On November 7, 2018, Ian David Long entered the Borderline Bar and Grill, a country bar/restaurant locally famous for line dancing and began shooting. 11 patrons were killed and Ventura County Sheriff’s Office (VCSO) Sergeant Ron Helus was killed in a friendly fire incident by a CHP officer when they entered the bar, were confronted by the gunman, and a gunfight erupted.
Disclaimer: this is a hot take. It is not sober and well considered. I am pissed off at the inaction displayed by some deputies that night and at how long it took the report to come out. This is only the DA’s officer involved shooting investigation, which provides important clues, but not a full review of the investigative material. Once that is released to the public (like through a public records release to news media) I will review it in detail.
This does not discuss much in the tactical sense. This is basically an examination of the police response and a defense of “your own your own.” The police aren’t necessarily going to save you.
Please note, I formerly worked for this department and know many of the people involved, including Sergeant Ron Helus. I have also been given some inside information not public reported. I haven’t been to the Borderline in 10-15 years (if you can’t line dance, the girls are nasty).
You’re On Your Own
This incident compares to the 2017 Orlando Pulse gay nightclub shooting in that police waited outside. In that incident, people were held hostage while police were outside for hours, but did not enter. At the Borderline, the killing stopped after the first gun battle with the police.
However, deputies failed to enter the bar to clear it until SWAT arrived nearly 40 minutes later. By my recreation, SWAT did not make entry for 50-60 minutes. My criticism is that Long could have resumed killing at any time while police waited outside. Though it does not appear to be the case, injured victims could have bled out and died before anyone go into them.
What went wrong:
I have been told that many of the deputies stood around outside waiting for SWAT to arrive. After the initial entry by Helus and CHP was repulsed, the building was not entered and cleared for about 50 minutes after the shooting.
The DA’s report is quiet on the failures that night, but some reconstruction can be done even without inside knowledge. My inside knowledge is based on what confidential sources within the department have told me.
Someone recorded scanner traffic that night (likely from Broadcastify) covering both West County and East Country radio traffic (East County is where it occurred). Based on re-construction of radio traffic recorded the call was dispatched by VCSO radio to Thousand Oaks deputies at approximately 11:19, meaning the first 911 calls were received almost immediately after the shooting began. Luckily, CHP and Sgt. Helus were in the immediate vicinity and arrive promptly. Three minutes after arrival, officers make entry. The gunfight begins and occurs quickly.
11:18 PM, the killing begins.
11:19 PM, CHP officers are notified in person
11:20 PM CHP arrives in the parking lot
11:22 PM VCSO Sgt. Helus arrives in the parking lot
11:25 PM Officers make entry and gun battle begins
11:26 PM Gun battle between Long and CHP/Helus; Helus is shot
11:33 PM Officer Barrett converses with Deputy Kahn
11:38 PM Long commits suicide
At approximately 11:33 p.m., Officer Barrett (the CHP officer who entered with Helus) states to deputies outside, “We need to get up there” and asks, “Do you guys have rifles?” Both deputies reply that they do not have rifles. Deputy Kahn adds, “We’re gonna call our SWAT team, they’re responding.” At approximately 11:34 p.m., Officer Barrett tells Deputy Kahn, “We have other victims up there, too.”
As deputies discussed a possible officer down, Deputy Manley seems to have departed from the other’s opinions. “Manley: Fuck. Did you hear that? Well, fuck if that’s him let’s go get him.” Two deputies (their identities are unknown to me at this time) independently of each other did choose to go in after standing outside a few minutes while their deputy peers tried to persuade them to stay outside.
Witness Garrett Gratland (who I’m told is retried special forces) approaches Sergeant Natoli and Deputy Gallagher and tells her that he saw a downed peace officer.
Gratland: Well . . . with all due respect, there’s two people down and they could be really wounded right now, so I recommend like . . .
Two deputies separately did attempt to make entry on their own initiative, but I don’t have details on this. So not everyone that night was paralyzed by inaction. Oxnard Police units that responded also pushed to go in.
25 minutes in to the recording, Natoli asks the units about making entry and they reply they are formulating a plan. This is the group that recovered Sgt. Helus. It was not until about 50 minutes after the shooting began that SWAT finally made entry. From what I’ve been told, the SWAT commander was very unhappy entry was not made prior.
It's a Miracle Long Didn’t Kill More
Long was left alive with the victims after the initial gunfight and police stood around outside. For nearly 13 minutes, he stayed in the office area. Why he didn’t go out and keep killing is unknown, but probably attributable to the fact that Helus and CHP had already engaged him. Long was possibly afraid that he would be re-engaged by police. For whatever reason, it is a miracle the killing didn’t continue.
Long retrieved another smoke grenade, ignited it, and threw it out the office door. He posted to social media and frequently checked his phone and appeared to prepare for another confrontation with police. Approximately 15 minutes after the gun battle, Long sat down, placed his handgun under his chin, and fired a shot into his head, killing himself.
Long was unopposed inside the building with survivors still hiding inside. Eight minutes into the audio recording, VCSO dispatch relays to field units that there are victims hiding in the bathroom. 13 minutes in, survivors are reported to be in the attic.
Presumably, with a scanner or app, Long could have heard that and went to the bathroom to execute the victims. At 19 minutes into the recording, at 11:38 PM, one shot is heard by the units outside. Long committed suicide. Shortly thereafter, Sgt. Laura Natoli asks “Is the SWAT team en route?” and dispatch replies they are being notified.
20 minutes after the shooting, responding deputies rescued Helus from where he lay. “Nineteen surviving victims were located hiding inside the Borderline and were rescued." Nineteen victims that could have been murdered by Long because deputies didn’t go in. Those 19 people are alive because of a fucking miracle that Long didn’t start killing people.
I’ve been told (but unable to document via official sources) that up to six off-duty law enforcement officers were present as patrons of the bar. They were unarmed because they were drinking. I think that at least one of them should have been the “designated carrier,” but hindsight is 20/20.
What Went Right: the Heroes
CHP Officer Todd Barrett was an infantryman, and an Active Shooter and Tactical Casualty Care Instructor. Sergeant Ron Helus was in his final year before retirement, a former narcotics deputy, and also a concealed carry instructor. Ron Helus and Todd Barrett were the men you wanted responding to that incident. But as any soldier will tell you, the enemy gets a vote. Nothing ever goes according to plan and even the best men can be sidelined by evil. To their credit, Long stopped killing after the gunfight with Helus and Barrett.
Barrett was a hero of the night, urging his partner and Sgt. Helus to make entry. It is a damn shame he lost situational awareness of where Helus was in the fog of war. He acted well and bravely that night and the tragic blue-on-blue shooting was a crying shame. No one should ever question Barrett and his actions that night were incredibly gallant.
Investigators were trying to keep the knowledge that Barrett shot Helus secret until after Christmas, when they were going to make the information public, except the information leaked and the public became aware.
As the DA’s report states:
Despite being mortally wounded, Sergeant Helus grabbed his rifle, rolled onto his back, and prepared to confront Long if he reappeared. A few seconds later, Long returned to counter and resumed shooting out the doorway. Sergeant Helus fired eight shots through the window at Long, who continued firing at Sergeant Helus and Officer Barrett. At the time that Sergeant Helus shot at Long, Sergeant Helus had been shot at by Long from close range and had been struck by one bullet fired by Officer Barrett.
In their defense:
Taking a devil’s advocate perspective, the deputies outside may not have fully realized they needed to go in.
The shooting was over; no shots were heard from inside. A gun battle between the bad guy and police had occurred, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume the killer was down or had escaped. Thus, the threat inside was over. Deputies could enter in a less hazardous manner than just rushing in. Or, knowing that cops had just been ambushed, they may have felt it was too dangerous to enter, especially with no indication the killing continued.
However, this does not solve the problem that it was unknown what the killer was doing. What if he resumed killing? What if he took hostages? What if victims were bleeding out and died because they were not rescued?
I can’t necessarily I’d perform any differently (I was never under fire), but I would hope that if I acted less than I was trained or expected to that one would criticize me.
“High capacity” magazines are/were sorta illegal in California…a lot like murder. That didn’t stop the crime.
Second, in California, it is not a crime to carry a concealed weapon in bar or drink alcohol if you have a license to carry. A generic term of LTC’s in California is that you won’t drink and carry a gun. Specifically:
While exercising the privileges granted to the licensee under the terms of this license, the licensee shall not, when carrying a concealed weapon:
Borderline is kinda iffy. It’s a bar/restaurant that has a dance floor and turns into a dance club late in the evening. Presumably, at the time it would be a “gun free” zone. The restriction is enforceable by revocation of one’s license by the sheriff, although the jury is out whether an actual concealed carry violation occurs by violating the license’s terms.
The alcohol terms are to of course keep people from doing stupid stuff while drunk, but a lot of good it will do you in a situation like this shooting. Restrictions like these are common throughout the country. Nevada allows one to carry while armed as long as they are not under the influence (same as DUI). Gun control and carry restrictions are very naïve and are more concerned about making issuing officials and lawmakers look bad than allowing people to defend themselves places like bars.
I’ve been told that a lot of the deputies in the field were relatively new and had no veterans to really lead them. Anecdotally, Ventura County is one of a few agencies in California that sends full deputies into the jail prior to the streets. This can cause years-long jail tours in which some deputies quit and work elsewhere to get to patrol. One guy I know spent 7 years working in the jail before he went to patrol. The sheriff began rotating experienced guys into the jail to rotate deputies out into the field before they transferred to other agencies.
Confidential sources within the department have told me that the supervisors and deputies outside who did not perform as trained or expected were not disciplined and demoted. I’ve been told the shame of it was enough punishment for them. One hopes they’ve learned a lesson; it’s the public that pays the price.
Moral of the story? A bunch of cops feel like shit for what happened that night. More learned a lesson a very hard way. As for the citizen carrier, always carry a gun, watch out for yourself, GET OUT to safety if a shooting happens (don’t hide; the police won’t necessarily save you), and a trauma kit on your ankle or something is a great idea.
Clayton E. Cramer
Gun Free Zone
The War on Guns
The View From Out West