California deputy charged with staging ‘ambush’ that stunned community, led to manhunt

MORGAN HILL, Calif. — A California sheriff’s deputy who was lauded for his bravery during an “unprovoked sneak attack” last winter has been charged with staging the entire assault, authorities said.

Santa Clara County Deputy Sukhdeep Singh Gill, 27, is charged with filing a false police report and felony vandalism, according to Santa Clara County officials. He was arrested Friday and booked into the jail, but he was soon released due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“This case is bewildering and deeply disappointing,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement. “Deputy Gill’s actions abused the trust of his fellow officers and diverted public safety resources away from protecting the community to investigate a made-up crime.”

Gill’s alleged shooting also raised questions about whether the deputy, who is a practicing Sikh, was targeted because of his faith. Gill wears a turban each day, including while on duty.

Gill, who has been with the sheriff’s office since 2016, was on duty the night of Jan. 31, 2020, when he hit the emergency broadcast button on his police radio.

“Shots fired! Shots fired!” he shouted.

The deputy’s colleagues immediately responded, as did police officers from San Jose, Morgan Hill and Gilroy.

Gill told investigators that he was patrolling near the Uvas Reservoir in Morgan Hill around 10:30 p.m. when he had to urinate, so he stopped on the dirt shoulder of the road. As he walked back to his patrol car afterward, he said, the passenger of a passing silver sedan fired four shots at him.

Three of the shots hit his patrol car, according to Gill. Sheriff’s office officials told KTVU in San Francisco last year that the fourth shot struck Gill in the chest.

“It appeared he had been shot only once, and in a miraculous spot — his body-worn camera, which was destroyed,” Rosen’s office said. “The incident triggered a manhunt for the shooter.”

The body cam, which was destroyed, and his body armor saved the deputy’s life, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said following the incident.

“There were multiple shots. With the one striking him, he was very lucky,” Smith said, according to KTVU. “But any one of those rounds could have hit him anywhere. He was very lucky. He was very brave under fire.”

Officers from multiple agencies began looking for the suspects’ vehicle, which Gill said might have been a 2000 Honda. As the investigation wore on, however, detectives found problems.

“They couldn’t find anybody, but he was a law enforcement officer so they gave him the benefit of the doubt and they aggressively and intensively investigated this case trying to find who had shot at an officer,” Deputy District Attorney Jason Malinsky said, according to ABC 7 in San Francisco.

Malinsky told the Mercury News on Friday that Gill’s story just didn’t hold up to scrutiny.

“The evidence, when we looked at it closely over the past year, really didn’t line up with his story,” Malinsky said. “That includes ballistic evidence.”

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Smith said in a news release that investigators determined that Gill had fabricated the entire incident.

The deputy has been on administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal and internal investigations.

There has been no public statement on why authorities believe Gill staged the shooting.

“If the allegations hold true, Deputy Gill’s actions are not representative of the upstanding men and women of the sheriff’s office, who risk their lives every day to serve and protect our community with honesty and integrity,” Smith said.

Gill’s attorney, Nicole Pifari, told the Mercury News that her team “look(s) forward to getting (their) hands on the investigation and the evidence to understand why these charges are being pursued.”

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The Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of Santa Clara County said in a statement that Gill is entitled to due process and the opportunity to defend himself against the allegations. Union officials said, however, that they “recognize that these allegations can have a tremendous impact on community trust.”

Steven Clark, a criminal defense attorney and legal analyst, told the Mercury News that Gill’s allegedly false statements also posed a danger to the community at large.

“Had responding officers encountered a vehicle matching the description (given) by Deputy Gill, a felony car stop could have turned deadly,” Clark told the newspaper. “Innocent people were put at risk.

“In a time of eroding confidence in law enforcement, this is the last thing the community needs.”

If convicted of the charges, Gill faces up to four years in prison.

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