The police in Santa Barbara knew about, but never saw those videos.
Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies who determined Elliot Rodger was not a threat to himself or others only weeks before his shooting spree in Isla Vista, Calif., knew he had posted the alarming videos online, but didn’t actually watch them, officials said Thursday.
When four deputies, a University of California at Santa Barbara police officer and a dispatcher-in-training went to his apartment for a welfare check April 30 after being contacted by his parents, they asked him about the videos, according to a statement released by the sheriff’s office.
Rodger, 22 — described as shy and polite — told them the videos he posted on YouTube were simply a way for him to express himself because he was struggling to fit in socially.
The Los Angeles Times reported:
“Based upon the information available to them at the time,” the statement continued, “sheriff’s deputies concluded that Rodger was not an immediate threat to himself or others, and that they did not have cause to place him on an involuntary mental health hold, or to enter and search his residence. Therefore, they did not view the videos or conduct a weapons check on Rodger.”
One of the deputies called Rodger’s mother and, after briefing her on the interaction, passed the phone to Rodger, officials said. Rodger “told her he was fine and that he would call her later.”
Deputies then gave Rodger contact information about local services he could use “if he needed help,” and left. The interaction lasted about 10 minutes, officials said.
The statement, however, does not say why police didn’t view the videos or whether the deputies knew anything about what was in them, the Associated Press reported.
Rodger wrote he had three semiautomatic weapons hidden in his bedroom at the time:
I tactfully told them that it was all a misunderstanding, and they finally left. If they had demanded to search my room … that would have ended everything. For a few horrible seconds I thought it was all over. When they left, the biggest wave of relief swept over me. It was so scary. It was all because of the videos.
Rodger also wrote that he immediately removed most of the videos from YouTube.
The sequence of events released in Thursday’s statement is different from a statement last Sunday from sheriff’s office spokesman Kelly Hoover, who said “the sheriff’s office was not aware of any videos until after the shooting rampage occurred,” the AP reported.
An e-mail seeking comment on why the previous statement said deputies were unaware of the videos was not immediately returned to The Washington Post on Friday morning.
The LA Times reported some have questioned why police failed to view the videos.
“If somebody was concerned about them enough to report them it would seem to me to be part of the checkup,” Ann Eldridge, vice president of Santa Barbara’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said. Others say it may not have made a difference.
Rick Wall, a former Los Angeles police captain who oversaw that department’s mental health team, told the LA Times that although seeing the videos may not have stopped Rodger’s rampage, it would have become part a police investigation.
He also told the AP the amount of time police spent talking to Rodger’s mother while gathering details of his history was critical in understanding why she was concerned about her son.
“That’s going to be the telling piece and where you’re going to get the breakdown on the guy’s story,” Wall said. “Talking to somebody for 10 minutes, you may or may not get the ability to conduct a proper evaluation.”