Investigative reports in Yountville veterans home slaying released by Napa authorities

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The first Napa County Sheriff’s deputy to respond to a report of a gunman at a Yountville veterans home last year rushed into the building where the suspect was thought to have hostages, ignoring his own concerns that his unfamiliarity with the area, paired with dispatch information indicating the gunman had combat experience, put him at dire risk, records released this week by the Napa County Sheriff’s Department show.

Steven Lombardi, at the time a 26-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, encountered the gunman, disgruntled Army veteran Albert Wong, minutes after his arrival to the Veterans Home of California on March 9, 2018.

The sound of Wong racking his weapon to load ammunition in a second-floor room of The Pathway Home, a live-in treatment program for veterans where he had been a resident, and the subsequent high-pitched scream of one of three women held hostage inside, prompted Lombardi to open fire from a partially open door at the suspect, according to transcripts of Lombardi’s interview with investigators days later.

A peek into the room moments prior revealed Wong was carrying a rifle with a mounted light, Lombardi told law enforcement investigators.

“I heard her scream and I fired my gun because I wanted to stop the threat,” Lombardi told investigators. “I wanted to save her.”

During the exchange of gunfire, Wong fired 22 rifle shots and Lombardi fired 13 rounds, none of which hit Wong, according to a previous report from the Napa County District Attorney’s Office.

Eight hours would pass with the 600-acre campus on lockdown and surrounded by armed officers before authorities found Wong dead along with the three Pathway Home caregivers he fatally shot. A subsequent coroner’s report found Wong died of a single, self-inflicted shotgun blast to his head.

The transcripts of Lombardi’s interview with investigators six days after the incident, maps of the veterans home campus and dispatch notes were all included in the Sheriff’s Department’s records release on Tuesday. It was the second batch of such investigative records in the massacre made public by the agency under a new state law that meant to unseal certain police files, including inquiries into police shootings.

In the first batch of files released last month, investigative reports shed light on how Napa deputies attempted to patch together information about Wong the day of the shooting, with two witnesses telling authorities that Wong was unhappy with his care at the program and had previously threatened to kill staff at The Pathway Home before being kicked out, the files indicate.

The victims, Pathway Home Executive Director Christine Loeber, 48; Dr. Jennifer Golick, 42, a therapist; and Dr. Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba, 32, a psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, were described as the core team for the program. Gonzales Shushereba’s unborn child — she was seven months pregnant at the time — also died as a result of the shooting.

Families for each of the women have filed wrongful death suits, faulting the state, local agencies or the now-defunct Pathway Home for either not preventing the attack or failing to do more during the incident.

The new files add more details to the already disturbing portrait of Wong’s mental state leading up to the shooting. He was deployed to Afghanistan from April 2011 through March 2012, experiencing combat while overseas. Previous public records and media reports showed Wong had worked up to the bloodshed for weeks after being kicked out of the program. He purchased one firearm after another, stockpiled ammunition and visited the site the day before the attack, propping open the door that would give him access to The Pathway Home building, investigative reports showed.

The latest records detail the day’s events through investigative reports from deputies at the scene, including one commanding the negotiation team in the Yountville incident. In an interview with one man, described as Wong’s friend and a Pathway Home resident, the friend said Wong told the friend he didn’t think the program cared for its residents and “several times, talked about shooting staff.”

Wong’s name, the names of the deputies who authored reports and the names of people interviewed by detectives, were redacted from the investigative files. The Napa County Counsel’s Office cited a legal requirement that requires authorities to protect the anonymity of complainants and witnesses.

The records indicate that the fellow Pathway Home resident voiced some remorse that he had not raised an alarm over Wong’s comments.

“(Redacted) said he should have seen ‘the signs’ that (Wong) was going to kill someone but thought it was just ‘guy talk’ and didn’t really mean it,” according to the investigative records. “(Wong) asked him a few weeks prior, ‘What would you do if I came here with a gun and pointed it at you? Would you try to tackle me?’ ”

The same commanding deputy also sat in on an interview with another man, identified as a Veterans Administration peer support specialist who knew Wong. The specialist told authorities Wong “did not trust counselors and threatened to kill him. The threats, in his unofficial opinion, was what caused (Wong’s) removal from the program,” the files show.

Those comments mirror findings published by the Napa County District Attorney’s Office in November, in which the agency said each woman had been personally threatened by Wong before his removal from the program. The report was not clear about when those threats were made, if they were reported to authorities or if extra security was added as a result.

Lawyers for each of the women’s families claim the state, local agencies or nonprofit Pathway Home could have reacted differently on the day of the shooting or done more to prevent the attack, given that they knew Wong had threatened the lives of the victims prior to the shooting, the Napa Valley Register reported earlier this year.

Ron Foreman, the lawyer for Golick’s family, said he was not bothered with the public disclosure of the investigative files despite ongoing litigation.

The lawsuit he filed on behalf of the family names the state of California, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Sheriff’s Department, Napa County and Lombardi as defendants in the wrongful death suit, court records show.

“They show and prove foreseeability,” Foreman said. “It’s a real tragedy and it’s really unfortunate, but there’s people who had knowledge, and unfortunately these foreseeable crimes could have been prevented, and they were not.”

Robert Bale, who represents Gonzales Shush­ereba’s husband, Theodore Joseph Shushereba, said while he opposed the release of the redacted autopsy reports, which had already been made public by a Napa County judge, he did see the benefit of releasing other documents under the new police transparency law.

The Shushereba wrongful death suit casts blame on The Pathway Home and the state, arguing both could have done more to prevent her death, Bale said.

“All information is helpful,” Bale said. “Lawsuits are about getting down to what happened.”

A request for comment to the lawyer representing Loeber’s family was not responded to. The Napa County Counsel’s Office declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.

The files also included a report of the internal affairs investigation into the shooting, which deemed Lombardi acted appropriately in the incident by responding “to a terrifying incident without regard for his own personal safety, acting with extreme courage and intent on protecting life,” the report said.

Lombardi declined a request for comment through the Sheriff’s Department spokesman Henry Wofford.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets

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