East Bay

Drunk Suspect Shot Relative, Kidnapped Wife Before Dying in Pittsburg Standoff

Salvador Morales was drunk and high when he shot a relative in the neck, kidnapped his estranged wife and child then led East Bay law enforcement on a chase that ended at his Pittsburg home where he was shot eight times by a SWAT team, investigators said Thursday morning at a coroner's inquest in a Martinez courtroom.

Inquests are held by the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office any time a fatality involves peace officers, including shootings and other in-custody deaths. They are open to the public, although this one seemed to be mostly attended by police.

Pittsburg Police Officer Kevin Barkley was patrolling the city's south side on the evening of Oct. 22 when he was dispatched to a report of a battery on Carolyn Drive.

Morales, 37, had gotten into an argument with his estranged wife and shot his brother-in-law when the other man tried to intervene. As Barkley arrived on scene there was already a crowd gathering.

Witnesses pointed him toward a pickup truck that Morales had forced his wife and child into as he fled the scene. Barkley gave chase, initially losing sight of the truck but catching up on Leland Road.

He launched a StarChase GPS-tracking device that stuck to the truck, relayed coordinates back to dispatchers and allowed police to track the vehicle remotely rather than engage in a potentially risky pursuit. Barkley said the officers involved were particularly concerned about a collision while the woman and child were in the vehicle.

Morales drove around Concord for 10 or 15 minutes, then took state Highway 4 east to his home on 10th Street, where he pulled into a driveway and got out of the vehicle. Arriving officers told him to stop and drop his weapon, but the decedent pulled back the slide on his semi-automatic Glock to ensure a live round was inside the chamber.

Police were able to rescue the woman and her child. They set up a perimeter, called in the SWAT team, established communications and attempted to negotiate but Morales only spoke Spanish.

Oakley Police Officer Garrett Wayne, who spent two years as a missionary in Latin America and is fluent in Spanish, had dispatchers connect his cellphone to Morales's phone and tried to strike up a conversation.

"I explained to him that we didn't want anyone to get hurt... we wanted this scene to end without any type of violence," Wayne said, describing Morales as "very apologetic about what happened."

He wanted to see his mother, which officers offered to facilitate. He also wanted to go out to his truck and get some cigarettes, but police were concerned about him fleeing in the vehicle again. They offered to buy him a fresh pack, his choice in brand, at a nearby store.

The suspect went inside and came back out repeatedly, putting the gun to his head on more than one occasion.

When the SWAT team arrived in an armored vehicle they boxed the truck in, the officers got out and took cover.

"We knew that we could not allow this vehicle to go mobile again," team leader Sgt. William Hatcher said. "It was just too dangerous."

They deployed a sniper team, as well as an officer armed with a less-lethal 40mm weapon. Pittsburg SWAT Officer Fernando Salamanca, who is also fluent in Spanish, was assigned to act as translator in negotiations.

"He just wanted us to listen to his side of the story," Salamanca said. "That was mixed in with insults to police."

Morales was using profanity and using at least one homophobic slur, in Spanish, according to Salamanca.

They continued negotiations but at some point Morales insisted on going to his truck for his cigarettes, carrying a handgun loaded with a 30-round high-capacity magazine, and the SWAT team shot him in the chest with a sponge round from the 40mm.

Morales groaned and doubled over, firing a round off from the Glock just after getting hit with the less-lethal projectile, but as he regained his posture he began to raise the pistol and multiple officers opened fire, striking him at least five times.

Hatcher pushed forward, ordering the rest of the team to do so as well, and kicked the pistol away from Morales as they secured the scene. A medic rendered aid, but Morales died before he could be transported to a hospital.

Officers later said that after the shooting on Carolyn Drive, and based on Morales' agitated state, when he raised his pistol they considered him a threat and feared for their safety.

The officers were all sequestered, per the county's officer-involved shooting protocol, and investigators from the Pittsburg Police Department and the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office launched a joint investigation.

The coroner's office conducted an autopsy, finding that Morales suffered three gunshot wounds to the head and that was the cause of death.

He suffered two gunshot wounds in his left arm. His body showed symptoms of high blood pressure and hypertension, as well as fatty liver tissue associated with heavy alcohol use, but those aren't what killed him.

A toxicology test found that he had a blood-alcohol content of 0.16 percent, roughly twice the legal driving limit, at the time of his death. He also had high levels of methamphetamine, amphetamines and cocaine in his blood.

Coroner's inquests take place before a 12-person jury, and at the conclusion jurors are asked to determine the decedent's mode or manner of death.

They found that Morales died at the hands of another person, other than by accident. The other options they could have chosen included accident, natural causes and suicide.

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