Denise said she woke that Saturday morning to a brushing sound. It was along the outer wall of her apartment, along the stairwell leading to the front door. She wondered if the man who lived in the opposite apartment was coming home late.
The young woman lived in a studio apartment in Rancho Santa Fe; it was mostly one big room with a bed and couch and television. She glanced at the clock and saw it was 4:15. Still dark. She tried to go back to sleep. Then she heard a small, rapid noise, like fingertips drumming on her front door. She was aware that her front door was not solid; it was flimsy and hollow, which actually amplified the insistent little noise. Maybe it was someone trying to find her neighbor’s door mistakenly rapping on her door.
Next she heard a voice. He sounded angry. She crept carefully and silently from her bed to look out the peephole in her door. She could just barely see the top of a man’s head, he was sitting at the top of the stairs, near the landing. Now she was frightened. As quietly as she could she hurried into the only room that had a locking door, her bathroom. While she sat in the bathtub she called Rancho Santa Fe Security.
In a trembling voice, Denise whispered into her phone,“I’ve been hearing bangs. Something’s going on. I’m number nine. Something is going on at number eight. It sounded like he slammed his hand against the wall and said, ‘If you want to live, let me take a shower!’”
More than an hour later, she was able to crawl out of her bathtub and escape. After she came out of her apartment she looked down the stairwell and saw the words YOUR DEAD and RAPIST carved into the smooth, white walls.
The security guy
Peter Maguire has seen a few things. He worked for the Border Patrol for 24 years, mostly at the Imperial Beach station. After he retired from that work, he took a full-time job doing security for the Rancho Santa Fe Association. For this work Maguire patrols in a marked car, a white Ford Explorer. He wears a uniform of tan shirt and black pants, and he carries a firearm.
Early in the morning of Saturday, December 3, 2016, he responded to a call for disturbance at 6012 Paseo Delicias. This is an area of retail shops; Maguire was told that the caller was in one of two small studio apartments that are hidden from the street, located behind the shops.
When Maguire arrived at the street address, a man quickly came up to him and said that he had parked nearby and his tire got slashed. Then Maguire heard an alarm at a nearby jewelry store so he walked in that direction. Maguire saw a thin, dark-haired man walking away; he made eye-contact with that stranger. Just then, a Sheriff’s deputy arrived.
Maguire and the deputy talked about the emergency call they both received, and they walked together to find the apartments. It took about ten minutes to find a small stairway opening, with the numbers 9 and 8 on either side of the entrance. There was one studio apartment on either side of the landing at the top of the stairwell. They could not see the doors to both apartments from the sidewalk below, but they could plainly see a man seated at the top of the stairs. He had a liquor bottle on the step next to him. It was the same man Maguire had seen walking away from the jewelry store a few minutes earlier, when the alarm went off.
The first San Diego County Sheriff’s deputy on the scene was Kevin Norie. He has a reputation for being the most patient officer at the Encinitas station, for keeping a calm temperament while dealing with difficult people. It seemed fortuitous for him to be the one responding to a call describing trouble between neighbors.
Norie is well over 6 feet: young, and fit and capable of looking intimidating, except for the fact that he keeps a friendly look on his face and uses a soft, non-challenging voice.
Later, long after the incident, deputy Norie reviewed a printout which recorded the order of events:
5:16 am: deputy Norie arrived at scene;
5:27 am: deputy Norie contacted suspect;
5:56 am: Shots fired.
“My name is Slit Your Throat!”
That early December morning in 2016, there was one overhead light at the top of the stairwell. This motion-activated fixture cast a harsh light on the dark-haired man who sat there.
Deputy Norie used his best calm, non-aggressive voice. “I asked him, ‘Why are we here today?’”
But it was not a good start. “He was immediately aggressive and started yelling insults at me.”
The man replied, “I don’t know! Why the fuck are you here?”
The deputy tried another non-threatening question.
“When I asked his name, he said, ‘My name is Slit Your Throat!’” And the man made a motion across his own throat, with his hand.
“Essentially he had made a threat.” So Deputy Norie started to think about his Taser. “Thinking this might turn into more than just having this guy leave.” But, Norie knew, “The probes need to make contact, or else it does not do anything.” The man on the steps was wearing a big, black, puffy jacket. From past experience, Norie knew that if he used a Taser on someone wearing thick clothing, not only would the Taser not disable the offender, it would also make the target angrier.
“I tried to ask him his name again, and I got the same response about ‘slit your throat’ I’m trying to calm him down, so I am just talking calmly to him.” Officer Norie tried asking again, “Why are you here?” Eventually the man claimed he was waiting for a friend, but he would not give a name nor apartment number of his friend.
Norie later remembered some of the man’s responses: “Leave or you’ll regret it!” And, “He said something along the lines of, ‘Walk away or you’re going to get hurt!’ Yelling it, very aggressive. Clenched fists. Yelling. Just overall very angry.”
Soon, Norie “let our dispatch know that I have a combative subject, and I need backup.”
The man’s responses got more bizarre. Several times, the stranger demanded to know, “Why did you rape me?”
And, “He spoke as if he had an earpiece.” The man put a finger into one of his own ears and said, “Take him out! Take him out!” As if he were talking to someone over a radio. “Like in a movie or something.” Officer Norie clarified, “I did not see anything in his ear, obviously.
“He was sitting initially; at some point he stood up.... When he started standing up, he pulled his shirt up and reached in as if he was going to pull a gun out, then made a motion and made a bang noise as if he was trying to shoot me.”
The man held his hands together as if he had a gun. “He pulled something out of a pocket and then hid around the corner, on the top, on the stair landing, to the right. Then he jumped out and made a rifle motion, as if he held an invisible rifle, and said ‘Bang! Bang!’ At that point, I have no idea what he has in his hands.”
When the agitated man pretended to pull out a gun, both men at the bottom of the stairs drew their real guns. Deputy Norie said he had a .40 caliber Glock, which he said is standard issue and the only pistol that deputies are allowed to carry on patrol.
The first backup to arrive was deputy Matthew Chavez. When he walked up, the suspect was hiding around a corner at the top of the stairs, peeking out.
Deputy Norie and the security man Maguire already had their weapons drawn. Deputy Chavez drew his weapon. Maguire went out to the street to direct other deputies as they arrived. More deputies had radioed that they were on their way.
Deputy Chavez later remembered his first impression of the suspect: “He seemed to be talking to people who weren’t there.... Essentially, he said if we came up there he was going to kill us,” Chavez said. “At one point he said he was going to throw a grenade. He said he was going to call for angels and demons to come down and attack us.”
The thin, agitated man started to come down the stairs, as he held an invisible gun in both hands. “As he came down the stairs he said, ‘I’m going to fuck you up!’” He ordered deputies to “Call the FBI !” He told them, “You’re all going to get screwed!” He was angry. He was yelling.
“At one point he came halfway down the stairs, puffed up his chest, and postured like he was going to rush us,” Chavez said. “When he turned to run back up the stairs I could see he was holding a knife, tucked along his forearm, you could only see the knife after he turned to run back up the stairs.”
That changed the situation for the deputies. They put out over the radio that the suspect had a knife. Both deputies kept their guns pointed at the suspect and told him repeatedly to drop the knife.
Deputy Norie remembered, “He said he was going to stab me in the face or head with it.”
And the suspect responded to deputies, “Drop your guns!”
The suspect seemed fixated on the tallest, largest deputy. “He keeps mentioning me, saying he is tired of me raping him, he insults me, saying that I am fat, that I have a small dick,” Norie said later. “I have never seen this individual before.... Every time I talked to him he got aggressive and started yelling.” So Norie stopped speaking. The strange man grew quiet for a moment, but then start to work himself up again.
“He said ‘Put your fucking guns away,’ and ‘Where is the fucking FBI?’ and he said there was a trip wire at the base of the stairs and we were all going to get blown away.” None of the deputies saw any trip wire. “He said he was going to throw a grenade at us, if we did not put our guns away. He made a motion like throwing a grenade, but there was nothing in his hands.”
Deputy David Sanchez showed up with a beanbag shotgun, which is known as a “less lethal” weapon.
When Sanchez walked up, the suspect was hiding around the corner at the top of the stairwell. “He yelled down at me; he said, ‘I see your shotgun! Get away from me! Back off!’ Something to that effect. He was telling us to ‘Fuck off!’ He told us, ‘You raped me! I’m not playing your games!’ He said he had grenades. We were trying to talk him down.” Many times, deputies told the agitated man, “Drop your knife.”
The stranger in the stairwell yelled out, “Put the shotgun away!” and “I’m going to fuck you guys up!”
Deputy Ken Newsom arrived with a pepperball gun. This looks like a paintball gun, except that it fires small plastic balls filled with an irritating powder.
And then a deputy with a canine arrived.
Deputy Austin Elmone said his dog Banjer is trained to apprehend suspects. “Banjer is trained to bite and hold.” Hold onto an arm, for example, until the suspect is under the control of officers. Then the deputy will give his the dog a specific command to release the bite. For police dogs in America, the commands are usually not English, but instead Czech, German, or Dutch.
The deputies at the foot of the stairwell discussed their options. They knew there was a female caller in apartment 9 who was in contact with dispatch. But they did not know if there was anyone in the other apartment, apartment 8.
Deputy Elmone remembered later, “We decided to saturate the area with pepperball, then send the canine up to get the subject.” He gave the standard police canine warning to the subject: “Drop the knife, come down here, or I will deploy the dog and you will be bit.”
But the man was defiant. “I don’t care about your pooch! Send him! I don’t care about your pooch!” Deputy Elmone said the man responded “like he didn’t care.”
After deputy Newsom deployed pepperballs, “We heard the subject screaming; he went around the corner.” When the man ran to one side, at the top of the stairwell, he disappeared from view.
Elmone was at the bottom of the stairwell when he let go of his dog. Banjer raced up the stairs, got to the top, and turned and leaped up. But the dog immediately came right back down, and stood there and looked confused. This was odd; deputy Elmone said Banjer had never done that before. Banjer should have bitten onto the subject’s arm and stayed there, then the subject would typically exclaim in pain. Instead, “You could hear breaking,” deputy Elmone said, later.
Deputies cautiously moved up the stairs to see what happened. The small area at the top of the stairs was empty except for the dog Banjer, who was barking and sneezing out blood. The door of apartment 8 was broken, the bottom third of the door was missing. They heard the man inside say, “Now I have a hostage!”
Sergeant Scott Bligh was in the Encinitas station early that day, preparing to brief the morning shift of officers. He listened to the radio and was aware of the disturbance in Rancho Santa Fe. Sergeant Bligh was comfortable that there were sufficient deputies responding.
The call began as a noise disturbance between neighbors. But then the first deputy on scene reported that the suspect had a knife. “That got more of my attention at that point,” the sergeant remembered later. The incident was getting more dangerous. The sergeant decided to go himself.
Sergeant Scott Bligh said it took him ten minutes to get to the address in Rancho Santa Fe. He found security guard Peter Maguire directing law enforcement toward the incident. Sergeant Bligh parked around the corner and walked in the direction where deputies had gathered at the bottom of a stairwell. Then he saw the police canine sent up and deputies storming the stairwell.
Just as the sergeant arrived at the stairwell, he heard someone say, “Oh crap! He got inside!” The sergeant could hear the suspect call out, “Now I have a hostage!”
Canine deputy Elmone realized that his dog had been knifed in the face, and he picked up Banjer. That deputy was released from the scene and he took his canine to emergency veterinary care.
Sheriff’s deputies gathered at the foot of the stairs to go over their options. One deputy gave his opinion that “you are lucky” if you can get SWAT to a scene in an hour.
At that moment, sergeant Bligh said a thought came to his mind. “I did not want to listen to the hostage getting knifed to death.” The sergeant decided that making a call to SWAT would “not be time-effective.” Later, sergeant Bligh said, “Anything other than immediately would have taken too long, in my opinion.”
Sergeant Bligh led the deputies up the stairwell. He saw the words YOUR DEAD carved into the wall, at chest level, a couple steps from the top of the stairs.
Bligh could hear a man’s voice say that he was going to slit the hostage’s throat. And that he was going to kill the hostage. The sergeant was informed that deputies had no confirmation that there actually was any other person inside that apartment. So the sergeant yelled that he wanted to hear from the hostage. And then he heard the voice of another man, a different voice, begging for help. And then the suspect’s voice said, “Well there he is!”
Sergeant Bligh crouched down in the limited area in front of the apartment door. Attached to his Glock pistol, under the barrel, was a small flashlight; the sergeant used that light to look into the dark apartment; he directed the light through the hole in the bottom of the door. The sergeant called for the suspect to drop his knife and come out of the apartment.
Both sergeant Bligh and deputy Sanchez saw a hand with a knife come out of the hole in the door “and swipe towards us.”
“I got a view looking through the hole in the door there,” sergeant Bligh said later. “Filling up my sight was a picture of a dark colored, heavy quilted jacket, viewed below the neck and above the waist, and a right hand with a knife in it, held to the side and in front of the torso. Three or four feet away.” The sergeant said he believed he was about to be stabbed and he fired his Glock four times.
The sergeant and deputies then tried to kick in the remaining part of the door. No good. But Norie was able to reach in and unlock the door handle. Deputies stormed into the apartment and rescued the hostage. The 25-year-old apartment resident had fled into the bathroom; he was found unharmed.
The suspect was rolling around on the floor, wounded. Near his head, on the floor, was a slender knife; deputy Sanchez first kicked the knife away; then he picked up the knife and put it on top of the bed, nearby.
Deputy Elmone found a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic in Sorrento Valley. There was one stab wound in Banjer’s face, about a quarter inch from his eye. The vet closed the wound with one staple, gave Banjer antibiotics, and sent him home in the cone. Banjer was healed enough in 11 days to go back to work, and he worked eight more months before he was retired from duty.
Surgeons saved the life of the man who stabbed him, Edward Ray Nett, who was 50 years old at the time. Nett was on a ventilator for about eight days. When he came out of sedation and was removed from medical machines, Nett was interviewed by a Sheriff’s detective and seen by psychiatrists who worked for the hospital. Eventually, Edward Ray Nett was booked into San Diego County jail. The Sheriff described him as six feet tall and 180 pounds.
More than two years later, in January of 2019, Nett went on trial for assault on officers, making criminal threats, animal cruelty, taking a hostage, and other felonies. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
More than a year before the incident in Rancho Santa Fe, Nett had a run-in with officers in San Diego County. It was late afternoon on March 30, 2015, when Oceanside police came upon the 48-year-old Nett. He was in an alleyway behind businesses at 1767 Oceanside Boulevard, and was seen sitting on a loading dock there, dangling his legs and feet over the edge. He was shirtless.
When officers approached, the half-naked man became agitated and the encounter accelerated into a confrontation. Nett produced a knife and held it over his head; the blade was pointed toward officers. Then Nett switched his hold and held the knife by its blade with his two fingertips, as if he was going to throw it at officers.
A backup officer who had arrived quietly approached Nett from behind and deployed his Taser. “At that point, Mr. Nett became compliant,” Oceanside Police Officer Matthew Byrd later testified.
In that case, Edward Ray Nett was convicted of assault on officers. He was on parole for that March 2015 incident when he took a hostage in Rancho Santa Fe on December 3, 2016.
After a trial of two weeks, the jury unanimously declared Nett guilty of assault, taking a hostage, making a death threat, false imprisonment, and cruelty to an animal.
The same jury then heard more evidence, this time to determine Nett’s sanity — in a legal sense, not a medical determination. After hearing all the evidence, including testimony from Nett himself, the jury deliberated for about one hour before declaring Edward Ray Nett legally sane. The final verdicts were declared February 5, 2019.
Nett was scheduled to be sentenced by the same judge who heard trial, Honorable judge Harry Elias, on March 6, 2019. But his defense attorney made a motion questioning his mental competency, and so the matter was sent to San Diego’s downtown court system. There was a public hearing set for May 17 to declare the results of a mental exam.