A Madera County man with a concealed weapons permit drew his pistol to defend himself and others against an ax-waving man at a busy shopping center in northwest Fresno, police say.
Roy Cipriani said he was afraid the man, identified as Stephen Frank Gomez, 49, was going to attack him, his family or other customers in the Shaw Avenue shopping center last week.
Police, who sped to the scene and arrested Gomez, confirmed Cipriani’s role.
He said the incident took place just after 7 p.m. on Dec. 23 as he and his daughter were walking out of the Harbor Freight store in the shopping center. That’s when he noticed a commotion as a man pushing a shopping cart approached the front of the store. Cipriani said he and the man, later identified by police as Gomez, made eye contact and Gomez raised the ax and shouted “I’m gonna (expletive) kill you!”
Cipriani said he stepped back into the store and told the manager to call 911.
Put the ax down! I have a weapon and will shoot you.
Roy Cipriani, recalling what he shouted at a man during a confrontation last week in a Fresno shopping center
Because there were other people near the ax-wielding man, Cipriani, who said he is a retired officer with the California Department of Corrections, said he decided to intervene and pulled out his legally registered Ruger semi-automatic handgun.
“Put the ax down! I have a weapon and will shoot you,” he said he shouted at Gomez numerous times, prompting Gomez to change direction and head for the WinCo grocery store nearby.
Fearing Gomez would attack someone else, Cipriani said he followed as Gomez approached several people at the Redbox vending machine.
“Get out of the way! There’s a guy with an ax!” Cipriani said he shouted. He then warned Gomez:
“Don’t go in the store! I’m going to shoot you!”
Hearing that, Gomez looked over his shoulder and changed directions again, toward Jennifer Avenue on the west side of the shopping center.
Cipriani said at one point, Gomez, still carrying the ax, approached within 5 feet of a woman loading groceries into her car. The woman never noticed what was happening until the last second.
“She was like a deer caught in the headlights,” he said. Fortunately, Gomez continued on.
As Cipriani followed Gomez on Jennifer Avenue, he said he was passed by five police cars, whose officers took Gomez into custody.
Fresno police Lt. Joe Gomez confirmed that Stephen Frank Gomez was booked on charges of making criminal threats and also for brandishing the weapon.
Cipriani said he had the concealed weapons permit in connection with being a former correctional officer, but that it was also issued by the Madera County Sheriff’s Office. He noted that during the entire incident, he was aware of the limitations of using deadly force, which can only be justified when a person fears for his life or that of another.