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Second suspect arrested in Mendocino County sheriff's deputy shooting

Published: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 8:19 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 7:28 a.m.

A fugitive parolee sought since Monday night in what Mendocino County authorities say was the attempted murder of a sheriff's deputy was taken into custody Wednesday evening after authorities surrounded a Ukiah motel they had had under surveillance for most of the afternoon, Sheriff Tom Allman said.

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Walter Kristopher Miller

COURTESY OF MENDOCINO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE

Walter Kristopher Miller, 42, surrendered to his Sonoma County parole officer shortly before 6:30 p.m. at the Best Western Plus/Orchard Inn near downtown Ukiah, coming out into the night surrounded by the sheriff's SWAT team and officers from several other law enforcement agencies.

Miller came out with his hands up and quickly was arrested on multiple charges in connection with a high-speed pursuit during which he is alleged to have fired multiple shots at a Mendocino County sheriff's deputy until his handgun jammed, Allman said.

The sheriff said his goal was to end the nearly two-day search without additional gunfire. He got the peaceful resolution he sought.

"He was noncombative, and he followed our orders," Allman said.

It was unclear how long Miller had been holed up at the motel or whether he had any firearms with him, as had been supposed. Allman said detectives were in the process of executing a search warrant for the motel room as he was briefing the press.

He said authorities were tipped around noon that a man believed to be Miller, an ex-felon and parolee with close ties to Sonoma County, was inside a room at the South Orchard Street motel.

Detectives began watching the motel and contacted several visitors who left the room, developing evidence that it was indeed Miller, Allman said.

A command post was established to keep the room under surveillance while the SWAT team was briefed, the motel evacuated and negotiations begun by phone. Folks at some neighboring businesses were told to shelter in place, Allman said. A stretch of the road was closed, as well.

Allman said authorities were in contact with Miller on the motel phone off and on for several hours. Miller cut negotiations short at times, but authorities persisted.

Allman said one of the lessons learned from a five-week manhunt outside Fort Bragg in 2011 was to exercise patience and give a peaceful surrender time to succeed.

Around 5 p.m., or perhaps a few minutes later, Miller said he would come out if his parole officer were brought to the scene from Sonoma County.

"Within five minutes of him arriving, he did come out of the motel room with his hands up, and he was arrested and he has been taken to jail," Allman said.

Authorities from two counties had been looking for Miller since he disappeared late Monday night into the woods west of town after a pursuit in which he is suspected of firing numerous rounds at a deputy before he and a second suspect abandoned their car off Highway 253, the Sheriff's Office said. The second man, Christopher Skaggs, 30, was apprehended the next day.

Authorities believe the pair were the occupants of a 1995 Ford Thunderbird that an unidentified deputy tried to pull over Monday night for an expired registration on South State Street in Ukiah.

The driver pulled over and appeared to yield, but then sped away as the deputy approached the window, initiating a pursuit.

The ensuing chase went south through Ukiah, then west on Highway 253 toward Boonville. About 1½ miles in, the passenger in the Thunderbird leaned out the window and began firing as the driver swerved into oncoming lanes in an apparent attempt to provide a better shot, the Sheriff's Office said.

The deputy was uninjured, but a round of ammunition lodged in the grill and radiator of his patrol car, disabling it within about another mile, sheriff's Lt. Greg Van Patten said.

Allman said authorities had evidence indicating the shooter would have continued firing had the handgun not jammed.

A phalanx of law enforcement officers from two counties converged on the area and took up the search. They discovered the car abandoned in a private drive off Highway 253 apparently chosen at random, about six miles west of Ukiah, Van Patten said.

Property inside linked the pair to an earlier burglary in Potter Valley in which five firearms were stolen. None of the guns was in the car.

Neither of the suspects was found during a nightlong search of the area, but Skaggs, a Redwood Valley resident, was apprehended the next morning after he was spotted walking on South State Street in Ukiah. He was unarmed, authorities said.

Skaggs bailed out of jail Feb. 13 while awaiting prosecution on a vehicle pursuit that left a CHP officer badly injured, and he was wanted on a robbery and burglary reported six days after his release.

He was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of attempted murder, conspiracy, evasion, robbery, burglary and other charges, and was being held without bail, with a court appearance scheduled for this morning.

Miller has a violent past that includes two arrests on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and convictions for intimidating a witness and receipt of stolen property, county and state corrections officials said.

Allman said Miller has ties to a prison gang and was arrested three times last year for violation of parole in Sonoma County after his January 2012 release from San Quentin State Penitentiary, where he served about 14 months, a state corrections representative said.

There was no record of his having been returned to San Quentin on parole violations, however, corrections department spokesman Bill Sessa said. It's possible he served some additional time in county jail, though it was unclear.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan @pressdemocrat.com.

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