Ryan Maxstadt of San Jose was found guilty of attempted murder on a peace officer late Friday afternoon for taking two shots at CHP Officer Ty Lewis near the end of a high-speed pursuit from Ukiah to Willits on December 20 of last year. This was Mr. Maxstadt’s second trial, the first having ended in a hung jury.
It all started in mid December of 2016 when Maxstadt was going about his business in a stolen Kia Sportage, a sort of professional Grinch, stealing people’s Christmas presents. Sergeant Noble Weidlich of the Ukiah Police was on to Maxstadt and had given chase on December 16th from Ukiah out Highway 20 to the Lake County line when he gave up the chase for safety concerns and returned to Ukiah without Maxstadt.
Then on December 20th Sgt. Weidlich spotted the Kia Sportage backed into a parking spot at the AM-PM on Talmage and pulled in to investigate. Again, Maxstadt made a break for it and another high-speed chase ensued. This time, however, Sgt. Weidlich called in a CHP officer to take the lead. The CHP officers are better trained in high-speed pursuits, for one thing; and also they have a wider range of jurisdiction.
Officer Lewis had just ordered his dinner at Star’s Restaurant when the call came and the NBARS (dash) camera in his patrol car filmed the whole show. We see the officer leave his table in the restaurant and hustle out to the car, back out and floor it, beginning the race to Willits, reaching speeds of 130 mph and passing everything in sight, until he finally caught up with Sgt. Weidlich and took over the chase.
Ty Lewis is a former Navy Seal, a firearms expert, range master, and hunter safety instructor. It was his training and experience as much as anything that convinced the jury that the two muzzle flashes on the video were gunshots, and not just lights reflecting off the rear view mirror or chrome of the Kia Sportage. Officer Lewis in fact told the jurors that he didn’t even see the muzzle flashes the video picked up, but from his familiarity with firearms he knew the sound of gunfire, and had seen the gun come out the driver’s window as he came up and tried to force the Kia to pull over.
A PIT (Pursuit Intervention Technique) maneuver, Officer Lewis explained, is when the pursuing vehicle comes up on the left rear side of the fleeing vehicle and forces it sideways. The Kia had already gone over a spike strip that deflated the tires, but was still speeding through Willits in the on-coming lane near the Lumberjack Restaurant when Lewis tried the PIT maneuver; he felt he could do it safely because Willits Police had stopped or detoured traffic out of the area; that’s when the shots were fired and Lewis, as soon as human reaction time would allow, swerved to the right, out of the line of fire.
The Kia then turned into a driveway and disappeared behind a house to a wooded area where Maxstadt fled on foot into the thick cover of a blackberry bramble, down a bank and into the creek — which was full of water. He appeared to have ditched the gun somewhere along the way, or into the creek. It was never recovered, and the only physical evidence that he’d had a gun was a padded pistol case left in the car.
There was a long line of police cars behind Lewis and none of them saw the muzzle flashes or heard the shots fired. But considering all the noise in the video, sirens and radio traffic, the loud, grating sound of static every time someone keys the mic, it was hard to isolate the gunshots in the video, and an expert, Greg Stutchman, was brought in to do it, Conversely, the defense brought in their own expert, Matt Gabler, to say otherwise. So, in essence, it came down to Officer Lewis’s say-so.
But as the cop cars pulled into the area where Maxstadt fled on foot, Officer Lewis told the second officer to arrive, the dogged Maxstadt hunter, Sgt. Weidlich, that the subject had shot at him. Lewis reported this over the radio at the time it happened, but the Ukiah Police were on a different channel than the CHP and would not have heard it. It was after dark, no lighting but the headlights of the vehicles and the flashlights the officers were visible. The officers were going into thick cover after an armed fugitive who had already shot at one officer, so everybody braced for the worst.
Officer Lewis grabbed his assault rifle. When asked why, Lewis said it was because it held more ammunition, was also more accurate, and that he wanted to go home to his young son that night.
At this point, Sgt. Joey DeMarco arrived with his K-9 partner, Bruno. Bruno found Maxstadt almost immediately. He hadn’t gone far and was, in fact, just under water at the edge of the flooded creek. Bruno put his muzzle under water and pulled Maxstadt out by the leg. Then there was more trouble because Maxstadt had his hands under his chest, like he was hiding something. Of course everybody thought it was the gun. Maxstadt repeatedly refused to obey the command to show his hands, and so Bruno was ordered to pull the hands out with his teeth, and Maxstadt finally complied.
Much of the trial was a repeat of the first trial back in August (also covered in these pages), wherein Maxstadt was convicted of several other charges, including reckless evasion and assault on a peace officer, but when the verdict came in this time the defendant began shaking his head dismally and repeating the word “No” in denial or disbelief at what he’d been convicted of. The defense argument that prosecution had failed to prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt didn’t wash with this second jury, however. They believed Lewis, and seemed to agree with DA David Eyster’s summation that we were lucky to have such a determined and dedicated officer to go after thieves like Maxstadt and bring them to justice.
Maxstadt’s case was referred to the Adult Probation Department for a background study and sentencing recommendation. Maxstadt is not eligible for probation, any sentence imposed will be served in state prison. Sentencing is for February 20, 2018 at 9 o’clock in the morning in Department G of the Ukiah courthouse.
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In other courthouse news, Deputy Public Defender Chelsie Abramson won her first jury trial, a petty theft trial for Beverley Ann Sherman. It is almost phenomenal for a public defender to win her very first trial and we congratulate her heartily!