Parkinson says nationally mental illness needs to be addressed

SAN LUIS OBISPO — San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a Bakersfield man who opened fire in a shopping center parking lot in Nipomo on Friday.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said Scott Huffman, 42, of Bakersfield, was the gunman and provided more details of the officer-involved shooting during a press conference Monday afternoon.

Scott Huffman

Parkinson did not provide a motive for Huffman’s actions, but alluded to a “mental health crisis.” Huffman, who did not have a criminal history, had arrived in the SLO area earlier in the day.

“I can say that there is obvious early indication of some mental health crisis going on, but at this point, no history and the investigation is continuing,” Parkinson said.

Detectives searched Huffman’s home on Friday in Bakersfield. They questioned his family, who, according to Parkinson, said, “Certainly, they recognize that there was some type of crisis occurring that led to this.”

Huffman reportedly arrived at the gas station in the Vons shopping center at 550 W. Tefft St. in Nipomo with a woman in the car shortly after 11 a.m. He exited the vehicle and shot at the locked front door. Contrary to social media reports, Huffman was not wearing body armor.

Two gas station employees had locked the door when they saw Huffman approaching with a handgun, Parkinson said, and crawled into a back-office room where they locked the door, monitored their cameras and were on 911 telling dispatch what was happening.

The woman fled the car when Huffman began shooting.

“As far as we know, at this point, she did nothing wrong,” Parkinson said. “She had no idea that this was going to happen. This was not a planned event. And we have identified her and spoken with her.”

Huffman then walked toward Tefft Street and began shooting across the street. One of his shots hit a utility pole and caused a fire.

He also shot at a Cal Fire engine traveling down Tefft Street to an unrelated incident.

“Hit it several times, I think close to the passenger position of the (Cal Fire) engine,” Parkinson said. “We are fortunate that nobody was hit and killed.”

Huffman walked on Tefft Street, stopped traffic with his gun and “had an engagement with at least one driver of a black sedan that we are still trying to identify and find out what that conversation was,” Parkinson said.

He returned to the gas station parking lot and walked up to the Vons grocery store area before turning back and going inside the station.

“The doors were either unlocked or damaged from the earlier shooting but he was able to go in,” Parkinson said.

While inside the station, two SLO County Sheriff’s deputies and a CHP patrol officer arrived and parked in front.

“Suspect came out of the store, was given commands and a exchange of gunfire occurred,” Parkinson said. “Between our deputies and the CHP officer, law enforcement shot approximately five rounds and we know the suspect shot in excess of 20 rounds during the entire event.”

Huffman was shot by the officers and pronounced dead at the scene.

Parkinson spotlighted the quick-thinking of the gas station clerks and a man who blocked the suspect’s car with his truck.

“Even though we don’t encourage people to intervene, the fact is that people have to make their own decisions,” Parkinson said. “I just want to highlight that A we had two very attentive and well-trained clerks that reacted immediately and we had a citizen that got involved in order to not allow the suspect to be able to get back into his car and leave the area. I think all of them are to be commended.”

This was SLO County’s second active-shooter situation in the past three months. The other being a nearly three-day manhunt in Paso Robles in June that ended with officers shooting and killing 26-year-old Mason Lira of Visalia. Lira, who opened fire on the Paso Robles Police Department station, shot several officers and killed a man in Paso Robles.

Lira’s father said his son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Parkinson said mental illness is a problem the nation needs to address.

“It can’t be addressing in the form of contacting or just involving law enforcement,” Parkinson said. “It’s got to happen at early stages. It’s got to be more resources for families that are going through this with a family member, and we are going to need to make an investment in this because the problem is growing.”

Deputies come into contact with many people with mental illness and not all of them are violent. It’s a “very small” percentage.

“But when something happens like this obviously we want to know why and when it’s tied to mental illness and what we are doing in this country about it I think that should be the big concern,” Parkinson said.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles