Vermillion: Time used to defuse a “suicide by cop” scenario in Pleasant Hill

Scott Vermillion Pleasant Hill Police Chief
Pleasant Hill Police Chief Scott Vermillion

PLEASANT HILL, CA (Dec. 11, 2023) — It took the better part of three days, but a troubled individual finally emerged from his Sherman Acres residence and authorities took him into custody without further injuries.

Amid pointed criticism and second guessing, Pleasant Hill Police Chief Scott Vermillion made a calculated decision to use a de-escalation approach and wait out retired Pittsburg Police Department detective and former Marine Chunliam Saechao.

“The criticism, I understand it,” Vermillion said in lamenting decisions made along the way. “I don’t dismiss the criticism. It is important to me the people have those feelings.

“We regret the impact on the community,” he added. “But it ended peacefully, and that was our goal.”

Saechao, 40, being held at the Contra Costa County Detention Center in Martinez, faces numerous serious felonies, including assault with a deadly weapon and attempted homicide on police officers.

Throughout the action, police continuously monitored the suspect’s social media postings directed at police and those observing on the Internet. They found he was taking a lethal approach with suicidal intent.

“He was trying to set us up for a gun fight and wanted us to come in guns blazing, and that is when I made the decision to remove the tactical unit,” Vermillion said about one of his decisions that seemed to rile some members of the community.

“We believe he was trying to goad us into a gun fight and to do a suicide by cop,” Vermillion said.

Police say suspect shot his wife

The standoff ensued the evening of Dec. 7, when Pleasant Hill police made a welfare check to Saechao’s Cleopatra Drive home. Police say Saechao fired a single shot from a shotgun toward the door, striking his wife.

The woman, who was attempting to gain entry to the residence through the barricaded side garage door, was taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. She was treated and later released.

However, the husband remained inside the residence, alone.

Police ordered shelter-in place actions and closed off thoroughfares and side streets in the area, which caused the greatest impact to the immediate neighborhood of Sherman Acres. With the Saechao residence at a key access point to the neighborhood, it left no opportunities for residents in adjacent residences, located just off Monument Boulevard in Pleasant Hill, to either enter or leave that area.

As events unfolded, police officers and those representing Central County SWAT remained on the scene. Eventually, Vermillion determined that the initial threat to the general public had changed. He now believed the concern was limited to the individual holed up in the residence, so police allowed free passage to and from the area surrounding Saechao’s neighbors.

According to Vermillion, police decisions made along the way to de-escalate the situation were mindful of what might upset the suspect, which included not placing a patrol car directly in front of the residence. While a SWAT team pulled back, he noted there nonetheless was always police presence at the scene – including surveillance of the house and constant assessment of the public’s safety.

Attempt to enter rear yard

The suspect’s police training and experience added an ever-present level of danger to the situation, with Vermillion noting he “would know what we would be doing.”

Using time as a resource, crisis negotiators spent several hours placing phone calls and using a loudspeaker in hopes of making contact with the suspect. However, those efforts were unsuccessful.

As the hours passed, police decided on Saturday evening to take down a rear fence to gain better access to the backyard. At this point, the suspect began shooting at the armored vehicle – used in the intervention – from inside his residence. Vermillion said Saechao fired 30 rounds over the next two hours.

Just before 8 a.m. on Dec. 9, Saechao exited his residence and surrendered to FBI SWAT, which had relieved Central County SWAT. Issues of fatigue dictated that the county unit stand down before it would have been able to return at 2 p.m.

“We definitely used time as a tactic,” said Vermillion. “We have used that in the past, as have our tactical teams.”


David Scholz
David Scholz

David Scholz is back in journalism as a freelance writer and photographer after nearly two decades in education. Prior to moving into teaching in 2000, he worked as a full-time journalist since 1988 for rural community and small daily newspapers in Central Ohio and Northern Nevada, and later in California with The Business Journal in Fresno and dailies in the Bay Area, including The Oakland Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle. More recently Scholz also worked in an editing, writing, and page layout role with the Rossmoor News.