Sonoma State University chief investigated for fight with stepson involving gunshot, power drill

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Sonoma State University’s police chief is under investigation after authorities said he fired a handgun into a wall of his Hayward home during a fight with his stepson, who suffered stab wounds apparently caused by a power drill in the brawl, according to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

Nathan Johnson, SSU’s longtime police chief, suffered a head wound in the fight. The stepson, Elijah Latimer, 20, was left with several puncture wounds to his chest and a possible collapsed lung, according to Alameda County sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly.

Johnson, 54, who lives with his wife and Latimer in Hayward, is being investigated for his role in the altercation, including the single shot he fired from his off-duty handgun. He told authorities the shot was an attempt to end the fight, “like a warning shot,” Kelly said.

“Johnson said he was being beaten by Elijah and it was pretty significant blow, a pretty significant fight, and he felt endangered,” Kelly said.

But sheriff’s investigators said they received conflicting stories from the two men, both of whom were taken to the hospital for treatment, but not arrested.

Both men declined to press charges against each other. But the sheriff’s office is pressing forward with an inquiry and will forward the results to the Alameda County District Attorney for potential filing of charges.

Johnson’s wife, who is Latimer’s mother, was inside the home but refused to talk to officers, according to Kelly.

Sonoma State Police on Monday referred all inquiries to university spokeswoman Susan Kashack, who said Johnson is still police chief “as far as I know.”

She said the university is awaiting the result of the investigation by Alameda County authorities.

“It’s early. It only happened last night. Until the investigation continues and more information is known, there’s not much more I can give you,” Kashack said.

Johnson, who has served as a peace officer for more than 35 years, was hired as police chief at the Rohnert Park campus in 1999, according to the university website.

He has received awards of valor from the California Attorney General and state Police Chief’s Association. He also received recognition for volunteer service in New York City immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and taught as adjunct faculty for the University of San Francisco’s Public Administration program.

In 2010, he had a hiatus from Sonoma State when he was named Chief Law Enforcement Officer for the California State University system, based in Long Beach. His role included providing guidance for the 23 CSU police departments, implementing statewide policies that affect campus law enforcement, working with the Governor’s office on law-enforcement related legislation, and managing statewide disaster preparedness and emergency management needs, according to the university website.

Kashack said he returned to Sonoma State University as police chief but wasn’t certain when. She said Johnson lives in Hayward, because it is close to where his wife works at the nearby Cal State University East Bay.

Alameda County sheriff’s officials said they were called around 10:30 p.m. Monday to the family home in Fairview District of the Hayward Hills for a report of a shooting.

When they got there, they were met by Johnson, who advised them he had been in a physical altercation with his stepson, Latimer, who also lives at residence, but had fled to a home down the street.

Johnson claimed he had been beaten by his stepson. The wounds to the younger man, meanwhile, appear to have been inflicted with a power tool, according to Alameda County sheriff’s officials.

“It looks like during the altercation Johnson had probably stabbed him with the power drill,” Kelly said. “We don’t know if it was a weapon of opportunity, or a self-defense tool. We’re looking into all of that.”

He said it was also unsure if the power drill was running or not.

“We believe the underlying issue is just a family dispute that escalated into violence,” he said, adding that he didn’t know the cause of the dispute.

The question they will seek to answer, he said, is who was the dominant aggressor and who instigated the violence.

“We’re trying to figure out how a family fight led to gunfire in a home and whether it was reasonable or necessary — and the power drill too,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @clarkmas

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