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Man shoots, kills California officer who was checking on him

  • Law enforcement officers blocked off an area as they searched for a suspect in the fatal shooting of a San Jose, Calif., police officer on Tuesday. (AP Photo/San Jose Mercury News, Josie Lepe)

SAN JOSE, Calif. >>  A man threatening to commit suicide unleashed a barrage of gunfire on Northern California officers called to check on him, killing a 14-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department in what the mayor is calling the city’s “darkest hour.”

Scott Dunham, 57, fatally shot Officer Michael Johnson, 38, Tuesday night, launching an hours-long manhunt for the gunman and forcing nearby apartments to be evacuated. The search ended when Dunham was found dead early Wednesday on his apartment balcony, San Jose police spokesman Albert Morales said.

Police had no communication with the suspect between the time Johnson was shot about 6:45 p.m. Tuesday and when Dunham was found dead more than eight hours later, at 3:20 a.m. Wednesday. It was unclear if he killed himself or died when officers returned fire.

Police Chief Larry Esquivel said at a news conference early Wednesday that it was difficult to pinpoint Dunham’s motive or mindset. A neighbor told KRON ( Dunham had recently lost his job. A niece also told the television station that her uncle had untreated mental health issues. Police classified him as intoxicated at the time.

“It’s unfortunate that this person had the nerve, the audacity, to shoot at our officers that were responding to a call for service, for assistance,” Esquivel said.

Officers approaching Dunham’s San Jose apartment building were met with gunfire. After Johnson was shot, authorities swarmed the area in search of the shooter. Johnson was a field training officer but did not have a trainee with him at the time he was shot.

Officers, armored vehicles and a helicopter came from neighboring law enforcement agencies and the California Highway Patrol. At 1:30 a.m. officers used explosives to breach the apartment then used a robot with a camera to check inside. Dunham was found dead about two hours later.

Police were called to the apartment because Dunham reportedly threatened his wife and said he would kill her if “she didn’t leave,” according to the 911 police tapes released by police. The woman left the apartment and called one of her children, who called police, according to the tapes.

The police recordings show that officers told dispatchers Dunham was thought to be in possession of one or two handguns.

The last San Jose officer killed in the line of duty was Jeffrey Fontana, who was shot during a vehicle stop in 2001. DeShawn Campbell was convicted in the case.

Coincidentally, both Johnson and Fontana were in the same police academy class.

Johnson is the 12th officer to be killed in the San Jose Police Department’s 166-year history and leaves behind a wife, who was out of town at the time of the shooting, police said.

Mayor Sam Liccardo expressed sympathies to Johnson’s family, telling reporters: “This has been San Jose’s darkest hour.”

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. issued a statement Wednesday saying Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff in his memory.

“Anne and I extend our deepest condolences to Officer Johnson’s family, friends and fellow officers. Officer Johnson will be remembered for his courage and dedicated service and we join the entire San Jose community in mourning this tragic loss.”

He is survived by his wife, Nicole, and parents, Katherine Decker and Daniel Johnson.

Johnson was one of two law officers to die in incidents with suspects Tuesday. In Wisconsin, State Patrol Trooper Trevor Casper, 21, was killed in a shootout with a bank robbery suspect. Casper was just three months out of the academy. The suspect, who is also believed to have killed a motorist, died in the shooting in Fond du Lac, in eastern Washington.

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