Thursday marks 20 years since SF rampage that killed Officer James Guelff 

click to enlarge At a 1999 news conference, Lee Guelff, right, picks up a helmet worn by the suspect who shot and killed Guelff’s brother James, a San Francisco police officer, on Nov. 13, 1994. The suspect also was wearing a flak jacket and bulletproof vest. - AL GOLDIS/1999 AP FILE PHOTO
  • Al Goldis/1999 AP file photo
  • At a 1999 news conference, Lee Guelff, right, picks up a helmet worn by the suspect who shot and killed Guelff’s brother James, a San Francisco police officer, on Nov. 13, 1994. The suspect also was wearing a flak jacket and bulletproof vest.

Twenty years ago, a section of Pine Street near the Franklin Street intersection was the scene of a bloody shootout that pockmarked the neighborhood with bullet holes and left a police officer dead.

A 37-year-old man armed with assault rifles and wearing a flak jacket and bulletproof vest sprayed the street with gunfire for nearly a half-hour before he was finally killed by police.

In the chaos, the first cop on the scene had been killed.

Officer James Guelff was shot to death about 6 p.m. Nov. 13, 1994, by Victor Boutwell. Guelff emptied his revolver's six rounds before he was killed. Another officer was wounded, along with a paramedic.

On Thursday, Guelff will be remembered in a memorial service at 6 p.m. near the site of his death. He served 10 years in the Police Department.

Boutwell, who was living in his Volkswagen van for six years before the incident and at the time was described by police as a loner, had that same Sunday afternoon stolen a Lexus at gunpoint on the Peninsula and driven to The City.

On the way, he attempted to steal a second car but failed. Once in San Francisco, he snatched a BMW in Pacific Heights.

While transferring bags of material from one stolen car to another, the first police officers arrived on the scene. That's when Boutwell opened fire.

"The first officer at the scene had a six-shot revolver and he was met by an automatic weapon," Inspector Alex Fagan told The New York Times at a news conference after the shooting, where the bloody bulletproof vest worn by Boutwell was displayed.

At the time, the incident inspired strong reaction from rank-and-file police officers, many calling for cops to be given semi-automatic pistols instead of the revolvers issued at the time.

"The murder of a police officer on November 13 illustrates the need for all SFPD patrol officers to be issued semiautomatic pistols and the appropriate leather gear," Sgt. Michael Favetti wrote in an open letter to then-Mayor Frank Jordan and published in the San Francisco Police Officers Association newsletter. "It's like giving a firefighter a garden hose to fight a fire."

In another letter in that same December 1994 newsletter, Officer Marty Lalor said that if Guelff had a semi-automatic pistol he might have survived.

"Jim died doing all the right things, he returned fire, called for backup, attempted to take cover and was forced to reload," Lalor wrote. "If Jim had 9 additional rounds he could have made it to proper cover and could have stalled or prevented his death."

Lalor's letter went on to say that Guelff's fellow officers tried to get him to switch to a semiautomatic, but he refused unless the Police Department purchased one for him.

Guelff, who was born in Michigan and grew up in San Luis Obispo, had a wide array of luminaries at his funeral -- from the mayor and the Board of Supervisors to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the San Francisco archbishop.

"James Guelff was a 'Do it any way' type of guy. People would criticize, people would complain and he would still do his job. He was proud of the job he did and I believe he was proud that he was able to give his life to save others," Chaplain James Ryan noted at the funeral.

According to the Officer Down Memorial website, 103 San Francisco police have died in the line of duty. The latest deaths happened in 2006 when three officers died in separate incidents.

A state law named after and inspired by Guelff's killing and the death of Chris McCurley, an Alabama officer killed in a similar incident, barred violent felons from possessing body armor. However, it was overturned in California in 2009. Attempts to overturn a similar federal law have been unsuccessful.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Bio:
Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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