Editor’s note: In honor of Behind the Badge OC’s one-year anniversary, we will be sharing the 30 most-read stories. This story was originally published Nov. 13.
For 28 of his 43 years, John Frank Brantley had been in and out of jail, prison and treatment programs for various drug- and theft-related crimes throughout Southern California.
His extensive rap sheet in Orange County dates back to 1989, records show.
Brantley’s career as a criminal, which began when he was 16, came to a violent end Nov. 1.
That morning, a veteran Garden Grove police officer fatally shot Brantley after Brantley forced his way into a home, threatened and held a knife to a woman and then stabbed her husband while struggling with him for control of a loaded shotgun.
Brantley was treated for his wounds, but died at a local hospital.
The officer-involved shooting is being investigated by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, which examines all officer-involved shootings in the county.
Police officials and the victimized woman this week shared details of the shooting, including a tape recording of a 911 call that captures the chilling moments in the single-family home in the 9900 block of Aldgate when a spasm of violence erupted.
The 911 tape and interviews shed light on the split-second decisions police officers must make when calls turn ugly.
They also illustrate, police say, the type of hardened criminals who increasingly are walking the streets as a result of realignment, the three-year-old state law (AB109) that has led to the release of non-violent offenders and the transfer of their supervision from the state parole system to local probation officers.
“Mr. Brantley is the poster child for what law enforcement and probation is dealing with due to realignment, and what the community has to accept in terms of what society increasingly is going to look like,” Garden Grove Police Chief Kevin Raney said.
“Police throughout the state are dealing with much more sophisticated criminals, and unfortunately, he (Brantley) is a worst-case scenario of the effects of realignment.”
The recent passage of Prop. 47, which reduces to misdemeanors certain non-violent crimes, only is going to make matters worse, Raney believes.
That new law, passed by California voters Nov. 4, will allow about 10,000 currently incarcerated felons to be eligible for release if they successfully petition to get their crimes reclassified as misdemeanors, Raney said.
BREAKING THROUGH THE BEDROOM DOOR
In the latest of his litany of crimes, Brantley was arrested July 22 this year for stealing a car in Costa Mesa. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor auto theft and was sentenced to three years of informal probation and 120 days in county jail.
He was released from Orange County Jail on or around Sept. 16, records show. That never would have happened were it not for realignment, Raney said.
Brantley most likely would have been sent to state prison for stealing the car and for violating what would have been parole stemming from a three-year prison sentence for drug possession that was handed down Dec. 17, 2012.
But on June 26 this year, Brantley was released from prison for that crime under AB 109 and put under post-release community supervision, not parole.
And on the morning after Halloween, he ended up in the home on Aldgate Avenue.
The wife, who did not want her or her husband’s name publicly revealed, heard someone pounding on the back bedroom door just after 8 a.m.
She was up; her husband still was asleep.
The female resident called 911 and told a veteran police dispatcher she believed a man — a stranger — was breaking into the home. Her barking dogs led her to believe something was wrong, she told the dispatcher.
Police later would determine that Brantley, who is from South Gate, had burglarized a halfway house in Garden Grove at 3 a.m. that morning, showing up with items – including a cell phone and clothing – in a cardboard box.
Prior to breaking into the home, Brantley had been at a nearby laundry business where, he claims, five or six gang members had threatened him, according to police.
The 20-year veteran officer of the Garden Grove PD was two hours into his shift patrolling the west side of the city when the dispatch call went out.
Burglary in progress.
It’s not every day, the officer said, that a cop is put in the position of confronting a suspect in the process of harming or trying to harm someone.
Brantley forced his way into the home of the longtime Garden Grove residents by using his shoulder to break through two locked French doors. Startled, the husband retrieved a shotgun from under his bed and told the man to hold it right there. Brantley told the couple he was running for his life from the people at the laundry business.
The husband continued to hold the shotgun, not pointing it at the stranger, as his wife talked to the police dispatcher from another room, telling the dispatcher an intruder was in their home.
Initially, things were relatively calm as the couple and the suspect made their way into the living room.
The woman described to the dispatcher what the suspect was wearing and said he appeared to be composed and not on drugs.
Things rapidly escalated.
Brantley said something about having warrants and then blocked the woman from unlocking the screen door to let officers into the home.
Then, she said, he grabbed her around the neck with one arm and in his other hand she saw the flash of a knife that he then held against the back of her neck.
Her husband screamed to let her go.
The woman managed to use her phone to hit the man hard on the shoulder. He released his grip and she grabbed his neck and began to choke him, she said, but he broke away.
That’s when the man charged her husband, stabbed him in the left arm, and began struggling with him for control of the shotgun.
Brantley and the woman’s husband ended up on the floor of a narrow hallway just off the living room.
The woman said she unlocked the front screen door.
The living room was shuttered and dark when the officers entered.
Then, “Everything happened in about five seconds,” said the officer, one of four who showed up at the house. Police did not release the name of the officer who shot Brantley.
The officer said he saw Brantley and the male victim, who was bleeding from his upper left arm, on their backs in the hallway, the barrel of a shotgun aimed at the officers.
Brantley overpowered the male victim and had gained control of the shotgun, the officer said, when the officer shot him three times with a Glock .45 service weapon.
The suspect failed to respond to his commands to drop the weapon, the officer said.
“I was just responding to the threat,” the officer said.
The officer said Garden Grove cops receive regular active shooter and range training to take down suspects holding a hostage.
The bullets hit Brantley in the right arm and right upper chest.
“It was a very serious situation, and I responded to it,” the officer said. “Every police officer with my training and experience would have done the same thing. I am thankful I and the other officers were able to control a crime in progress where a person was being hurt.
“I’m certain he (Brantley) had really bad intentions — that he would have killed (the couple). I’m thankful to have helped them…. What happened was a great team effort; it wasn’t just me.”
The woman said the suspect ended up several feet in front of her husband after he was shot — indicating he had taken a few steps toward the officers when bullets felled him.
“They saved our lives,” the woman said of the police response.
Raney agreed that the man and woman likely would have been killed by the intruder had police not intervened.
Said Raney: “Our society is changing, and we all have to be more aware of what the new realty is. We need to always lock our doors at night, be vigilant and take other actions to safeguard ourselves.”
The woman said she and her husband slowly are healing from the trauma.
She praised the police department.
“They couldn’t have been more kind, compassionate and helpful — they couldn’t have done anything better,” she said. “It was like they came here on the wings of angels.”