The shirtless man stood on the roof of the La Habra apartment complex, distraught and acting erratically on the cold December night.
He had stacked some cinder blocks atop the two-story building to stand on.
At times, he would hold up a hammer and whack the blocks, or whip the hammer through the air.
With a ground-level garage, the apartment complex, at 229 W. Lambert Rd., essentially was three stories high — more than sufficient to cause serious injury or death should the man decide to jump or fall.
It was just after midnight on Dec. 4 when La Habra PD Officer Amsony Mondragon heard the call crackle over his patrol car radio:
Possibly suicidal adult male on a roof.
La Habra PD Dispatcher Romi Montgomery, who took the initial call, coordinated the response of other agencies, including the Brea Fire Department and Brea PD, which sent out some officers for traffic control.
Mondragon was among the first four officers on the scene, joined by Sgt. Eric Ocampo, the patrol supervisor that night, Officer Kevin Love and Det. Kim Razey.
The officers not only faced the challenge of trying to prevent the man from hurting himself, but also endangering other residents. They were concerned he could leap onto a balcony and force himself inside a unit, or maybe enter his own unit from a balcony and gain access to any weapons he might have.
“This was a complex, rapidly unfolding emergency,” recalled Ocampo, the SWAT team supervisor for the La Habra PD.
As La Habra PD Lead Dispatcher Kristen Kernohan coordinated all radio traffic and provided updated information, other officers arrived at the scene.
Mondragon, a former member of the North County SWAT team with experience in crisis negotiations, began talking to the suspect. Razey, a former 10-year negotiator for North County SWAT who was working an overtime shift that night, also began negotiating with the subject, who apparently had become troubled because he was facing some sort of criminal charges.
“I just tried to make a connection and interact with him as much as possible to keep his mind off of jumping,” said Mondragon, who spoke to the man in both English and Spanish.
Officer Phil Principe took an elevated position and provided updated location information on the man when he periodically would go out of view.
Officer Kevin Love evacuated several apartments, including the man’s apartment.
Officer Travis Nelson and Officer Judy Casillas assisted in the evacuation of several apartments.
Nelson contacted the man’s family members.
The man’s sister showed up.
Mondragon convinced the man to toss away his hammer. He flung it into the parking area.
“That gave us a little bit of hope he wouldn’t hurt himself,” Mondragon said.
The man talked to his sister for a couple of minutes before he became agitated. The officers whisked her away.
Mondragon and his colleagues learned that the LHPD had had previous contacts with the man for similar instances of threatening to hurt himself.
“I kept reassuring him that I was there to help him, and at one point I told him I wasn’t going anywhere,” Mondragon said. “I tried to keep it personal.”
The man would fall silent of periods of time, and at one point, perched on the edge of the roof with his back to the officers, he appeared to have fallen asleep.
Mondragon was concerned he might fall.
Time dragged on.
Mondragon, who was scheduled to end his shift early that morning at 2:30 a.m., talked to the man until about 3:30 a.m.
Finally, perhaps because of the cold or perhaps because he came to his senses — or a combination of both — the man stood up and walked to the side of the roof where the Brea Fire Department had set up a ladder.
The man walked down the ladder and was taken to a hospital for medical evaluation.
“It doesn’t happen a lot,” Mondragon said of suicidal La Habra residents threatening to jump off roofs. “More often, people take pills and booze or slash themselves.”
Prior to the Dec. 4 drama, Mondragon had talked two other suicidal people to safety. One was a woman who had climbed to the top of a baseball backstop. Another was a woman who had locked herself in a bathroom with a knife.
“It’s satisfying,” Mondragon said of positive outcomes to potential suicides. “At the end of the day, I helped one person out. Ultimately, it was a team effort.”
Ocampo said “it was just luck of the draw” that he, Mondragon and Razey, all with extensive negotiator experience, happened to be working that night. And he credited the entire team for the successful outcome.
“Without the efforts of everyone,” the sergeant said, “this situation could have ended in a tragedy.”