When Anthony (last name withheld by request), a cab driver for Red Top Cab in Temecula, picked up his passenger on February 11 at the Extended Stay America hotel on Jefferson Avenue, he had no idea that a heavily armed fugitive task force from the California Department of Corrections (CDC) had staked out his fare and was waiting to arrest him.
Parolee John Armes, wanted for assault with a deadly weapon, asked to be driven to what he said was his home, in an area near Chaparral High School. In the residential area, Anthony noticed the flashing red lights on a vehicle behind his cab. Anthony pulled over, thinking a police car was trying to get around him. Then he heard the order to put his hands up and place them outside the cab.
“I could see he was refusing to cooperate,” says Anthony of his passenger. He said, “‘I’m not putting my hands up.’” Armes ordered the cabbie to keep on driving. “I wasn’t,” said Anthony. “There were guns pointed at me.”
Anthony says Armes jumped into the driver’s seat and tried to take control of the vehicle — Anthony kept one foot on the brake. When Anthony jumped out of the vehicle, a gun was fired at Armes. It was a taser, which Anthony says must have missed Armes because Armes drove the cab onto the curb and then down the street at about 40 miles per hour. Armes crashed into an unmarked police car and then took off on foot, only to be gunned down by the undercover cops. He was pronounced dead at a Wildomar hospital.
Anthony says he never saw Armes with a gun; if he had one Anthony believes Armes would have “pointed it at my head ” to get him to drive his cab further.
The enforcement action was carried out by what is known as the “FAT guys” — Fugitive Apprehension Team, according to CDC spokesperson Luis Patino. Members of the FAT team are deputized U.S. Marshals, so they can move between jurisdictions — cities, counties, even across state lines, to apprehend fugitives.
According to Anthony, none of police cars were marked. The vehicles were gray or blue.
“The guys had badges and guns but were in normal street clothes, with the exception of their bulletproof vest,” says Anthony.
What may have startled Temecula residents is that an unmarked police force from a little-known state agency was in their neighborhood shooting at suspects. And the town’s local police department — the Riverside County Sheriff’s Dept. — may have been unaware of it.
Anthony said he didn’t see any Temecula sheriff’s units until one arrived to take him to the local police station for a debriefing.
Sgt. Lisa McConnell, spokesperson for the department, says the incident became their case once the suspect was killed. She didn’t know whether or not the sheriff’s department knew the task force was working in their area.
The California Department of Corrections is not required to notify local authorities prior to serving warrants and other arrests. But, ideally, when a multi-agency task force is in action, the local jurisdiction is notified and sometimes asked to assist. This is to avoid what is known as blue-on-blue incidents — uniformed cops shooting at plainclothes cops from other jurisdictions.
CDC spokesperson Patino couldn’t comment on what notification they may have given the sheriff’s department, saying that the case is still under investigation. But he added that the CDC “did everything we are required to do,” when asked if the sheriff’s department was notified in advance.