Chandler shooting compared with cop slayings - East Valley Tribune: News

Chandler shooting compared with cop slayings

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Posted: Thursday, September 2, 2004 12:57 am | Updated: 4:44 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

The broken glass outside the apartment revealed the jewelry store robber's hiding place. Four SWAT officers rushed inside, single file — and were met with a burst of fire from an assault rifle.

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Chandler police officer James Snedigar, 38, a married father of three, collapsed to the floor with mortal wounds.

The April 16, 1999, cop-killing stunned the East Valley and prompted new tactical policies, training methods and equipment purchases in the Chandler Police Department.

Whether any changes need to be made following the shooting deaths of two Phoenix police officers on Saturday is yet to be determined.

"It was a completely different situation, with patrol officers responding to an unknown situation," Chandler detective George Arias said of Saturday's shooting. "Of course, there are some similarities, with the officers being shot at the door."

Phoenix officers Eric White, 30, and Jason Wolfe, 27, were killed after police kicked in the apartment door of Douglas Tatar, who only minutes earlier had shot another man. The officers arrived in the neighborhood near 19th and Northern avenues to find the victim on the sidewalk with a bullet wound.

Tatar, who called police to report the shooting, told a 911 dispatcher he was alone in the apartment with a handgun just before the officers stormed in, according to an audiotape released Tuesday. Tatar shot himself in the head, Phoenix police said.

About 2 p.m., a man barricaded himself in a house in the 3800 block of West Moreland in Phoenix with his sister, mother and a 4-year-old.

On Wednesday night, Phoenix police shot a suspect in the hand ending another stanfoff. The man barricaded himself in a house in the 3800 block of West Moreland with his sister, mother and a 4-year-old. Officers had been negotiating with him until he shot an officer who was trying to get a phone into the house.

The officer was hit in the chest but the bullet was stopped with a bullet-proof vest. He was taken to Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa for precautions.

In Snedigar's case, police knew from the start they were up against a violent criminal.

Sergio Hernandez Martinez had just robbed a Tempe jewelry store at gunpoint with two accomplices, Leroy Campbell and Arthur Lucero. The robbers ditched their black Ford Mustang after a high-speed chase and ran into the Sierra Palms apartment complex, 1100 N. Priest Drive. The Chandler SWAT officers assisted Tempe police in surrounding the place, then discovered a broken sliding glass door at apartment No. 1055.

Martinez ambushed the officers as they came through the door, and Snedigar was hit multiple times by bullets that pierced his body armor. He was the first Chandler officer killed in the line of duty.

Police shot and killed Martinez in the ensuing shootout. Campbell and Lucero — who had been hiding in a different apartment — were caught trying to walk from the complex. In May of 2002, they were sentenced to 40 and 45 years in prison, respectively.

Shortly after Snedigar's death, Chandler police upgraded its weaponry, purchased top-of-the-line bulletproof shields and even obtained body armor for police dogs, Arias said. Just two months after the shooting, the Chandler City Council approved $145,891 for the purchase of a robot that can be used for hazardous situations.

In the fall of 2002, Snedigar's widow, Dawn Snedigar, joined forces with 10 Chandler SWAT officers to push for an independent review of her husband's death. At the time, Snedigar told the City Council she questioned the way the team entered the apartment, and why dogs or other tactics weren't used.

The review was approved as part of a general audit of the police department following the fatal shooting of a woman at a pharmacy drive-through by officer Dan Lovelace.

On Wednesday, Dawn Snedigar said the shooting deaths of the Phoenix police officers brought back painful memories.

"I notice similarities, but I haven't gotten the details on what happened," she said. "I would hate to be somebody that is second-guessing."

The review concluded last October that — among other things — the department's SWAT members needed more training.

Officer David LeVoy, a SWAT member and the president of the Chandler Law Enforcement Association, said Wednesday that Snedigar's team could have delayed their assault and taken more time to evaluate the danger.

"Hindsight is always 20/20," LeVoy said. "Sometimes a decision made in the heat of the moment, sometimes it is shown it may not be the most prudent decision, after the fact."

- ABC 15 News contributed to this report.

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