Crime

Dyer: Police did right thing

Calling criticism of his officers "unfair," Police Chief Jerry Dyer on Wednesday said they did the right thing when they opened fire on the father of a Fresno Olympian after he led them on a high-speed chase and shot at them.

Olympic snowboarder Andy Finch, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that he does not agree that police mishandled the situation, as a relative has contended.

"None of us were there," said Finch, who cut short a European vacation to fly to Fresno after he learned his father, Cliff, had been shot. "Put yourself in the police shoes. They're trained for certain situations. Hopefully as we get to the bottom of this, we'll learn more."

Four officers fired 16 shots into Cliff Finch's truck on Monday because they considered him "a clear and present danger to his wife or the public," Dyer said, and because Finch had fired two shots at officers -- missing them by just a few feet.

Finch's family has said that they believe he may have suffered a flashback to Vietnam when he led police on the chase. His brother, Craig Finch of Ventura, has said that police mishandled the situation.

On Wednesday, Andy Finch said his uncle was distraught.

"This is tough on everyone," he said. "My dad is very close to his brother. For my uncle Craig, it just hit him really hard, and everyone has different ways of dealing with it. Craig is searching for reasons and wants to help the family. There's anger there."

Craig Finch could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

In a news conference, Dyer acknowledged the family's criticism but said his officers had acted correctly in a difficult situation.

"We want to offer our sympathies to the Finch family. No family should have to go through such an ordeal," Dyer said. "Having said that, I also want to offer my support to the officers involved in this incident."

Finch, 58, is in critical condition in Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno. He was shot numerous times, mostly in the upper body, Dyer said.

On Wednesday, Finch was charged with two counts of attempted murder with an enhancement for the use of a firearm and one count of felony evasion of a police officer, said Fresno County Assistant District Attorney Bob Ellis.

Andy Finch said his father's condition has improved since Tuesday, and he is now moving his eyes.

"The doctors are amazed, one, that he's alive, and two, that he is being as responsive as he is," Finch said. "He's come around pretty quickly as far as the swelling around his brain. That was their immediate concern."

Finch has no criminal history, Dyer said, and the department had never had reason to have any contact with him until Monday, when his estranged wife called the department shortly before 9:30 a.m. asking that officers serve an emergency protective order against Finch.

Dyer said she had obtained the order from a San Luis Obispo County judge based on a "frightening letter" she had received from Finch, combined with "recent aggressive behavior" he had displayed.

About an hour after she called, Dyer said Finch's brother-in-law telephoned the department, saying Finch had just left the brother-in-law's home on the 4900 block of West Spruce Avenue.

The brother-in-law told officers Finch was looking for his wife, and that he was armed with a gun, Dyer said.

Finch reportedly had entered the brother-in-law's home, kicked the family's dog, threw chairs around and kicked in a cabinet door, Dyer said.

Finch also reportedly opened his jacket and revealed a gun in a shoulder holster and threatened to shoot up the house if the brother-in-law did not tell him his wife's whereabouts, Dyer said.

The brother-in-law did not disclose the wife's location, and Finch drove away, he said.

A few minutes later, officers spotted Finch in his vehicle at Cedar and Spruce avenues, apparently en route to where his wife was staying, Dyer said.

"Officers believed Finch was armed, dangerous and had every intent to seriously injure or kill his wife," Dyer said.

Unmarked police vehicles followed Finch for about a mile while officers waited for patrol cars to arrive, he said. Once the patrol cars arrived, Finch was pulled over on Cedar between Nees and Teague avenues, about a mile from where his wife was staying.

Before officers could box him in, however, Finch sped away, Dyer said.

During the chase that followed, Finch's speed was estimated 80 to 90 mph, with Finch running through red lights and stop signs. At Blackstone and Herndon avenues, Dyer said, Finch rammed another vehicle from behind, apparently an intentional act to move the other car out of the way.

The 10-minute chase ended at Herndon east of Highway 99, when Finch was forced off the road and his vehicle landed in a drainage basin.

Dyer said officers surrounded the vehicle. Finch fired a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol from the front passenger's window at two officers who were about 20 feet away -- striking the rear passenger door of one of the patrol cars as an officer was getting out, Dyer said.

Four officers, also about 20 feet away, shot back, Dyer said.

Afterward, Dyer said, the officers broke the driver's window to pull Finch out of the vehicle. No pulse was detected, and officers administered CPR until paramedics arrived.

A 9 mm pistol was found on his lap, Dyer said. A Mini-14 assault rifle with a 30-round magazine loaded with 10 bullets attached to the stock was found in the vehicle, he said.

Dyer said that while the brother-in-law indicated Monday morning that Finch was having mental problems, the officers involved in the incident did not have any other knowledge about Finch's history.

Also, said Dyer, Finch's actions deprived officers of any chance to try an alternative approach.

Finch's family has described how they had been trying to persuade Finch to seek treatment after he started to show uncharacteristic behavior. Craig Finch has said his brother earned a Purple Heart and returned from Vietnam in 1969. Andy Finch said he believes it's possible his father was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"There is a list of things it could be, and we're doing a lot of research right now," said Andy Finch, who last year reached the finals of the men's snowboarding competition at the Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.

"During the stuff before the accident, we wondered how we were going to get him checked out," he said. "Now we have the perfect opportunity to figure out what's wrong."

Finch said he was aware things were not right with his father and had made a trip to Fresno last Thursday.

"Last Wednesday, things definitely got pretty serious, and I had to talk to him," he said. "I had to see for myself what everyone was talking about. It was a tough situation, you know. We were just praying a ton. It was in God's hands."

Finch said family and friends have called to offer their support.

"A lot of people are shocked," he said. "A lot of people have known my dad for many years, know he's a good man, and still are having trouble comprehending what went down. They're like, 'It's not Cliff.' "

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