The suspects in Wednesday's deadly bank heist, police chase and gunfight in Stockton, California, were known gang affiliates with deep criminal pasts and no qualms with taking human life amid their "reckless and chaotic" crimes, police said Thursday.
Stockton police detailed the bloody hour-long melee that followed the armed bank robbery — an attack that left dead two suspected robbers and a mother of two whom they took hostage and used as a human shield. The violence left police cars riddled with bullet holes and an entire community reeling.
“In my over two decades of law enforcement, I've never seen or experienced this type of total disregard for human life," Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones told reporters.
The lone suspect to survive the gunfight was identified as Jaime Ramos, 19, who police say was in the back seat of the getaway car and probably survived because he was using a hostage as a human shield. He is a known associate of Norteno gang members, Jones said.
Police say Ramos along with two other armed men robbed a Bank of the West branch in the 7800 block of Thornton Road just after 2 p.m. on Wednesday. They took hostages, tied up the bank's security guard and were successful in taking money from the bank, police said.
They also tried to kill numerous police officers in broad daylight, putting the entire city at risk, according to police.
Police got a report of a robbery in progress, with three armed men in the building, at 2:11 p.m., and the first officers arrived a minute later.
One of the robbers was seen heading toward the door with a hostage but then went back inside. The Stockton Crisis Negotiation team was requested within minutes, Jones said, but the three armed robbers exited the building with two employees and a customer as hostages.
“They used them as shields during a tense standoff, and then they got into a vehicle,” Jones said.
The suspects and the hostages got into one of the hostages' vehicles – a Ford Explorer SUV – and fled with police in pursuit.
The suspects shot one hostage, a bank employee, a moment later, and the hostage jumped from the SUV and survived, Jones said.
The police chase raced through Lodi and Acampo, on freeways and streets, then back to and though North Stockton.
At one point, a police commander in an unmarked car watched the SUV take a highway exit, lie in wait and point an assault rifle at police — in order, the commander believed, to ambush them. The commander opened fire, and the SUV fled.
Throughout the police chase and gun battle, the suspects fired hundreds of shots at pursuing officers — disabling many patrol cars and an armored vehicle and hitting as many as 14 police vehicles, as well as a slew of houses and cars.
Police fired back several times, Jones said Thursday. “Our officers were in constant danger but continued to pursue, because they had a duty to not allow the suspects to get away,” fearing the suspects would take more hostages or harm other people, he said.
“There was serious risk to the officers and community all the time,” Jones said.
Another hostage was thrown or jumped from the SUV at 3:15 p.m. and survived, police said.
The getaway SUV was eventually disabled and stopped on Thornton and Otto, in a residential neighborhood, where a furious shootout lasted until the suspects eventually stopped firing.
The gun battle left dead a hostage whom police say the suspects used as a human shield. The slain hostage has been identified as Misty Holt-Singh, a 41-year-old mother of two.
It is unclear when she died, and whose shots – the suspects' or officers' – killed her amid the spray of bullets, police said.
Two of the suspects, ages 30 and 27, were also killed.
Police did not immediately release their names, but said they were "documented gang members" and Stockton residents.
The 30-year-old was driving the SUV, Jones said, and the 27-year-old was the "primary" shooter, sitting in the front passenger seat.
“The fact that these three gunmen put our community in jeopardy is deplorable,” Jones said. “The gunmen had not the slightest intent of a peaceful resolution as they continued to cause mayhem and havoc.”
The robbers were armed with massive amounts of ammunition, some taped or strapped to their bodies. An AK-47 assault rifle, a .45-caliber Glock pistol, a .45-caliber Ruger pistol and a 9mm Ruger pistol were all recovered from the SUV.
Jones said the investigation remains active and is being jointly conducted by the Stockton Police Department, the San Joaquin County DA and Sheriff’s office and the FBI.
Ramos is due in court for his arraignment on July 21.
Over 20 Stockton police officers involved in the shooting with the suspects have been placed on paid administrative leave as per protocol.