
She first went to check on Deflaun to see if he had any life-threatening injuries.
When Leiter walked up, she heard Deflaun repeating “I’m sorry,” but he did not indicate what he was sorry for.
She said Deflaun had several bullet wounds on his body, but none that were life-threatening. The wounds seemed to have stopped bleeding for the most part, Leiter said.
Leiter said she asked Deflaun four questions required to determine if he was completely alert.
He did not answer, she said, but he seemed aware of his surroundings.
Leiter said she moved back to Wells, who was in more critical condition, and helped get him into an ambulance before returning to Deflaun.
When Leiter returned to Deflaun for a second time, there was another female paramedic with her, who Deflaun called pretty.
That was the only statement she remembers him making at the time, Leiter said, other than him telling her “They shot me” when talking about his injuries.
Leiter said it did not seem like Deflaun was in an acute mental health crisis because he wasn’t saying or acting abnormally, adding that she is not qualified to diagnose a mental health condition.
When asked, Leiter said shooting two people is not normal behavior.
Leiter said she helped get Deflaun on a stretcher and rode with him in the ambulance to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo to get treated for his injuries.
The trial is scheduled to resume April 10 at 9 a.m. with more witness testimony from the prosecution.
When the prosecution rests its case, the defense plans to present its own case.
The defense will call expert witnesses and Deflaun himself to testify about the mental illness they claim was affecting Deflaun’s actions during the shooting.