STOCKTON, Calif. (AP) – The families of two slain bank robbery suspects said Friday that police in the Northern California city of Stockton acted appropriately when they engaged in a gunbattle with their sons.
Gregory Jon Martinez said he believed that police’s use of lethal force was justifiable and expressed condolences for the family of the hostage found dead after the hour-long robbery, car chase and gun battle.
“We hold no animosity or blame the Stockton Police Department for behaving the way they did,” Martinez said, noting that some of his family members are in law enforcement. “We believe that given the circumstances the department behaved in a manner that was appropriate.”
His son Alex Gregory Martinez, 27, was one of two suspects killed Wednesday; a third survived after authorities said he used Misty Holt-Singh as a human shield during the gunfight with police.
The father expressed condolences to Holt-Singh’s family, hours after the victim’s family gave an emotional press conference in which they expressed compassion for the families of the dead suspects.
“We’re so, so sorry that this happened. I wish I could take away their pain,” he said.
The mother of the other slain suspect, Gilbert Renteria Jr., 30, said she believed her son was a good person who made a terrible decision that ended his life.
“We’re not just grieving for our son, we’re grieving for the woman who passed, the kids who had to run away and anyone who was traumatized,” Debra Renteria said.
Holt-Singh’s family was launching their own investigation into the incident, announcing in the press conference that they were seeking documents, dispatch logs, video and other evidence police gathered during and after the violence.
Family attorney Greg Bentley said he also wants police department guidelines and protocols for high-speed pursuits and use of deadly force as well as video taken by witnesses.
Holt-Singh, 41, was taken hostage in a Bank of West branch by AK-47 wielding robbers while her 12-year-old daughter waited outside in the car. She was shot while in the back of the suspects’ stolen SUV during the ensuing gun battle after they stopped fleeing and turned to face police with their assault rifles.
Authorities say they are still trying to determine whether the suspects or police shot Holt-Singh.
“We don’t even know who fired what, how many weapons were fired,” said San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Robert Himelblau. “We haven’t figured out which bad guy was firing which weapon…which bullets hit who.”
Relatives said Renteria Jr. and Martinez were distant cousins who were close to one another; they didn’t know their relationship to the surviving suspect, 19-year-old Jaime Ramos.
Ramos was to be arraigned in San Joaquin Superior Court on Monday. The district attorney said it’s likely Ramos will be charged with multiple counts of murder.
An autopsy may determine who shot Holt-Singh.
Holt-Singh and a pair of bank employees were forced into a stolen SUV at gunpoint just as police converged on the parking lot of the bank. The two bank employees survived the ordeal by either jumping or getting thrown from the SUV as it sped through town.
Police spokesman Joe Silva said one of the bank employees was initially forced to drive the SUV out of the parking lot before being shot and pushed out the door.
Most police departments discourage shooting at getaway cars during chases. But the taking of hostages and hail of bullets coming from the suspect’s vehicle forced Stockton police to make the split-second decision to use their own weapons while knowing they might harm an innocent civilian.
Stockton police also recovered Friday afternoon a dark-colored sedan captured in video dropping off the suspects. The Buick, which had no license plate, was found abandoned in a neighborhood about a 10 minutes’ drive away from the bank.
Silva said investigators are still trying to determine a motive. He said the two dead suspects were “documented” members of the Nortenos, a Northern California gang controlled from California’s prisons by the Nuestra Familia. Silva said Ramos is an “associate” of the gang.
“We don’t know if this robbery occurred to benefit the gang or for their own purposes,” Silva said.
Gregory Jon Martinez said his son was no longer active in a gang, and that he believed his son was motivated by financial need. He said his son lost his job as a forklift operator, had a drug addiction and was seeking surgical treatment for a degenerative left eye.
The suspect leaves behind a 3-year-old son, who was among more than a dozen relatives who gathered outside the family’s Catholic church to support the elder Martinez.
Renteria’s parents said their son lived at home, was unemployed, and had two children ages 4 and 6. They said he would sometimes disappear for days or weeks, but they were surprised to hear police say that was in a gang.
“If he was that kind of person out there, that never came here,” his father Gilbert Renteria said. “He was protective of all of us.”
Silva said 40 officers have been placed on paid, three-day administrative leave, a routine procedure for police-involved shootings. Silva said the department is paying other officers overtime to cover the open shifts, declining offers from neighboring agencies for additional help.
Holt-Singh’s husband, two children and sister briefly addressed the media Friday to discuss the loss of a wife, mother and sibling.
“What happened to Misty is a nightmare,” husband Paul Singh said. “It’s something I would never want to happen to anybody.”
Daughter Mia Singh was waiting in the car while her mother was in the bank withdrawing money for a haircut, said family friend and lawyer Michael Platt. Mia recalled how Holt-Singh attended all her softball games and never forgot to bring orange juice. Mia said her mother was always trying to horn in on her Snapchat sessions and relentlessly chewed on ice. “Always,” Mia said in tandem with her father as they laughed about the ice chewing.
“I love you mom,” Mia said before bursting into tears and turning to her father for comfort.
During the emotional news conference Friday, family members talked about their Christian faith. Holt-Singh’s sister Dawn Holt said she’s praying for the families of the dead suspects.
“We do need to give those families respect because they lost someone they love too,” she said.