A Monterey County deputy sheriff spent the last minutes of his life under a barrage of eggs, bottles and firecrackers hurled by a crowd of unruly campers who called him and fellow officers “Nazis,” police said.
Cpl. Robert J. Shaw, 31, the father of two girls, collapsed and died of a heart attack April 19 while facing a hostile mob of 300 to 400 people at Laguna Seca Raceway, police said. The United States Grand Prix Championships motorcycle races were conducted there over the weekend.
Police said the crowd continued to chant obscenities as two officers attempted to revive Shaw. The other deputies turned to face the crowd and formed a protective circle around their fallen colleague, said Capt. Roger Chaterton, commander of the sheriff’s patrol division.
Shaw appeared to stumble as he and about 40 other deputies, dressed in full riot gear, were attempting to restore order with “a show of force,” police said. The deputies were walking in formation during the third of a series of sweeps at a campground where campers had thrown bottles and firecrackers at smaller groups of police earlier in the evening. Those officers had been forced to retreat when the crowd interfered with arrests, police said.
Reports differ on whether the crowd blocked the ambulance that took Shaw to Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, where he was pronounced dead.
Chatterton contended the ambulance “was delayed by an antagonistic crowd that wouldn’t let it through.” He said the incident left him embittered and angry because “the people around us knew a man was down” but did not move out of the way.
But Brian Sinnott, president of Peninsula Medics, said his crew was escorted through the crowd by a wall of deputies who walked beside the ambulance. He added that although the crowd appeared hostile toward police, the ambulance crew reported no problems and arrived on the scene in two minutes.
Chatterton said Shaw’s family had a history of heart diseases and added the deputy was being treated for high blood pressure. He recently had received a physical and was cleared for duty.
Chatterton noted that police officers experience a great deal of stress in hostile crowd situations, where an officer’s instincts initially call for “fight or flight.”
“It’s not just stressful from the perspective of physical danger,” he said. “You can’t really be reacting. You have to exercise restraint . . . It’s a terrible thing to put your body through.”
“I don’t think there’s anything more traumatic in law enforcement than to lose someone in what amounts to combat situation,” he added.
County officials stressed that a majority of the estimated 50,000 people who attended the weekend races were well behaved.
County Supervisor Karin Strasser Kauffmann said she attended the races and observed a crowd she described as mellow, sophisticated and affluent.
She is holding a town meeting at Laguna Seca to discuss noise and traffic complaints, “I’m sure this will be added to the list,” she said.
Police said problems with vandalism and drunkenness arise when some racing fans camp overnight in the park.
Police have asked the county Parks and Recreation Department to limit the number of camping permits issued on racing weekends.
Chatterton said there has been a history of incidents at the camping area following motorcycle races.
Lt. John Crisan said that in previous years police were so outnumbered they could do little but watch as rowdy campers broke park rules, revved motorcycle engines and committed acts of vandalism.
“Up until now, we really haven’t had much enforcement. It’s been nothing but abuse in years past. Many times we went in there and had to retreat,” Crisan said.
This year, Crisan said, police decided to bring in a tactical squad of 30 to 40 deputies.
– San Jose Mercury News