Sheriff’s Department uses ‘teamwork’ to handle dangerous situations

Fallbrook doesn’t often make the evening news on San Diego television stations. In fact, some people complain that Fallbrook’s high and low temperatures aren’t displayed frequently enough on the weather maps during newscasts.

Things have been different lately, however, as twice in a span of 29 days stations went “live” to Fallbrook to report on a pair of dangerous situations – a SWAT standoff at a Fallbrook apartment on Alturas Road, and a lockdown at Fallbrook High School after a student brought a gun on campus.

Both incidents had peaceful and successful endings, with no one getting hurt and suspects being taken into custody. Lt. Pat Gardner, who took over as commander of the Fallbrook Sheriff’s substation Jan. 6, said “teamwork” was the key to success in both events.

The SWAT standoff occurred the afternoon of March 6 when a wanted man believed to be armed and dangerous ran into an apartment unit on the 900 block of Alturas after realizing that San Diego Fugitive Task Force officers had tracked him down. The 22-year-old suspect, Joshua Villegas, holed up in the apartment for nearly 2 1/2 hours before surrendering.

The Fallbrook substation had notified the task force, which is coordinated by the U.S. Marshals Service, that Villegas, named in a felony arrest warrant for assault with a deadly weapon, was in the area.

“The United States Marshals Service is a great partner of the Sheriff’s Department,” said Gardner. “Knowing that the subject was wanted for assault with a deadly weapon, we started looking for him and we got the U.S. Marshals involved. We made the phone call to the U.S. Marshals, briefed them on the case, and they sent investigators up and started working right away.”

“That’s the strength of the Sheriff’s Department – being able to work with those other units, and that’s exactly what we did here,” continued Gardner. “We actually gave the U.S. Marshals the case to find this fugitive. And they’re great fugitive finders – that’s what they do. And they found him.”

After Villegas scrambled into the apartment, deputies from the Fallbrook substation assisted the U.S. Marshals in securing the area and evacuating residents from neighboring units. Special Enforcement Detail (SED/SWAT) and a crisis negotiation team were called.

“We work together,” said Gardner when asked who was in charge at the scene. “We all meet and we brief each other on what we have, and make the decisions along with the crisis negotiation team. It’s all about teamwork.”

Apparently realizing he was in a hopeless situation, Villegas exited the apartment unit shortly before 6 p.m. that March 6 evening and was booked into Vista jail.

Deputies were called to the campus of Fallbrook High School (FHS) a little after 10 a.m. Feb. 3 when a student informed school officials of a social media post that showed a student holding a gun in one of the school’s restrooms. Principal Larry Boone promptly ordered a lockdown of the entire campus and notified the Sheriff’s Department.

“The call from Principal Boone went to the Sheriff’s communications center and they quickly dispatched the call to our deputies,” said Gardner. “And they arrived on scene within minutes. It was a very, very fast response time.”

Deputies secured the campus, met with school officials and immediately began their investigation and search for the weapon.

“Sgt. (David) Pocklington and his team of deputies quickly addressed the situation,” said Gardner.

The patrol deputies were soon joined by area detectives, members of the Fallbrook Crime Suppression Team and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The deputies’ investigation led them to three students – a 14-year-old and two 15-year-olds – that were taken into custody, and a specially-trained canine from ATF helped deputies find the weapon.

“We work very closely with ATF,” said Gardner. “ATF quickly came up, used their canines and the weapon was found.”

Gardner noted that the “teamwork” that went into the successful resolution of the situation at FHS began with the student who reported the social media post and school officials for following proper protocol.

“Somebody saw something and they said something, and that’s so important,” said Gardner, who added that everyone can be part of the team by simply communicating with law enforcement. “If you see something, say something,” said Gardner.

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