PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. - The reason that Pierce County Sheriff's Deputy and School Resource Officer Carly Cappetto found herself conducting a felony traffic stop involving a stolen car full of suspects is because she's curious and diligent. She got curious about a car she spotted in a vacant lot near Stahl Junior High School. To hear her tell it, the car and the occupants couldn't have been more suspicious.
"This one was parked all kind of wonky. The windows were fogged up. Clearly there were a lot of occupants in it. I could see them moving around. I could see smoke coming out of the windows so I quietly approached the vehicle, and I could tell they were talking and doing some drugs inside the vehicle, so I knew I had my probable cause," she said.
The Honda Civic LX was parked in a lot the kids walk across to get to school. The kids she protects. She says there were four people inside and they were oblivious. "No care for the world, no care for the public around them," said Deputy Cappetto.
While waiting for her backup to arrive, she snuck up and placed stop sticks behind the tires. With two patrol vehicles now on scene, she got on her loudspeaker and ordered them out of the vehicle. "They immediately startled and started moving around. You could hear them screaming inside the car, 'take off, take off, take off' so I gave them commands, 'I have stop sticks on your car, your gonna get stop sticked, you need to follow directions' and of course they didn't. I think most of the tires were popped and then they fled behind the Fred Meyer's and so I put it out on the air that they were fleeing," she said.
The Civic got as far as a nearby Kohl's parking lot. "They were driving in circles. It was clear they didn't know where they were going or what they were doing," she said. As they tried to get away, they hit a man's car as he was driving in the parking lot. "So, he stops his car and gets out. He sees me attempt to do a traffic stop on them and they backed up and rammed me," she said.
She was able to use her patrol vehicle to pin the suspect's car against a curb. Then, seeing that she was by herself, the civilian got out and drew his gun. "There was a lot of movement going on. I can't take my eyes off them but now I've got this civilian who is attempting to help," she said.
She had to make a split-second decision to trust a stranger. When Pierce County Sheriff's Sgt. Darren Moss saw the bodycam video, he cringed. "I understand the citizen is trying to help them make an arrest, but they also have to understand that it's not really safe for them to be out there," he said.
Other deputies quickly arrived and ordered the man who did have concealed carry license to lower his gun but not before Moss says there was a danger of crossfire. "When I watched the video from the other deputy's body camera footage, when he steps out of his vehicle to challenge the suspects, that civilian's gun is pointed in his direction so if he is to shoot, our deputy is in the line of fire," said Moss.
Instead, he says ask the deputy if they need help before you draw your gun. "I just don't want to see anybody get hurt. I don't want them to get hurt from the deputies having to contact them and control them or from a suspect just randomly shooting at them because they see a gun pointed at them," he said.
All four suspects were safely taken into custody for possession of a stolen vehicle and illegal drug possession.
"I'm glad everything worked out but I don't want to see another person try to copy this," said Moss.