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Suspect used handicapped hostage as human shield, sheriff's office says

What started as a domestic disturbance call turned into a hostage situation and deadly shooting in Calaveras County.

CALAVERAS COUNTY, Calif. — More details have been released regarding a domestic dispute, hostage situation and deadly shooting that happened in Calaveras County last week. 

Sergeant Greg Stark with the Calaveras County Sheriff's Office said in a press release on Monday, May 10 that the incident began just after 10:30 p.m. on May 6. Multiple people called for help, telling dispatch that a man had pointed a gun at a woman at the Sierra Inn Motel in San Andreas. 

When deputies arrived, they found out the couple had already left. Deputies were eventually able to track down the man and woman after checking several places around the area for nearly an hour. 

Deputy Sheriff Jonathan Brown arrived at the Diamon Place Apartment complex after the sheriff's office found an address for the alleged female victim, who will not be named in order to protect her privacy. Stark said the suspect, later identified as 47-year-old Mark Aitulagi Lavea, had no prior contact with the sheriff's office so Brown did not immediately recognize him. 

According to the press release, while Brown was interviewing the victim, multiple gunshots were fired, ambushing the victim and Brown. The deputy was hit once. Another deputy was responding to the scene and was able to take Brown to a nearby hospital for treatment. Brown has since been released.

More deputies arrived, in addition to an Angels Camp Police Officer and CHP Officers. Law enforcement worked together to search for Lavea, not knowing he had forced himself into another apartment and taken a 75-year-old woman hostage, the sheriff's office said.

Stark says Lavea forced the physically disabled woman, who uses a walker, out of the apartment while holding a gun up against her body, effectively using her as a human shield. 

According to the sheriff's office, Lavea began forcing the woman to walk towards officers while hiding behind her. 

"At this point, the deputies were already aware that a Deputy Sheriff had been shot by the suspect who was now a hostage-taker," Stark said in a press release. 

Due to a difference in elevation, a large concrete retaining wall and a large, long metal railing, Lavea and the hostage were partially concealed from law enforcement. 

Sheriff's deputies say they shot Lavea as he attempted to force the hostage up a concrete stairway. The shooting caused Lavea to fall but he was able to stand back up and take another shot at deputies before he was shot again. He reportedly tried to get up a third time before he was shot again. 

Lavea was pronounced dead at the scene by medical personnel. 

"While the Sheriff's Office takes any loss of life seriously, the hostage-taker's clear and direct actions put himself, the deputies, the hostage, and numerous nearby residents in danger by his actions alone," Stark said in a press release.

Deputies say they found a handgun in the area that matched the description given by the witnesses at the Sierra Inn. 

According to the sheriff's office, several of the officer's rounds struck the large metal railing and elevated concrete retaining wall during the shooting causing them to both fragment and ricochet to hit the hostage. Deputies are analyzing whether the hostage was injured due to law enforcement firing or if Lavea shot the victim after being shot by deputies. 

Deputies say Lavea has a lengthy criminal history, dating back to 1989. He has faced numerous felony and misdemeanor arrests and convictions for crimes including:

  • Assault with a Deadly Weapon, (firearm on a person)
  • Burglary, Discharge of a Firearm in a Negligent Manner
  • Burglary
  • Felon in Possession of a Firearm
  • Assault with a Deadly Weapon
  • Child Cruelty Injury/Death
  • Elder/Dependent Abuse
  • Felony Battery with Serious Bodily Injury
  • Carry a Concealed Firearm
  • Carrying a Loaded Firearm, Possession/ Manufacture/ Sell Dangerous Weapon
  • Violation of Parole 
  • Domestic Violence
  • Possession of a Firearm by a Convicted Felon
  • Felon in Possession of Ammunition
  • Possession of Controlled Substances for Sale
  • Domestic Violence
  • Violation of Parole
  • Transportation of a Controlled Substance
  • False Impersonation of Another Person
  • Providing False ID to a Peace Officer
  • Possession of Controlled Substance
  • Violation of Probation
  • Auto theft
  • Possession of Stolen Property
  • Auto Theft, Domestic Violence/ Corporal Injury to Spouse/Cohabitant
  • Violation of Parole

Deputies say Lavea's criminal history summary is 14 pages long. 

All deputies involved in the shooting include Deputy Michael Jericoff (2 years of service), Deputy Nicholas Riviera (2 years of service), Deputy Mark Silvia (1.5 years of service), Deputy Brandon Buie (14 months of service) and an officer from the Angels Camp Police Department. All have been placed on administrative leave while the shooting is investigated. 

The sheriff's office is thanking the original witnesses who called for help after seeing what happened at the Sierra Inn. "It is important to stand up for victims of domestic violence who may otherwise not report crimes and abuse."

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