The first Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy killed in the line of duty in 55 years was shot by a Los Gatos man with a history of “mental instability” and confrontations with police, authorities said.
In fact, officers responded on a number of occasions to reports of violent behavior by Michael Robert Stephens, including the day before Stephens fatally wounded Deputy Doug Miller and was himself killed in an exchange of gunfire, sheriff’s officials said, Monday, June 9.
Miller, 31, was shot in the lower abdomen after Stephens grabbed a gun from the deputy’s holster and started a shoot-out with three other deputies and a California Highway Patrol officer, sheriff’s officials said.
The officers were responding to a call from Stephens’ parents after Stephens became violent in their home in an unincorporated area near Los Gatos.
Miller, a seven-year member of the Sheriff’s Department, died early the next morning after emergency surgery at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose.
Sheriff Robert Winter called the deputy’s death “a sad occasion in the history of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department.”
In a speech in Sunnyvale to the California State Sheriffs Association, Gov. George Deukmejian said, “I am deeply saddened that an outstanding law enforcement officer has been killed. All of the officers demonstrated great bravery and a tremendous amount of courage.”
After Miller was wounded, Stephens, 28, was shot four times by Deputy Bill Scott. Another deputy, Dennis Nixon, was shot in the heel during the shoot-out and was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose for treatment.
Winter said Scott and Nixon would be placed on routine administrative leave until “they are ready” to return to work.
According to Sheriff’s Department officials, Stephens had a history of mental problems and run-ins with police. Winter said Miller was aware of Stephens’ volatile history and had contact with the man prior to Sunday’s shooting.
Winter would not reveal the extent of Stephens’ police record, although Deputy Steve Lieurance said the Los Gatos man “did not have a big sheet” of past violations.
There was no record of Stephens having a felony record in Santa Clara County Superior Court, and Lieurance said there were no charges pending against Stephens when he was killed.
The shootings occurred about 9 p.m. after the Sheriff’s Department received a domestic disturbance call at the Stephens’ residence. The parents wanted their son taken to Valley Medical Center for psychiatric observation.
Winter said that deputies responded to the same type of call on Saturday, when Stephens fled the house before officers arrived.
When the deputies went to the house again Sunday night, Stephens’ mother cautioned them that her son was particularly violent and might have to be restrained, sheriff’s officials said.
According to Winter, Stephens was in a small room off the garage when the deputies approached him.
Stephens put up a struggle, at which point Miller tried to handcuff him.
Winter said that Stephens grabbed Miller’s service revolver and shot the deputy in the lower abdomen, below the bulletproof vest he was wearing.
After Miller was shot, deputies said that Scott grabbed Stephens’ gun and shot Stephens four times. But Stephens managed to fire the revolver three more times, one shot hitting Nixon in the heel.
Stephens was pronounced dead at the scene.
Miller, a native of San Jose, worked at the county jail before going to patrol several years ago. He was a Navy Veteran.
His parents, Walter and Lorraine Miller, of San Jose, survive him.