Misty Holt-Singh, 41, swung her car into the parking lot of the Bank of the West in Stockton, Calif., just after 2 p.m. on a warm, summer day last year. Her 12-year old daughter, Mia, waited in the car, fixated on her cellphone while Holt-Singh left to withdraw cash, which she planned to use during a trip to the hairdresser later that day.
Minutes later, another car pulled into the parking lot. Three men exited a dark-colored, four-door Buick before it sped off. They were wearing gloves, black sunglasses, gloves, fake beards and mustaches and ominously wore hoodies over their baseball caps. They also had ammunition taped to their clothes.
The men grabbed Holt-Singh and took her into the bank. Her daughter would never see her alive again.
Later, after the suspects fled the scene with cash and hostages, and the chaos subsided at the bank, Mia would text her father.
“Leave work,” she wrote.
Then: “Bank got robbed.”
And then: “They took mom.”
What followed was an hour-long high-speed police chase punctuated by a barrage of bullets from police and robbers alike.
Thirty-three officers fired more than 600 shots that day in pursuit of the gunmen — members of a local gang — who were armed with an AK-47 and three handguns. Ten bullets from police weapons eventually killed one of the hostages, Misty Holt-Singh.
The brazen shootout was described as unprecedented in a report released this week by the Police Foundation, which was asked to independently review the July 2014 incident. It was, the D.C.-based foundation said, like nothing the understaffed, under-resourced Stockton Police Department had ever trained for or experienced — and, in fact, like nothing any U.S. police department had ever endured.
“Never in the history of U.S. law enforcement has a police force dealt with an event such as this,” Police Foundation President Jim Bueermann wrote in the report. “The only incident that comes close was the 1997 North Hollywood shootout in which the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers battled a pair of heavily armed bank robbers, who were covered in body armor.”
In that case, there were no hostages, and the suspects weren’t on the move.
In Stockton, the robbers took three hostages when they escaped the bank in an employee’s Ford Explorer, grabbing bank manager Kelly Huber and teller Stephanie Koussaya along with Holt-Singh.
The report — completed by the nonprofit Police Foundation at no cost to the Stockton Police Department — highlighted the toll of bankruptcy on the town’s police force, which was repeatedly hampered by limited resources during the chase. Most damaging of all, the report criticized what it described as the deadly hive mind mentality — and lack of leadership — that led officers to endanger hostages in a shootout with the robbers.
The massive car chase, involving dozens of police officers in marked and unmarked vehicles, wound through the streets of Stockton for over an hour.
With the officers in pursuit, a robber fired an AK-47 from the back of the stolen Ford Explorer, disabling several police cars and an armored SWAT vehicle.
Officers interviewed for the report noted that police cars that had been shot were dropping from the chase, but that other police vehicles — sometimes unmarked — would speed past.
“It was crazy because all of a sudden a car came barreling up on the shoulder, passing us, and we were going more than 100 miles an hour,” an officer said. “And we don’t know who it is. One of us? Someone else? Another bad guy?”
By 3:15 p.m., the chase was coming to an end; police gunfire had blown out the tires on the suspects’ vehicle.
Huber, the bank manager, had been pushed out of the moving SUV after a suspect accidentally shot her in the leg, and Koussaya, the teller, had opened a door and jumped out while the car sped through the streets at about 50 mph. Koussaya was seriously injured, but alive.
There was one hostage — Misty Holt-Singh — still in the gunpowder-filled Explorer when it fishtailed and came to a stop as a robber unleashed a barrage of gunfire at the police.
Officers fired back.
They kept shooting well after the gunfire from the vehicle had come to a stop.
“There were no dedicated shooters. There was very little control. Just police officers trying to stop a threat,” the report concluded.
The report described an officer laying on the floor, weapon drawn, scanning for a target.
Another officer stood above him, shooting:
“What’s your target?” the prone officer yelled, thinking he was missing something. “The car!” responded the officer, who continued shooting.
When the gunfire finally ended, Holt-Singh was dead.
Two suspects had also been shot and killed.
A third man, Jaime Ramos, was found in the vehicle virtually unharmed. Police believe he used Holt-Singh as a human shield.
According to the report, the department had no resources to bring the car to a stop, save for bullets, and no plan for what to do once it did stop moving. Officers briefly discussed using spike strips, but the fiscally ailing department didn’t own any that worked.
Some officers reportedly fired their weapons into the vehicle simply because other officers were firing their weapons — “sympathetic gunfire,” in the parlance of police — adding up to 600 “excessive and unnecessary” shots fired, the report concluded.
The hail of bullets was reminiscent of a fatal 2012 shooting involving dozens of Cleveland police officers in pursuit of two unarmed people in a car. Officers fired more than 140 shots at the car, and one officer was charged — and later acquitted — of manslaughter. That shooting prompted a Justice Department review of the department’s use of force.
Ramos, the lone surviving suspect in Stockton, was charged with 35 felony counts, including murder and attempted murder. Last month, relatives of Holt-Singh reached a settlement with the bank, according to NBC affiliate KCRA; they have also filed suit against the city of Stockton. The two other surviving hostages sued the city, as well.
In Stockton, no officers or bystanders were injured or killed, but the loss of one hostage and the injury of two others still haunts the department.
“We said we’d accept responsibility of what happened that day,” Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones said at a news conference on Monday, adding that the department concurs with the report’s findings. “And that’s what I’m doing again here today.”