By 1985, Sheriff's Office staff members saw a real need for an organized, planned approach to high risk, hostage and barricaded suspect situations, as the frequency of these types of incidents was increasing, and traditional law enforcement responses were inadequate.
In September of 1985 the department established a Critical Incident Management Team. The team consisted of two components: The Hostage Negotiating Team, and the tactical, or SWAT Team. The selection and training process for each team continued on into the next year.
One of the original members of the SWAT team was Deputy Dighton Lewis Little. Dighton was a ten-year veteran of the department. A very energetic person, he was involved in a number of community organizations and activities. Dighton had the type of personality that whenever he was anywhere near, everyone knew it. He worked hard and played hard, living life to its fullest.
The message on Dighton's answering machine said a lot about him: "Hi, this is Dighton. I can't come to the phone right now. I'm out fighting for truth, justice and the American way!" Although his message was done tongue-in-cheek, Dighton truly believed it. He had a passion for his job, and he had a passion for people.
Dighton had served on the board of directors for the Big Brothers, Big Sisters of San Joaquin County, and had been a big brother himself. He also served on the board of directors for the "Bacon Bash," an annual football game between the Sheriff's Office and the Stockton Police Department, played for charity. An avid athlete, Dighton played in all of the games.
Deputy Little joined the Sheriff's Office in April of 1979 and had advanced quickly. Starting his career in the Custody Division, he soon moved to Patrol. He worked in a special narcotics section in 1982, and advanced to the Detective Division in 1984. As a detective, he worked in the burglary and child abuse units before being transferred to robbery-homicide. When the SWAT team was formed in 1986, Dighton volunteered, passed all of the testing procedures, and became a charter member.
During the early morning hours of Friday, October 20, 1989, the 17 members of the SWAT team were assigned to serve a search warrant at Bob's Truck Stop, located at 23066 S. Highway 99, in Ripon. A narcotics task force from Stanislaus County had obtained a warrant to search the premises.
Experience had shown that serving narcotics search warrants was exceptionally dangerous. People who dealt in narcotics were usually armed and very often under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Two officers in San Joaquin County had been slain while attempting to serve narcotics search warrants in the previous eleven years. Because of this, Stanislaus County officers had requested the SWAT team serve the warrant as a courtesy.
The SWAT deputies divided into three teams at the three-acre truck stop, and began searching several buildings. One of the structures on the property was a travel trailer, occupied by the manager of the property. Deputy Little's team had finished searching a building, and finding no one, he went to the trailer to assist other deputies, who were pounding on the front door and announcing themselves. Inside the trailer deputies heard someone saying, "Just a minute, just a minute."
Dighton went to the rear of the trailer, and as a diversionary tactic he smashed out a window with his flashlight. At this point Dighton apparently saw the man inside, because he told the man several times to put down his gun and show his hands. The man responded by firing a shot from a hunting rifle, striking Deputy Little in the forehead. A backup officer immediately returned fire into the trailer, striking the man and killing him. Team members then moved Little from the area and began life-saving measures. He was transported to the San Joaquin General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 7:29 a.m.
After hearing of Deputy Little's death, an eleven-year-old boy for whom Dighton had served as a big brother, remembered the times they had together. "We had a lot of fun times together, and I will miss him a lot," the boy said. He remembered, too, the time they had gone out on a picnic and got rained out. And, he remembered the time that Dighton had presented him with an autographed baseball from his favorite player, Mark McGuire of the Oakland A’s.
Dighton Little was laid to rest in the San Joaquin Catholic Cemetery in Stockton. Single at the time of his death, he was 35 years old. Dighton's death deeply affected members of the department. When the Sheriff's headquarters was moved into a new building in 1992, the patrol briefing room was dedicated in his name. A plaque bearing Dighton's badge reads: "Through these doors pass the finest warriors."
Michael Coleman joined the Sheriff's Office as a cadet in 1972, being sworn-in by Sheriff Michael N. Canlis. A year later he was promoted to deputy, his proud father Floyd pinning the gold star on Mike's chest.
Mike joined several other family members who were already on the department. His uncle William was a veteran lieutenant. Mike's father Floyd had been a member of the sheriff's auxiliary since 1954, and served as the department's range master. Uncle Alvin Coleman, a brother of Floyd and William, had also served on the auxiliary at one time. Mike's cousin Bill joined the department in 1973, and cousin Russ would follow suit in 1981. For the Colemans, it was a family affair.
After being promoted to deputy, Mike did the customary stint in the Custody Division before moving out to patrol. Michael was an outgoing person who took pride in his job and excelled at it. In 1977 he was named "Officer of the Year" at the annual ceremonies at the Italian Athletic Club. Mike and his parents were very close, and they were proud of Michael’s accomplishments. Mike was proud of his dad, too. Although he was a part-time volunteer member of the Office, Floyd was made the range master. Floyd worked closely with department members, teaching young deputies the techniques necessary to properly use a firearm. Floyd was well known and highly regarded throughout the Office. Michael couldn't have been prouder his dad.
After working in the Patrol Division for a number of years, Michael applied for a spot on the Metropolitan Narcotics Task Force. This specialized narcotics unit had been formed to battle the influx of illicit street drugs in the early 1970's. The unit was based out of the Stockton Police Department and was made up of officers from several police departments in the county, the Sheriff's Office, and the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. Mike was appointed to the team in 1981 by Sheriff Frank Harty. Sheriff Harty commented that Michael was anxious to work in the Metro Narcotics Unit because he was concerned about the drug culture's impact on young people.
On the afternoon of March 25, 1982, Deputy Coleman was partnered with Stockton Police Officer Larry Moore. They were working in the downtown Stockton area when they spotted a man for whom they had an outstanding warrant. They followed the suspect to his home in the 2400 block of east Acacia Street in the east Stockton area. They waited a period of time for the man to leave, but when he didn't, they decided to serve the warrant.
Coleman and Moore drove to a nearby store parking lot and contacted Sheriff's Sergeant Michael Junker and Stockton Police Officer David Bentz to assist them in serving the warrant. Plans were made for the two SPD officers to make contact with the suspect at the front door. Sgt. Junker and Deputy Coleman would back them. Standard procedure called for officers serving warrants to wear a ballistic vest. Since Deputy Coleman did not have his vest with him, it was decided that he would stay back until the residence was secured, then he would come up and handle the reading of the search warrant and assist in searching the house. The officers put on windbreaker jackets with the word "POLICE" boldly printed on them and went to the house.
The property was surrounded by a short chain link fence with a locked gate. The officers hopped the fence and went towards the front of the house. Officers Bentz and Moore went to the front door. It was initially open when they arrived, though there was a screen door which was shut. The officers knocked and loudly announced themselves as police officers with a search warrant. Several neighbors in the area clearly heard the announcement.
As the officers were in the process of announcing themselves, someone inside slammed the door. Because they believed people inside might be arming themselves or destroying evidence, Moore and Bentz attempted to kick open the door. After several unsuccessful tries the door flung open and a woman, standing back several feet and holding a pistol in a two-handed grip, opened fire on the officers.
Deputy Coleman had been standing in the front yard, away from the front door, but had moved up when the officers at the door encountered trouble. Michael was shot by the woman, the bullet entering under his right arm and passing through his body, severing his aorta. Although mortally wounded, Deputy Coleman returned fire, shooting all six rounds from his revolver before collapsing on the front lawn. The woman suspect was also shot during the gunfight and offered no more resistance. Michael was hurriedly transported to St. Joseph's hospital in grave condition.
Floyd Coleman had been on duty at the department range, located at the jail complex in French Camp, at the time of the tragedy. Deputies Jerry Nakamura and John DeLeon were detailed to take Floyd to the hospital. Floyd sat in the front seat and listened intently to the radio as Deputy Nakamura sped to the hospital. As they turned off of California Street onto Maple, outside St. Joseph's Hospital, Floyd leaned forward as though trying to listen more closely to the radio and collapsed.
Floyd was rushed into an examination room in the Emergency, but it was too late. He had suffered a fatal heart attack. The doctor who pronounced Floyd dead then moved to an adjacent room, where five minutes later he pronounced Michael Coleman dead.
Floyd was 70 years old when he died. Michael, a bachelor, was 30. Josephine Coleman was left behind to grieve the loss of her husband and son. Also left behind was her son, Thomas Faine.
The deaths of Michael and Floyd Coleman deeply moved members of the community. In a tribute to Mike the Stockton Holiday Inn displayed the following message on their marquee: "WE SALUTE DEPUTY COLEMAN, AMERICAN HERO."
Father and son were laid to rest side by side at St. John's Catholic Cemetery in Escalon following services at St. Anthony's Church in Manteca. The funeral was largely attended by family, friends and fellow officers from throughout the area. In recognition of the Colemans, the Sheriff's Office dedicated its firearms range in their name.
The suspect was convicted of capitol murder and other charges, and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus 16 years.
The decade of the 1920's was a busy for local law enforcement officers. The advent of the automobile and improved road systems provided people with freedoms not realized by their predecessors. Where it might take a person several days to ride a few hundred miles on horseback, he could travel through a number of states in the same amount of time in a car. Prior to 1929, when the California Highway Patrol was formed, county traffic squads were charged with enforcing traffic laws in the unincorporated areas of the state. Initially, the San Joaquin County Traffic Squad was attached to the Sheriff's Office, and its officers were full-time deputies.
Sunday morning, February 5, 1926 - Jim Devine crawled out of bed and began a new day. Many things were happening in the young officer's life and he was anxious to get going. Jim had joined the county traffic squad in January 1925. He loved his job and took pride in his appearance, his uniform and his motorcycle. Some of the other guys in the squad liked the look of a grizzled veteran, taking the support band out of the inside of their eight-point uniform hat to give it that "fifty mission crush". Having dull and scuffed boots gave them the look of a real road warrior. But Jim didn't see things that way. He took care to make sure that his hat stayed in such a condition as to look like it did the day he first wore it. His uniform was nicely fit and his boots were kept clean and shiny, despite the dust and dirt he collected everyday on the roads.
Jim was living with his parents on North Ophir Street (Airport Way) in Stockton at the time, but that was soon to change. He and his fiancee, Miss Eleanor Jenkins, were planning to get married in April, just two short months away. Jim had an infant cousin named Charles Kelley, who had been orphaned. He and Eleanor were going to adopt the baby.
That Sunday morning Jim met up with his partner, Leo Johnson. Making their way over to El Dorado Street, the two officers rode south out of Stockton on Highway 50, the Lincoln Highway. Although it was a cold winter morning the heavy uniform overcoats and leather gloves helped. Jim loved the feel of the brisk wind on his face, the feeling of freedom that his job as a motorcycle officer afforded him. Crossing the Mossdale bridge, the officers began patrolling their beat. Working together, they looked for speeders and other traffic violators.
The morning had been rather uneventful, being a Sunday. At about noon, Jim and Leo were patrolling the highway west of Tracy when an automobile went flying by in the opposite direction. The officers looked at each other and yelled, "Lets get ‘em!" Johnson made his turn first and headed after the speeder. DeVine turned and started to make up for lost time. Grabbing the gearshift lever of the motorcycle with his left hand while depressing the clutch with his foot, he rapidly shifted gears and accelerated, turning the throttle with his right hand. By this time Officer Johnson and the speeder were quite a distance ahead of him. Then disaster struck. Traveling at somewhere around 70 MPH, a nail embedded itself in Jim's front tire.
W.R. Lewis and John Pedro were standing in Pedro’s front yard at the time the chase started, and according to Lewis the officer's motorcycle began to buck. In horror, the two men watched as Officer DeVine was thrown from the motorcycle, flying through the air for a number of feet before landing on his head and shoulders on the hard roadway as the motorcycle skipped and skidded. Lewis and Pedro immediately went to Jim DeVine's aid. They loaded him into Lewis's car and set out to find the officer's partner.
Leo Johnson had meanwhile stopped the speeder. He had passed a gas station during the chase, so when he looked back and didn't see Jim, he figured his partner had stopped at the station. The Lewis car, with Jim DeVine unconscious in the back seat, pulled up as Leo wrote a ticket to the speeder. Wasting no time, Leo took the lead and cleared traffic for Lewis en route to the doctor's office in Tracy.
Dr. J.F. Doughty made a hurried examination of Devine's injuries. Finding them too serious for him to treat there, the doctor had him transferred to St. Joseph's Hospital in Stockton, where doctors performed an operation. Jim lingered in a coma for several days, as his family and friends hoped and prayed for his recovery. But it was not to be. At approximately 1:15 p.m. on Wednesday, February 8, 1926, James Devine died.
According to a local paper one of the largest funerals ever held in Stockton up to that time was held for James on February 10. Services were held at St. Gertrude's Church and at the family home on Ophir Street.
James Devine was laid to rest in a family plot in the San Joaquin Catholic Cemetery in Stockton.
Sheriff William Riecks hired Edward Brennan as a deputy to assist Southern Pacific Railroad officers in patrolling the Tracy railroad yards in June of 1922 because of the lawlessness that was present there. Tracy had been a hotbed of activity for law officers for a number of years. Tracy officers Ben Ingram and Frank Blondin had been shot and killed near the rail yards in 1915, and those same conditions still existed in 1922.
Deputy Brennan was working the graveyard watch with S.P. Officer Eskel "Ed" Sholin during the early morning hours of July 21. The night had been eventful. Earlier, the two officers had responded to the sound of gunshots in the area south of the rail yards.
The first volley of shots rang out at about 1 o'clock that morning. The officers investigated, but found nothing. At about 4 o'clock more shots were heard. Officers checked the shacks on the south side of the tracks, but again found nothing. People in Tracy were awakened once again by a number of gunshots fired in rapid succession around 5:00 a.m. Deputy Brennan responded to the camp south of the tracks to investigate.
S.P. Officer Sholin was responding, and was about 100 yards away when he saw Deputy Brennan approach two men near the shacks and start talking with them. Sholin could not hear what was being said. Sholin saw that Brennan had his hands on his belt and that from his actions Brennan was commanded to put his hands up. Brennan complied, but the two men fired on him. Deputy Brennan fell near the spot where he was hit but managed to fire one shot at his attackers. Officer Sholin also fired at the fleeing men a number of times, but they got away. One ran westward on Third Street, while the other ran south on Central Avenue.
Deputy Brennan had been hit five times. One bullet had struck him in the chest, one lodged in his left leg, and three entered his back. He was rushed to a local doctor’s office in Tracy, gravely wounded. Brennan said nothing after the shooting but smiled at the doctor as he was being placed on a table. He died a moment later.
Tracy officers arrived on scene and the sheriff was summoned from Stockton. Sheriff Riecks, Deputy Jesse Wheatley and Deputy District Attorney Morgan Sanborn arrived to assist with the investigation. Police officials posted officers to watch every train and guard the roads. The city was combed, but no trace of the pair was found.
Word of the killing of Deputy Brennan was sent to all law enforcement officers. Then, on Monday, July 24, 1922, one of the killers was found. The suspect, a 23-year-old who worked near Tracy, was taken off of a freight train in Reno, Nevada, after officers there found he matched the description of one of the shooters. While in the office of the police chief in Reno, the suspect signed a confession, stating he had been hired to kill the deputy by a tall man in the Tracy railroad roundhouse who paid him $10.00. They lured Deputy Brennan to an out-of-the-way spot by firing a pistol in the air, and fired six shots at him when his back was turned, Gomez told officers. According to a local newspaper article the suspect "refused flat footed to say a word as to who the other man was or where he went after the firing."
The suspect was returned to Stockton by train. He gave officers various tales about his identity but he did not provide an alibi. He was positively identified by Ed Sholin as one of the killers. The suspect was brought to the scene of the shooting and he pointed out what took place. He told officers that he had used a .32 caliber revolver, which matched the bullets taken from Deputy Brennan's body.
Following his confession, the suspect was housed in the jail in Stockton. While confined there he began acting peculiar for several days. It was thought that he might have been feigning insanity to throw off the authorities. He was seen by several doctors. At one point he noted that one of the sheriff's deputies looked like Deputy Brennan, and he felt the officer's spirit was following him. His peculiar actions continued, and after repeated examinations he was deemed insane. Finally, on a motion by District Attorney Van Vranken, murder charges against the suspect were dropped.
Deputy Brennan was buried in an unmarked grave in the Rural Cemetery in Stockton. He was 37 years old and left a wife and one child. The suspect was committed to the Clark Sanitarium in Stockton. He was never tried for Deputy Brennan's murder. His fate is unknown.
The Union Township was formed in May of 1861, in the north-west part of the county and included the area around the town of what is now known as Thornton.
Thornton is the northern-most settlement in San Joaquin County, and lies at the mouth of the Mokelumne River in the midst of some of the most fertile land in the county.
Originally known as New Hope, its first settler was Arthur Thornton, who located there in 1855. He erected a two-story home and opened a store. By 1880 the town boasted of a saloon, blacksmith, stable, post office, and several houses.
When the Western Pacific Railroad built a line through town in the early 1900's, they established a station, erected a large freight depot, and changed the name of the town to Thornton, in honor of its founder.
Edward Dillard was the Union Township constable for many years. He lived in Thornton with his wife, Zella.
On the night of October 29, 1940, Dillard received a call from Thornton resident Buddy James, who reported that someone was breaking into his residence. The constable arrived and subsequently arrested an 18-year-old transient named Harold Wickes for the burglary. Constable Dillard placed his prisoner into the right-front seat of his 1937 Chevrolet coupe and headed for the County Jail in Stockton.
As the pair traveled south on Thornton Road the constable's auto collided head-on with a car driven by a man named R. Sher Singh, at a point about 6 miles north of Stockton. Both the constable and Mr. Singh were killed instantly. Wickes was critically injured.
A report indicated that no tire marks were found at the scene which might have shown if either of the drivers had applied brakes. Both vehicles were heavily damaged in the front and along the left side. The report did not place blame in the accident.
Constable Dillard was 60 years old at the time of his death. He left a grown son in addition to his wife.
Civilization had reached California by the 1890's. San Joaquin County was crisscrossed with roads, telephone lines and railroad tracks. The bands of rogue bandits which had terrorized citizens throughout the state in previous decades were either locked up or dead. The lone highwayman, who held up passing stagecoaches for the treasure found in the Wells-Fargo box, had made way for the train robber and safecracker.
The Sheriff's Office had changed, too, since its infancy. Sheriff Thomas Cunningham, the county's longest tenured sheriff, had made many changes to the department since taking over in 1872. He had imported bloodhounds from Cuba to assist in tracking down fugitives. He was a meticulous records keeper, and he and his deputies had compiled files, records and photographs on criminals numbering in the thousands.
By the mid-1890's, the sheriff employed seven deputies to handle the day to day duties of the office, which included court and civil duties as well as criminal investigations. In addition, the sheriff’s staff included a number of resident deputies; men who lived in various out-lying parts of the county, and who held outside jobs and could be called upon when needed.
It was a cold and rainy Thanksgiving night, November 28, 1895, when two ranch hands rode up to the San Joaquin River bridge looking for Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Buzzell. There were some trespassers camping out on the McLaughlin ranch, located about two miles from the bridge. The campers had started a f ire and were burning an oak tree. When the cowboys confronted the campers an argument ensued, and the ranch hands were forced to go get the law. Deputy Buzzell was a watchman at the bridge, so they knew where they could find him.
That morning, Henry Tison and three of his sons were intent on doing some hunting in the Coastal mountains. They left their home, located at the corner of Fremont and Monroe in Stockton, and headed south. Using a wagon and a team of three horses, they traveled all day, reaching the McLaughlin ranch at nightfall as the sky turned dark and ominous. They set up camp and started a fire under a nearby oak tree, using the wagon for cover from the weather.
Ranch hands John Staiger and Ed Sweem had spent their holiday celebrating in Stockton and were somewhat intoxicated when they returned to the ranch at about 9 o'clock that night. There, they found the Tisons camped out. A heated exchange of words resulted when the Tisons were confronted. The Tisons would later claim that Staiger and Sweem had threatened to come back with guns blazing. Sweem reported that when they demanded that the Tisons leave, the older Tison's response had been for them to "get out or get shot".
Joe Buzzell was a resident deputy who lived in Banta, near Tracy. During the day he worked as a watchman at the San Joaquin river bridge at Mossdale. He and bridge tender E.L. Remington were at the bridge when Staiger and Sweem rode up to report the trespassers. Deputy Buzzell telephoned Sheriff Cunningham in Stockton and they conferred on the matter. Then, fearing violence, Deputy Buzzell armed himself and headed towards the ranch with the two hands.
When the three men arrived at the ranch, Deputy Buzzell identified himself and ordered the Tisons off the property. The elder Tison had his rifle trained on Buzzell when the deputy made his demand. Tison said he had no intention of moving and that if the officer wanted to put out the fire, he could do it himself.
Deputy Buzzell now saw Tison's rifle aimed at him. He said, "Here, put down that gun, I am an officer!" Tison replied, "Well so am I!" At that point, the deputy drew his pistol and a gunfight immediately broke out. In the exchange of bullets, Tison was hit once in the stomach and Deputy Buzzell was shot twice, killing him instantly. Deputy Buzzell's horse was also shot, as was Staiger's. Although the Tison boys and at least one of the cowboys joined in the gun battle, nobody else was hit.
Deputy Buzzell died where he fell. The Tisons fled on foot, leaving their possessions behind, including their horses and the rifle used to kill the deputy. Sweem rode back to the bridge at Mossdale to summon help. Staiger took up a position on the road. Although Henry Tison was wounded, he fled with the boys. Once in the nearby tules, Henry split up with the boys, heading south while they turned north, back towards Stockton.
When Ed Sweem reached the bridge a telephone call was made to Sheriff Cunningham in Stockton. By now it was about 10 o'clock at night. Sheriff Cunningham formed up a posse, which included deputies Ike Robinson, George Black and Billy Wall, Stockton Police Officer Walter Walker, and Stockton Constables Beach and Carroll. They left at once on horseback for the bridge, arriving there about 12:30 a.m. Upon arriving on scene at the ranch, they found Deputy Buzzell and his horse, along with the Tison's possessions.
Sheriff Cunningham obtained descriptions from the two ranch hands and immediately put out the word to lawmen in surrounding areas to be on the lookout for the killers. A search of the scene and surrounding countryside was made using bloodhounds at sun-up, to no avail.
Based on descriptions of the men and their outfit, officers in Stockton were able to identify the Tisons. Officers were posted by their house, and when the three boys returned home the next evening, Deputy Sheriff Barney Cassidy and Stockton Police Officers Mike Finnell and J. H. Burnham arrested them and took them to the jail. There, they were questioned by a number of officers but were not willing or able to tell the whereabouts of their father. They did confirm that he had sustained a bullet wound to the abdomen.
Although Sheriff Cunningham and the other lawmen were convinced that Tison had murdered Deputy Buzzell, public sentiment leaned towards Tison. Many people felt that he and his sons were merely camping out in the middle of the plains and were not hurting anything, and that Deputy Buzzell and the cowboys had no right to demand that they move.
A funeral was held in Stockton for Deputy Buzzell on Sunday, December 1. He was laid to rest in the Stockton Rural Cemetery in an unmarked grave.
On Tuesday, December 3, a coroner's inquest was held. After hearing evidence, nine members of the coroner's jury said that the shooting of the deputy was done in self-defense, while the other three signed a verdict to the effect simply that Deputy Buzzell came to his death from the effects of a gunshot wound inflicted by Henry Tison. The three sons were released from custody. Tison remained on the run. Reported sightings came in, but Tison was still free.
On December 8, Sheriff Cunningham offered $250 of his own money for the arrest and conviction of the murderer. Finally, on December 18, Henry Tison was captured.
Merced County Deputy Sheriff Wegener was the foreman on a ranch six miles north of the town of Merced. Deputy Wegener had received the information put out by Sheriff Cunningham and became alerted when a man looking for work showed up on his ranch looking ill and frail. The man fit the description of the suspect, but Wegener wanted to make sure of his suspicions, so he decided to watch the man. A few days later, one of his ranch hands confirmed that the man had a bullet wound in the abdomen. When confronted, the man readily admitted he was Tison.
Henry Tison was brought back to Stockton, where he was tried for the murder of Deputy Buzzell. A jury trial was held in Judge Budd's courtroom on January 7, 1896. After hearing testimony from all of the witnesses, including the defendant, the jury took just eight minutes to acquit him on all charges.
Joseph Buzzell was 43 years old at the time of his death. He left a wife and two children. Joseph's widow remarried several years later, and moved out of the area with her children and new husband.
James Rawleigh took office as the Castoria Constable in 1930. A native of Chicago, he moved to California with his family in 1905, and moved to Manteca when he was eighteen. Rawleigh was a decorated veteran of World War I, where he served in Company L, 363d Infantry, 91st Division. He was wounded in the shoulder while in battle. James was a popular officer in his district, which included the area around French Camp and Manteca, and he was re-elected after serving his first four-year term.
During the evening of September 6, 1936, Constable Rawleigh responded to a report of a minor traffic accident which had occurred on Yosemite Avenue near the Mossdale Y, about 3 miles west of Manteca. At about 8:15 p.m. the constable was standing on the south side of the roadway, about six feet off the paved portion of the road, investigating the accident.
Traffic had slowed to a crawl around the accident scene when an inattentive driver approached. The driver was traveling eastbound and did not see the slow traffic ahead of him until the last second. The driver jerked the wheel hard to the right to avoid collision with a car in front of him, but in doing so he put his car on a course that zeroed in on the constable.
The vehicle struck Rawleigh, knocking him through the air a number of feet before he landed hard on the ground. He sustained major leg injuries. His right leg was badly mangled below the knee, and his left leg was fractured.
James was taken to the County Hospital. Within two days gangrene had set in to his right leg. An operation was performed on Tuesday, September 8, and his leg was amputated below the knee in an attempt to stop the spread of the infection. This proved unsuccessful, and during a second operation three days later the leg was removed at the hip.
Evidence of infection remained in Rawleigh's system and complications set in. By the following Wednesday, James was showing signs of pneumonia, toxemia, and shock from the operations which had been performed. He died the next day.
A mass was held for James at St. Anthony's Church in Manteca, and he was interred in the San Joaquin Cemetery in Stockton. He was 43 years old at the time of his death, and left his wife, Mae, behind.
It was about 11 o'clock on a cold and cloudy February morning when Liberty Constable James Washington Irey drove onto the Del Detert ranch on Peltier Road. "Wash", as he was known, was responding to complaints about a transient in the area who was mooching at front doors and threatening housewives who refused him food. The constable was accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. George Westphal and Ray Hollenstein, all of whom were familiar with the man.
Constable Irey had spoken to the man, Vincent Giannini, earlier that morning and had told him that he was going to have to move off the private property.
Vincent Giannini suffered from mental illness. He had taken up residence in an abandoned tool shed on the Detert ranch, located about two and a half miles northwest of Lodi.
Giannini had been a familiar figure in the area for several months. He had initially lived under a packing shed on a nearby ranch after wandering into the neighborhood. When he was driven off by the ranch owner Giannini moved into the tool shed where he was currently living.
Residents in the area became concerned after Giannini frightened several housewives who were left alone in isolated farmhouses while the male members of their families worked in the vineyards. Many of the homes were located far from well-traveled roads and the sullen looking and acting man, appearing suddenly and demanding food, had given the farm women many uneasy moments. In more than one instance his demands for food, when met with a refusal, were followed by muttered threats. One woman related how he arrived at her home when she was alone and had shouted to her: "Yeah, maybe you be dead before night, too," after she had refused to let him in and ordered him off the property.
James Irey had farmed in the area for many years, and along with his wife and eight children lived in nearby Youngstown, a settlement just east of Lodi. Wash had been elected as the Liberty Township constable more than four years earlier. The township had been created in 1861, and comprised a large area around the town of Acampo.
It had rained for several days, and there still were rain showers off and on during the morning of February 5, 1937, as Constable Irey stepped out of his car at the ranch on Peltier Road. The Westphals and Ray Hollenstein stayed in the car as Wash started for the cabin where Giannini was staying, which was about 100 yards north of the road. Muddy conditions had forced the constable to park and walk in.
When Irey was about 15-20 feet from the shed, Vincent Giannini suddenly emerged, armed with a 12-gauge shotgun. Without saying a word, Giannini leveled the gun at Wash and fired. The shot went wild and struck the ground, where upon the constable started to run. He ran to the south and then around the shack to the west, followed by Giannini. On the west side of the cabin Giannini once again pointed his gun at Constable Irey and pulled the trigger. This time the load of shot struck Irey in the chest, killing him instantly.
After the unprovoked shooting, Giannini turned and started running southbound along the muddy driveway towards Irey's car and the people inside. George Westphal hurriedly slid behind the wheel and stepped on the starter. The car fired and the trio fled to Lodi, where they notified the Lodi Police.
Lodi Police Chief C.S. Jackson called the Sheriff's Office in Stockton and in a short time a number of officers converged on the scene. They found Constable Irey's body but could not locate the shooter. A search party was organized to find him.
The fugitive had been erratic in his flight. The entire area was vineyards which had been cut up with small ditches. Because of the rain many of the checks were flooded. But the soft, sandy mud around these areas captured Giannini's footprints, making his trail fairly easy to follow.
A posse of officers, including Lodi Constable Millard Fore, Lodi Police Chief Jackson, Lodi Police officer Bender, and Sheriff's Deputies Jack Cassidy, Charles Cassidy, Mel Cannon, Ernest Silva, Harold Adams and Rudy Weber bore down on the killer about one hour after the shooting. He was located by a pump house on a neighboring ranch, about one mile from the murder scene. Because of the muddy terrain officers were having a hard time getting near him.
The officers were still about 300 yards away when Giannini threw down his gun and started to run. Armed with a 30-30 rifle, Constable Fore brought down the killer with a shot to the leg.
Giannini struggled as he was being taken into custody, but was easily overpowered. In response to questions posed by the officers as to why he had killed Constable Irey, Giannini's response was: "He was bothering me." The killer's only other statement was a request to officers to finish the job and kill him. Giannini was transported to the County Hospital, where he recovered from his wound.
During initial court proceedings the judge ordered a mental examination of the defendant. Three psychiatrists wrote their opinion that Vincent Giannini was mentally insane and did not have the capability to understand the court proceedings against him. He was never tried for the constable's murder.
James Irey was 46 years old when he died. He was interred at the Lodi Cemetery.