Tustin police officers were recently dispatched to a call for a stolen bag of chips from a convenience store’s outdoor chip stand.
The chip thief turned out to be a wanted parolee and violent sex offender who had cut off his GPS ankle bracelet.
What could have easily turned into a dangerous altercation ended peacefully, thanks to thorough training and de-escalation techniques used by the Tustin officers.
“Our police department prides itself on dealing with little problems before they become big problems,” one officer said. “Because we deal with the little problems seriously, we ended up finding a violent sex offender and getting him off the street.”
The Tustin officer arrived on the scene first and quickly spotted a man sitting on a grassy area near the store at 1062 Old Irvine Boulevard, eating a bag of chips.
The man matched the description given by the store’s employees: a man wearing a red hood and black jacket who had walked in that direction.
The man was later identified as Jared Hamilton, 44, of Los Angeles, who was a sex registrant and parolee-at-large with a history of violent assault on police officers, officials said.
The officer walked over to talk to Hamilton, who admitted he didn’t pay for the bag of chips, but was mostly incoherent and appeared agitated. He threatened the officer, who called for backup.
“I got the impression right away he was either under the influence of a controlled substance or had a mental illness,” the officer said. “I asked if the guy was on probation or parole. He said, ‘no,’ which was a lie. I asked if he paid for the chips and he said, ‘Nope, I didn’t.’”
Officer Mike McJunkin arrived and the two continued talking calmly and clearly to the man, who despite their efforts became more and more agitated, an officer said. The officers speak slowly and calmly, giving one order or question at a time to reduce confusion.
“I feel Tustin has the best training I’ve ever had when it comes to mental health, identifying mental illnesses, and de-escalation techniques,” Officer Josh Yuhas said. “We all do the same training so we were all on the same page. We all know what to do and how to do it… we are very good about verbally de-escalating based on our training.”
The man began shoving handfuls of chips in his mouth and threatening the officers with violence, officials said. The officers remained at a distance.
“We’re both recognizing threat of violence potential,” the officer said. “This was quickly spiraling downward.”
A taser would not have been effective due to the man wearing layers of heavy clothing. Officer Ryan Newell arrived and brought a less-lethal impact weapon from the patrol car.
At that point, the man did comply with commands to lie on his stomach, and the officers were able to arrest the suspect.
“They did a good job of de-escalating the situation and staying in control,” Sergeant Mike VanCleve said. “They know what to do and they know what the situation dictates.”
Because the man resisted the handcuffs and was kicking and thrashing his body, the officers applied a leg restraint called a hobble and a mask to prevent the man from spitting on the officers.
“You get dispatched to a call and you never know what it is,” Yuhas said. “You just have your bag of tools: your training experience, the tools on your belt, your radio, your hands, your brain, your words. Every call you go to it’s about getting there safely, making the scene safe… You need all those tools sometimes.”
After being placed in handcuffs, the man continued threatening the officers and even asked to have the handcuffs removed so he could fight the officers, an officer said.
The man was carrying no identifying information and gave a fake name, but officers were able to identify him by the tattoos on his face and learned this suspect was a sex registrant who was on parole. The suspect had cut off his monitoring ankle device and his parole agent had issued a warrant for his arrest.
“We’re a smaller agency but we’ve got a good group of people and we’re well trained,” VanCleve said. “We talk about these kinds of situations all the time… We’re doing our best to keep crime down and making sure we do it safely and try to be as proactive as possible to keep the city safe.”
“We really care about the community and I think that shows in the professional work these guys do,” VanCleve said.