SANTA ANA – An Orange County sheriff’s deputy was justified in fatally shooting a 31-year-old Marine sergeant who crashed an SUV through a parking-lot gate at San Clemente High School with his two daughters in the back seat, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said today.
Announcing the results of a lengthy investigation into the shooting, Rackauckas said Deputy Darren Sandberg acted properly when he opened fire on Sgt. Manuel Levi Loggins Jr. on Feb. 7.
The Camp Pendleton-based Marine had a ”stern” look, appeared angry and was speeding before he crashed a GMC Yukon through the gate, his 14-year-old daughter told investigators. Loggins drove through a red light on the way to the school, his 9-year-old daughter told investigators.
Loggins, who had been muttering to himself, walked toward the school’s athletic field, leaving the girls in the car and not inquiring as to their welfare, Deputy District Attorney Susan Price said.
Sandberg, a training officer who recently had returned to patrol duties, was in his vehicle in the school’s parking lot filling out a log near the end of his shift.
The deputy saw the SUV speeding and heard tires screeching and the collision, so he drove over to investigate. Sandberg saw part of a metal gate lodged under the vehicle.
Sandberg saw Loggins get out of the vehicle and he ordered him to stop, prosecutors said, citing video from the patrol car. Loggins was holding a Bible in his hand, but Sandberg told investigators that although he could see the object in his hand he couldn’t tell what it was, Price said.
Loggins ignored the deputy’s commands to stop as he walked toward the athletic field, where for the past month he would bring some or all of his family for early morning workouts and Bible study, Price said.
Sandberg briefly talked to the daughters and called for backup for a possible hit-and-run collision and child endangerment, Price said.
The deputies who arrived tried to find Loggins in the dark, Price said.
At 4:46 a.m., one of the deputies spotted him and reported Loggins was returning to the vehicle, Price said.
Loggins refused commands from Sandberg to stop, Price and Deputy District Attorney Dan Wagner said. The dashboard video camera recorded Loggins muttering something like, ”I’ve got somewhere to go,” and ”Give me my kids back,” as he walked toward the vehicle, the prosecutors said.
According to the prosecutors, as Loggins was getting into the vehicle, Sandberg shouted, ”Get your hands up! Don’t you get in that car or I’ll shoot you!”
Loggins got into the vehicle, closed the door and had the windows up at 4:46 a.m. as Sandberg pointed the weapon at him, the prosecutors said. Sgt. Todd Carpenter, who was also at the scene, pointed a weapon at Loggins, the prosecutors said.
Sandberg, who was about parallel to the daughters, shot Loggins three times from behind, aiming the weapon toward the engine block to avoid a ricochet that could hurt the children, Wagner said.
Before he opened fire, Sandberg asked Carpenter if a Taser was available, but Sandberg wasn’t certified to use one and they didn’t have one at hand, Wagner said.
Sandberg also considered trying to take down Loggins, but one of the daughters had told him Loggins was a Marine and he feared he would be unsuccessful in trying to restrain him, Wagner said. Sandberg was also a Marine veteran, the prosecutor added.
The prosecutors considered that Sandberg might have feared losing his gun in the struggle, Wagner said.
As Loggins walked toward Sandberg, ”His body was rigid, and his jaw was clenched,” Price said.
Sandberg feared Loggins was either psychotic or under the influence of drugs, Price said. Loggins ”seemed to be on a mission,” she added.
Sandberg had a legitimate reason to fear for the safety of the daughters as Loggins could have crashed the car as he either drove off into a wilderness area or through a perimeter of deputies blocking the only access road out of the school, Price and Wagner said.
The girls were not restrained with seat belts, Loggins had been driving recklessly, and it was odd to Sandberg that a military man would not follow orders, the prosecutors said.
”By all accounts he was a good man,” Wagner said, adding it was a ”tragic end” to the sergeant.
He was a 14-year veteran who was about to leave the military because of a non-combat knee injury, Price said.
Loggins was active with an Irvine church and had just finished a time of religious fasting, Price said.
He had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and was prescribed Adderall, the prosecutors said. His 9-year-old daughter said he stopped taking the medicine because he did not feel he needed it and because of the fast, the prosecutors said.
The autopsy did not show any signs of dehydration or any drugs in his system, the prosecutors said.
When Loggins and his daughters went to the high school parking lot the day before the shooting, Loggins was acting oddly and blurted out, ”Get away Satan,” Price said.
Rackauckas’ chief of staff, Susan Kang Schroeder, emphasized that prosecutors feel awkward using the evidence from the girls that paints their father in a negative light.
”We’re very sensitive to the family and feel so bad for the entire family,” Schroeder said.
Loggins’ widow, Phoebe, filed a wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit May 7 against Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and the county, seeking unspecified damages.
The lawsuit also alleges false arrest and imprisonment, because Loggins’ daughters were allegedly held for 13 hours without being allowed to leave.
Loggins family attorney Brian Dunn said criticized the prosecution’s report.
”We’re very disappointed,” Dunn told City News Service. ”This is a very significant insult, combined with the most devastating injury one can imagine, and the family is very disappointed in the system, but committed to fighting this in the civil arena.”
It is possible Loggins did not see the gate, which was sometimes closed and other times open when he visited the high school, Dunn said.
The attorney said the sheriff’s department’s explanation of what happened consisted of ”self-serving statements.”