SANTA BARBARA, California (Reuters) - Police in the California community where a man killed six college students said on Monday they had no grounds to search the 22-year-old suspect’s home when they met with him in April over a report that he had posted disturbing videos.
The disclosure that the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department sent deputies to Elliot Rodger’s door just weeks before Friday night’s shooting rampage has raised questions about whether police could have done more to prevent the attack.
Rodger’s mother asked deputies on April 30 to check on him at his apartment in the town of Isla Vista, near the University of California at Santa Barbara, after she saw videos he had posted on the Internet that she found disturbing.
Recounting that visit in a 140-page manifesto he sent to friends and relatives shortly before the shooting began, Rodger, the son of a Hollywood film director, said that if the seven deputies at his door had searched his room, they would have found the firearms he had hidden there and denied him the chance to carry out his violent plans.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown has said that deputies found Rodger to be polite and courteous during the encounter and that he did not appear to meet the criteria to be held on mental health grounds.
On Monday, sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover declined to discuss that visit in greater detail, pending an internal investigation, but said that deputies in general were barred from entering a residence without a warrant.
“An exception would be if deputies felt that a person was a harm to themselves or others or there was an immediate threat,” Hoover said. “In this case, we would have had to determine that Elliot Rodger or his roommates were in immediate danger.”
Authorities say Rodger fatally stabbed three people in his apartment before shooting three people to death near the University of California at Santa Barbara. He then shot himself.
The two women and four men who were killed were aged 19 to 22 and students at the school. Thirteen people were wounded, including eight shot by Rodger as he sped through town in his black BMW, exchanging fire with police, authorities said.
‘HE WAS JUST VERY QUIET’
Officers found Rodger dead in his car with three legally purchased pistols and more than 400 rounds of ammunition.
Chris Pollard, who lived in the same building as Rodger and knew him before the attacks, told Reuters in an interview that the videos that had concerned his mother should have been red flags for the sheriff’s department.
“When it got to the point that the parents called the police, it makes me wonder if the police even looked at the videos,” Pollard, 22, said. “If they’d looked at the videos, they could’ve done some sort of court order to do a search warrant.”
But the young man conceded that deputies would have needed legal grounds to search Rodger or his home and may not have found that justification during their visit to his apartment.
“When you looked at him, there was no reason to get concerned. He didn’t seem like a threatening or intimidating guy. He was just very quiet,” Pollard said.
David Dusenbury, a former deputy chief of police in Long Beach, California, said the deputies could have obtained a warrant if the video explicitly threatened violence.
“If the caller said they feared he was going to harm somebody or himself based upon Internet postings, I would say the deputies did not go far enough in their investigation,” Dusenbury said.
He said that deputies could also have run Rodger through their system to learn he had guns registered in his name
The deadly rampage has left the communities of Isla Vista and Santa Barbara reeling. A spokeswoman for Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital said four of the wounded were in good condition and one was in fair condition.
The University of California at Santa Barbara, which is headed into its final exams, canceled classes on Tuesday for a day of mourning.
The Isla Vista killings are the latest in a series of U.S. mass murders carried out by mentally ill attackers, including the December 2012 killings of 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school.
Additional reporting by Brandon Lowrey; Writing by Ian Simpson and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Cooney