continued Sanders arrived at the San Ysidro McDonald's eight minutes later and, four minutes after that, he ordered the shot that killed Huberty. In the following days, according to stories in both the San Diego Union and the Evening Tribune, Sanders explained his decision several different ways. A full SWAT team was not yet in place at the time the first green light was ordered, he told reporters. And the team members who first arrived on the scene could not get a clear sighting of Huberty inside the restaurant.
Rumors had it that Sanders had been socializing with fellow officers when he received the first call about the massacre unfolding. I ask Stamper what he remembers. "He was at Marina Village," says Stamper, who in 1992 was bypassed in favor of Sanders for the San Diego police chief job. "I was there, too, along with all the other command staff members. We had had a retreat. I can't remember what the subject was, but it was a full work day, not something social. At the end, it converted to social. There were a few people hanging around, though some had left, and that was the point at which the call to Jerry came in."
But the July 22 Union story stated, "SWAT commander Lt. Jerry Sanders, 34, was sipping a beer at the Salmon House in Marina Village, attending a birthday party [for a] fellow commander. About 25 minutes after the first call went out for SWAT help, Sanders was approached by deputy chief Norm Stamper, who just got off the phone. 'Have you been beeped yet?' "
Four days later the Tribune reported that Sanders "said he is still trying to determine why his pager failed to work."
Stamper is circumspect about the decision Sanders made after leaving Marina Village to countermand the first green light to shoot Huberty. Stamper does acknowledge that it was discussed in the police debriefing of the San Ysidro massacre. "At what point," he says to me, "does somebody who is not at the scene relinquish authority over to people who are there already? Today, that is still a debate in law-enforcement tactics and strategy deliberations. You're talking about the red light/green light concept in SWAT. I don't know if that's the exact terminology anymore. But the message is, if you've got a green light, as soon as you have a good head shot, take it. That's what you use snipers for. But if someone you love dearly is being held in a headlock by a hostage taker, a gun to her or his head, being dragged around, and you've got a SWAT sniper 50 yards, 100 yards away, the question is: Would you entrust that professional to take the shot?"
"I'm not going to second-guess Jerry Sanders's decision on that," Stamper continues. "It's a very tough call. My bias and preference would be that those people who are on the scene, assuming that they have been well selected and well trained, should be making the majority of the decisions. But there are times and places where that's not the appropriate way to go. So I don't know."