Santa Barbara County Jail
Paul Wellman (file)

It could have been another suicide by cop, but Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Sergeant Freddy Padilla opted to hit the gas the night of July 5 rather than pull the trigger. As a result, Alphonso Garcia Diaz, 35, wound up going to jail instead of the morgue. Diaz had drawn down on Padilla in an evening encounter in Carpinteria, aiming what appeared to be a Smith & Wesson handgun at Padilla’s face. Slowly driving his patrol car, Padilla was looking for Diaz to make sure he was okay; Diaz’s wife called in that he was depressed and suicidal.

Padilla saw Diaz on the back stairway of his wife’s apartment. It was dark and the road narrow. Diaz was waving his arms. When Padilla shone his spotlight on Diaz, he saw Diaz pointing the gun straight at him. He was maybe 25 feet away. After 24 years in law enforcement, this was a first for Padilla, who said he “could have engaged.” He hit the gas instead. “Please do not shoot me,” he remembered thinking as he passed Diaz. “It was a split-second decision. Nobody got shot. Nobody got hurt.”

Only later would Padilla discover the gun Diaz held was only a pellet gun. It looked very real. “They shouldn’t make them like that,” Padilla said. In the moment, Padilla called for backup, set up a perimeter, and negotiated Diaz’s surrender through his mother-in-law. When Diaz came out, his hands were empty and he wore no shirt in which a gun could be hidden. “What he was saying made no sense,” Padilla recalled. “It was all crazy.” Diaz reportedly banged his head against the car interior and kicked at the door. Padilla wound up cuffing Diaz’s feet.

Diaz’s 7-year-old son was at the apartment at the time. “I sat with him on the couch. He was crying,” Padilla said. “I felt like crying.” Diaz would be taken to the County Jail and released the following day. Four days later, Padilla said he couldn’t remember his name. “But I remember his son’s name,” he said.


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