Fresno chief describes officer-involved shooting of former department captain
A former Fresno police captain was fatally shot by an officer in northeast Fresno on Monday.
Chief Jerry Dyer appeared shaken as he addressed the media and identified the victim as Marty West, who had a 32-year career in the department before retiring from the Fresno Police Department in 2007 to become the chief of police in Oakdale.
Police received a call at 11:30 a.m. from a woman at a home near Moody and Colfax avenues who feared a man in the home with a history of recent mental health issues might try to kill himself, Dyer said.
Both a veteran officer and a trainee responded. As soon as the door opened, they saw a pool of blood on the floor and a man with a knife with a 12-inch blade coming at them, Dyer said.
The veteran fired his Taser, but one of the darts hit West’s belt and did not stop him. West kept advancing and the trainee officer fired twice, killing West, said Dyer, who added he had watched the body cam video from the incident.
“These officers had absolutely no other choice but to not only use the Taser, but when the Taser failed to utilize the firearm,” Dyer said.
“Both of them were absolutely shocked and surprised when the door opened and Marty came charging out, covered in blood, armed with a knife, and was within a few feet of the officers,” he said.
Dyer said the trainee had been through the police academy and had been with the department for three months.
Dyer said West, 63, was a friend and family member — Dyer’s uncle and West’s father were brothers. West’s father owned a paint shop in Fresno for many years, the chief said.
“I lost a friend and a family member; he’ll be missed,” Dyer said.
Just before police arrived, West had cut himself on the left side of his neck, Dyer said.
“Unfortunately Marty has been struggling here for the last several months with some mental health issues,” Dyer said.
The family had removed all firearms from the house, Dyer said. West’s wife, other family members and even neighbors did the best they could to get help for West, he said.
“It’s hard to understand, hard to wrap our arms around right now,” Dyer said.
West started as a police cadet at the Fresno department and worked his way up a captain, he said. He had served as the northeast district commander. As a result, some of the officers who responded to scene after the shooting had reported to him, Dyer said.
Dyer said West decided to take his life, but he avoided using the term “suicide by cop.”
“It’s difficult to get inside the mind of someone who is suffering from mental illness,” Dyer said. Police had been to the home before, he added.
West was chief of police in Oakdale for five years before retiring in March 2012, according to Modesto Bee archives. He served as police chief under two mayors, both of whom were shocked at the news of his death.
“I did not see any indication of (mental challenges). He was always a very in-control guy,” said Farrell Jackson, who was mayor four of the five years West served as chief.
“It saddens me to hear this,” Jackson continued. “He was a great chief. The community really liked him. He would attend all the neighborhood watches, and everyone spoke highly of him. He stayed close to the community so he could understand what was going on.”
West had some run-ins with the police officers union related to staffing cuts forced on the department during the recession. He became chief in February 2007, was faced with trimming costs only three months later and eventually laid off several officers.
Pat Paul was mayor of Oakdale when West retired in 2012, and stepped aside herself in the recent election.
“How tragic. For heaven’s sake,” Paul said Monday. “I was hoping he was enjoying retirement and life was good. I’m so sorry.”
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, who also is retiring in a few weeks, said he considered West “an excellent chief and a good friend. I truly enjoyed working with him.”
“This incident is both heartbreaking and tragic,” Christianson said. “Once again, we see the devastating effects of mental illness and realize that we need to continue expanding services and treatment for those who need help.”
According to Fresno Bee archives, West’s career in Fresno started when he was 19 and included stints as patrol officer, field training officer and night shift detective.
In 1980, he was promoted to sergeant and was a field supervisor and internal affairs investigator. In 1986, he became a lieutenant and helped the department develop the problem-oriented policing concept, in which officers develop crime-fighting solutions in neighborhoods where there are a lot of service calls.
He became captain in 1994, commanding the Northeast and Central districts and created the Citizens on Patrol Program and the Help Eliminate Auto Theft (HEAT) team.