Sgt. Gary Schuelke
San Bernardino Police Department
At age 19, Gary Schuelke was playing junior college football, hoping to get a scholarship. When his son was born, Schuelke realized he needed a career he could begin right away. He started working for his dad’s plumbing company, but quickly discovered it wasn't for him. His best friend wanted to be a police officer, so Schuelke decided to sign up for the police reserve academy, too.
"I just fell in love with it," says Schuelke, now a sergeant in the San Bernardino Police Department. "I knew what I wanted to do. I loved the intricacies of the law, and all the different avenues of the law we could use to stop criminal activity." Midway through his career, Schuelke says, he gave "really strong thought" to becoming a district attorney.
But on December 2, 2015, the day Syed Farook opened fire on co-workers at San Bernardino's Inland Regional Center, the residents of San Bernardino counted themselves very lucky that Schuelke had decided to remain in police work.
After graduating from the police academy, Schuelke started as a patrol officer in San Bernardino, working the graveyard shift for two years. When an opening came up on the bicycle team, Schuelke jumped at it. "I was on a bicycle, looking for bad guys, all day long, all day every day," says Schuelke. "I started to hone my skills using our Fourth Amendment laws to get myself in a position where I could search people and their cars. I made a name for myself as a drug cop."
After just three years, he was asked to apply for a position in narcotics. "I was in heaven," he said. "It was a very exciting time in my career. Beating those guys at their own game is such a rush to me." Schuelke would happily have spent the rest of his career in narcotics, but officers rotate through those positions. "My dream was to come back and run my own narcotics team as a sergeant," he says.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
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Schuelke was working with his narcotics team on December 2, 2015, when Daani-Ruth Svonkin, an asset-forfeiture analyst, contacted his car with news that there had been a shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. When Schuelke heard that there was an active shooter, he redirected his team to the IRC, about 20 minutes away.
By the time they arrived, the IRC was being evacuated. Schuelke's son Ryan, also a police officer, was approached by a witness, who said he thought an employee named Syed Farook had been the shooter. With help from the sheriff's department, Schuelke soon had Farook's date of birth, driver’s license number, and address. Svonkin found an address for Farook, listed only in the Thomson Reuters CLEAR® database, in nearby Redlands. She said Farook was probably in a black SUV, and that his cell phone was tracking in Redlands.
Schuelke's team, now numbering eight, arrived at the Redlands address just as a black SUV pulled away. They called for a marked car to pull the SUV over. As the group passed through a busy commercial district, someone started shooting out of the back window of the SUV. The SUV stopped, and Farook jumped out and started firing. In the next three and a half minutes, nearly 500 rounds would be fired. Detective Nick Koahou was wounded. The officers killed Farook. But Schuelke could still hear bullets whizzing past his head.
Ryan and two other officers were moving toward the SUV, with only hedges for cover. Schuelke joined them. They could only see the hands of the person inside the SUV – Farook's wife, Tashfeen Malik. "We would fire, her hands would go down, we would wait and see, her hands would come up, and we would fire again," says Schuelke. "That happened two or three times," he says. Then the hands stopped appearing.
"We would fire, her hands would go down, we would wait and see, her hands would come up, and we would fire again," says Schuelke. "That happened two or three times," he says. Then the hands stopped appearing.
Schuelke already had a Christmas party planned for the Saturday after the shootings. Koahou, the father of two young sons, was there on crutches. Most of the guys were in their late 20s or early 30s; there was a jumper out back for the kids. "I can remember standing on my deck and looking at everybody," says Schuelke, choking up.
"It really hit home for me how differently things could have turned out that day. How proud I was that they followed me into an incredibly dangerous situation and didn't hesitate whatsoever. They performed with amazing bravery and valor."
Sgt. Gary Schuelke
San Bernardino Police Department
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