Anatomy of a Shooting: The Mari Lyn Sandoz Case

From The Oregonian, April 26, 1992 – not available elsewhere online.

Mari Lyn Sandoz could see the twinkling Christmas lights on the bus mall to her left.

She angled away from them. Just staggered out of the phone booth and left the receiver hanging there.

She had warned them, and now she was going to do it.

The U.S. Bank Plaza was across the street on Southwest Fifth Avenue.

She walked toward it. An unsteady gait, like a drunk.

A small dribble of blood dotted her path.

– – – –
The policeman who would soon meet Mari Lyn Sandoz had stopped for coffee at the Golden Touch Restaurant on Southwest Barbur Boulevard.

It was quiet, just after 7 o’clock on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 1990.

Police Sgt. Michael R. Barkley had his handset radio beside his coffee cup. At 7:17 p.m. it rasped something that seemed no different from the other transmissions, except Barkley stopped talking in midsentence. He tucked the radio to his ear, turning up the volume a hair.

On his way back downtown , he couldn’t help thinking about it. He let his mind focus for a moment on the 9mm Glock and two spare clips of ammunition on his belt.

– – – –
Mari Sandoz had spent the day getting ready for the trip from Longview to Portland.

She put her affairs in order — what little there was to that.

The main item was her 10-speed Schwinn bicycle. She wrote a Post-It note reminding her mother to keep the bike locked up.

Then she went by a tavern and left a note for a Longview policeman.

“I got the gun,” the note said. “I’m going to find a cop — maybe he will do me a favor. I won’t be around as a nuisance to you or anyone anymore.”

Along with the note she left a .45 bullet.

It was vintage Mari.

Just about every policeman in Longview knew Mari Sandoz. And so did a host of mental health specialists.

Sandoz, 29, had a fantasy of dying at the hands of the police .

Several times she had threatened them with an airgun and gotten away with it. The police would take the gun and drive her to a hospital.

Later, she’d get the gun back and point it again.

This couldn’t go on forever, and it didn’t.

When her luck ran out, the consequences would not only be tragic for Mari Sandoz but would focus a public debate in Portland on an entirely different issue: the new semiautomatic pistols being carried by police .

The semis didn’t shoot any faster than the old six-guns they replaced, but some of them held three times as many bullets.

This was true of Barkley’s Glock. It carried 18 rounds, including one in the chamber.

Sandoz had been adopted into a well-to-do family. Her father was a lumber mill executive. He died when Mari was about 12.

Mari grew up a loner. Sometimes she took out her anger on animals. Once, she strangled a cat. She shot a dog.

Different doctors, psychologists and social workers tried helping the young woman, without much success, although they did agree on a diagnosis of “borderline personality.”

Borderliners were sort of lost. They clung to friends one day and hated them the next. They had weird outbursts of temper. They made suicidal gestures, got into fights, drove recklessly, used drugs, went on eating binges.

A family doctor treated her for depression.

Once she left home, Sandoz lived mostly on a $571 monthly Social Security check for a hearing disability.

Longview police were used to seeing her riding around town on her bicycle. She collected aluminum cans to recycle.

And she started buying guns.

She owned maybe a dozen pistols between the mid-1980s and the time she would run into Mike Barkley that night in Portland.

– – – –
Barkley drove his patrol car down Front Avenue and over to Burnside Street.

Then toward the Benson Hotel.

The hotel slid into view on his right. And Stark Street.

Stark Street.

He thought about it again. Every time he went by there.

It had been a night much like this one. A Monday, a week after St. Patrick’s Day, March 23, 1981.

The brilliant blue and yellow muzzle flashes still leapt at him in the dark.

Lawrence Stacey was a 22-year-old bank robber and drug addict. He had just taken $77 at gunpoint from a store.

Barkley saw a person matching the description walking across Stark at the corner of Park Avenue, a block from Broadway.

Barkley pulled his patrol car into the crosswalk. The man kept going.

“Hey, buddy.”

The man kept walking.

Barkley got out, unholstering his .38 revolver.

He kept it pointed at the pavement as he strode after the man.

Stacey darted suddenly between two parked cars and into the street. Barkley rushed after him. They were maybe 10 feet apart when Stacey reached back and shot.

The electric-blue flash and yellow core took only a millisecond to imprint itself in Barkley’s brain. The bullet missed. Barkley raised his own pistol to kill Stacey, but in the background was an evening crowd.

Stacey kept running, popping two more rounds at Barkley who was sprinting now. Barkley was maneuvering to put the stone facade of Trader Vic’s and the line of parked cars behind Stacey.

Stacey stopped and began stroking shots at Barkley.

Now Barkley fired rapidly. On the run.

Stacey lurched backward. He fell against a car door, sitting down in the street.

Four shots had struck Stacey in the side.

Barkley’s pistol clicked down on an empty casing. Eyeing Stacey, he went down on one knee to reload. He had no idea where or how the bullets had struck.

Stacey was 10 feet away. Sitting. Reloading.

Barkley broke open the cylinder on his pistol with one hand, shaking the empties onto the street. His other hand clawed blindly at his belt for a speed-loader — a piece of hardware holding six fresh rounds.

“If I look down,” he was thinking, “he’ll come over here and shoot me in the head.”

– – – –
Mari Sandoz scared Terrie J. Goodman in 1986 by pointing a gun at her. It proved to be a toy, but she didn’t doubt that Sandoz would have killed her if it had been real.

Goodman was the resident manager of a Longview apartment complex for the chronically mentally ill.

Sandoz was living there. A slender 5 foot 7 and 110 pounds, she struggled endlessly with herself when she wasn’t fighting someone else.

On Feb. 25, 1987, Sandoz telephoned the Longview Police Department from Mary’s Club in Portland, a topless club. She said she had cut her wrists and had a .38 handgun.

The police picked her up and called an ambulance. She claimed she’d thrown the .38 away. Paramedics found 20 or 30 slight cuts on her wrists.

The police delivered her to University Hospital on a “mental hold.”

Four weeks later the police picked her up again. She’d been cutting herself with a razor.

Portland Patrolman W.R. Kuechler took her to Dammasch State Hospital, but Dammasch wouldn’t take her. They said she was just trying to get attention.

That August, the Tacoma and Olympia police picked her up for cutting her wrists.

On Oct. 2, 1987, Sandoz took Amtrak to Salem and threatened, from a pay phone, to “ shoot the first person that walks by.”

Salem police took Sandoz’s air pistol away and dropped her at the state hospital.

It went on and on.

“I offered her just about every program that existed,” said William Weiss, then director of Cowlitz County Offender Services.

“So I don’t know that it would be fair to say the system failed her. She was in every hospital in western Washington and, I’ll bet, in Oregon, too.”

– – – –
Sandoz kept an appointment that last day in Longview with her caseworker. Then she bought a bus ticket for Portland.

At 7:16 p.m. it began:

A woman telephones Metro Crisis Intervention Service, claiming to have a .44 pistol. The call traces to Mary’s Club, near the Benson. 9-1-1 calls Metro for more details.

Metro Crisis: “She says that any policeman that shows up is gonna get shot.”

9-1-1: “OK, hang on two seconds. She’s threatening suicide, too?”

Metro Crisis: “Yes, that’s, that’s what she’s after. What she wants to do is try to shoot a police officer so she can get herself committed. Once, well, she’s been passed around by the system a little bit too much . . . She tried to shoot a police officer before in Salem.”

9-1-1: “For real?”

Metro Crisis: “For real.”

9-1-1: “Um, is she trying a suicide by police , too?”

Metro Crisis: “Um-hm. Just, yeah, she was trying to get a policeman to shoot her.”

She says, uh, something like the only way out is to get a cop to shoot me. Uh, I have to do something drastic enough to get a policeman to shoot me.”

The woman had told Metro that her name was Mari.< The 9-1-1 dispatcher hands the call to Central Precinct Car 841.< This is Officer John W. Anderson, 31, and his partner, Brian Grose.< “They didn’t say whether or not she actually shot a policeman in Salem, did they?” one of them asks.

Dispatch: “Metro Crisis says that she has.”

Every police officer in the city is listening now. This includes Barkley, who is headed downtown .

Steve Blake and his partner, Craig Bonnarens, are in Car 831. Blake seems half the size of Bonnarens, a 6-foot-7, 270-pound former Montana state policeman.

The search for the woman turns out to be anti-climactic, but Barkley stays in the area. He drives Broadway a few times, thinking about it. As he passes the hotel, he remembers Stacey. The way Stacey looked at him, reloading the gun.

– – – –
The race to reload is close. Barkley dumps the remaining five rounds from the speed loader into his .38 and is snapping the cylinder back in place as Stacey does something surprising: he gets up and runs. Four bullets in him, and he runs. The gun still in his hand. Barkley takes off after him.

In a few strides, Stacey is around the corner on Broadway. On the Broadway side of the hotel the backdrop is a bright patch of hotel patrons, taxis and bellhops, and a doorman in a top-hat. “Get down!” Barkley screams. They just freeze and look at him. Stacey runs into the Benson lobby and through the kitchen. He finds an empty stairwell. He runs up a few flights. He sits down. Then he puts the .38 under his chin and fires a bullet up into his brain.

But he doesn’t die.

– – – –
The tension over the threatening call slowly unwound during the next hour.

The police had other work to do.

More than an hour later, at 8:55 p.m., 9-1-1 got a call from Mari. She sounded drunk.

“I’m screwed up,” Mari hiccups. “I cut my wrist, I don’t know where I’m at.” The cops tried to find me at Mary’s (hiccup), uh, Club . . . and they couldn’t find the right person. I don’t know where the hell I’m at, I’ve cut my wrist.”

9-1-1 tries to get Mari to describe her surroundings. She just rambles drunkenly.

She answers another question and says, “Yeah, I got a firearm, but this, two of ’em. Guy bought one off. . . .

“What kind of gun do you have?”

“Don’t worry. It’s not gonna hurt anybody.”

“Listen, ma’am, if you want the police to come help you you’re gonna tell us what kind of gun you have.”

Nobody there.

Dispatch radios Anderson and Grose again, sending them to the phone booth. By the time they get there, she’s gone.

Reserve officers William S. Foster and Dan G. Davis are on foot patrol on Southwest Fourth Avenue. The reservists wear police uniforms. They’re as concerned as anyone about the woman threatening to shoot an officer.

A motorist drives up. “Hey, there’s a guy and he’s bleeding and he needs help up by the phone booth.”

Foster and Davis walk toward the booth. Davis sees somebody get up and wobble across Fifth Avenue. It looks like a man.

Davis pauses at the booth long enough to see fresh, steaming blood on the glass. Foster radios in as Davis hurries after the wobbling figure.

The bank plaza faces Oak Street in a series of zigzag angles. Sandoz turns right at the first corner, which zigs inward to form a glassy alcove leading into an arcade.

Straight ahead is a glass wall, light spilling through, with double sets of glass doors. People are still moving around in there.

Sandoz veers right, heads into the corner and plops down behind a shiny metal cigarette canister. She leans back against the glass wall and gets out two things she needs.

First, the gun.

She puts it down beside her left knee.

Then she gets out the bloody green plastic box cutter.

She starts swiping at her wrist again. New cuts on top of countless old scars.

Davis pokes his head around the corner.

He’s surprised that the “man” is a woman.

“Are you OK?” he says.

She looks at him.

Now he sees the gun.

Looks like maybe a .45 automatic.

She reaches for the gun with the slow deliberation of a drunk.

Davis feels his heart sink. He unholsters his .38 revolver. “Oh my God,” he’s thinking, “I might have to shoot her.”

The woman’s gesture, in total, is not really threatening. She grasps the pistol by the side, raises it slowly and displays it like she might auction it off.

She doesn’t point it at Davis.

Davis keeps his own gun hanging toward the pavement.

Davis has been a reservist for three years. He is a fully trained and accredited police officer. He works a night or two a week for no pay. His regular job is managing a restaurant. Now he’s trying to recall something, anything, in his 18 months of training that would tell him what to say to a drunk, crazy woman with a gun.

“Put the gun down,” he says quietly.

Almost polite.

Sandoz shrugs, smiles, starts to put the gun down. Halfway to the pavement she fumbles it to the ground. The gun hits the gray granite parquet with a heavy clunk.

Davis looks back at Foster who is walking up with the radio. “She’s got a gun,” Davis says. “Let’s get some cover down here.”

Davis decides the thing to do is keep the emotion out of his voice. He talks in a neutral monotone, hoping this is right.

Sandoz never answers. Davis doesn’t know she’s partly deaf. But she’s looking at him. They’re communicating. Still, she reaches for the gun again and Davis raises his voice a little and tells her not to.

Whether she hears or not, she draws her hand back. She leans back and puts both hands in her lap.

Davis can see the bloody wrists. Maybe, he thinks, the woman will bleed out and faint. Then it would be easy to walk over and pick up the gun.

Not everybody, of course, would see it that way.

– – – –
Barkley was talking to Anderson and Grose four blocks away when the call came.

It took Barkley a half-minute to get to the Plaza. He drove his unmarked car over the curb, doused the lights and dipped to a stop almost behind the crouched reservists.

Bonnarens and Blake arrived about the same time.

Blake ran to a corner of the building on the other side of Sandoz while Bonnarens and Barkley trotted up and told the reservists to move to a rear position.

Barkley was glad to see Bonnarens. And vice versa. The two officers had worked together for years.

Bonnarens, 37, had grown up in eastern Oregon and Montana. His father was a police chief and sheriff.

Bonnarens attended the College of Great Falls, paying some of his way through school by boxing in “tough guy” brawls that paid the winner $500.

After getting his sociology degree in 1975, Bonnarens served in the Montana State Police , then ran his own security business until he joined the Portland police in 1981.

Barkley had spent his youth surfing on the beach in Los Angeles where his father was a wealthy restaurateur. Barkley also loved to box and was a rangy Golden Glover.

Barkley’s father sent his son over to Loyola Marymount, where Barkley graduated from the Jesuit-run school with an honors degree in business. But sitting in an office didn’t appeal to him. He headed for Oregon and joined the Portland Police Bureau.

“It seemed like an interesting job,” he said, “and you could work outdoors.”

In front of the bank, the two officers unholstered their guns.

Bonnarens brought out his German-made Sig Sauer, a .45 semiautomatic that held eight rounds including one in the chamber.

Barkley drew a 9mm Glock. It had a 17-round clip and an 18th round in the chamber.

The officers concentrated their attention on the woman 30 feet in front of them. They could see the gun by her left knee. It looked like a .45.

She was cutting on her wrists.

Barkley and Bonnarens had a quick discussion. It would take them eight or 10 steps to reach Sandoz. Barkley would go for the gun, try to get his foot on it. Bonnarens would grab Sandoz and go for the cutter.

Bonnarens gauged his chance of getting slashed. He got his baton ready.

Barkley signaled Steve Blake on the other corner. All three officers started walking in.

Sandoz reached down and picked up the gun. The officers scampered back to cover, yelling not to touch the gun.

Sandoz put the gun down.

Barkley was thinking. Now what? What was the worst thing that might happen? There were people inside the arcade. The woman might decide to pick up the gun and walk into the arcade. The doors were right there by her. That would be a nightmare.

Barkley tried giving her a command. “Do not, repeat, do not go for the gun. We gotta see your hands.”

She didn’t respond. Kept slashing her wrist.

Barkley decided they couldn’t wait.

On his signal, they stepped out into the open a second time and began advancing. From his position on the left, Blake couldn’t see the gun, but Barkley and Bonnarens had a clear view from straight ahead. The gun lay with its grip facing away from Sandoz.

Suddenly she seemed aware of their approach. She dropped the box cutter. And began reaching.

“Don’t touch the gun!” Barkley yelled. “Do not touch it!”

She took it by the grip.

And now everybody was yelling at her.

She got it about a foot off the pavement when Barkley and Bonnarens opened up. They fired 22 shots. All but one struck her.

Several things would surprise them later: Barkley would not remember hearing Bonnarens shoot . He would remember the ejected shell casings hitting him in the cheek.

Bonnarens kept squeezing the trigger, thinking “My God, I’m not hitting anything!” The woman seemed to just sit there for an eternity and look at them, holding her pistol, until finally she slumped over on her right side.

Her eyes never closed.

Bonnarens realized that he’d fired all eight rounds only when the slide-ejector on his pistol stuck in the open position, as designed, telling him it was empty.

Barkley told detectives from the Homicide Division a couple of hours later that he might have fired six or eight times. Informed that they’d picked up 14 empty 9mm casings, he admitted he was shocked.

Something else that surprised Barkley and Bonnarens was the range from which they’d fired. Their guess had been “five or six feet” from Sandoz, while the actual, reconstructed distance was 15 or 20.

There was one other surprise: The gun found in Sandoz’s hand was not a .45 automatic, but an air pistol, a Crossman Model 338 for pellets or BBs.

It looked very real.

Sandoz wasn’t the only person hit.

Officer Blake, who approached Sandoz from the side, was struck in the head, neck and leg by ricocheting bullet fragments. His injuries did not prove serious, however, and he was back at work the next day.

Blake never fired his gun. He was hit by the ricochets as he was about to fire.

Bonnarens had never shot anyone before. In fact, he had never fired his gun at anybody in 14 years.

Although he can gather himself, now, to talk about the shooting, it weighs on him, especially when people ask why they shot so many times.

“I thought she was going to kill us,” he says simply. “I kept firing because my perception was that I wasn’t hitting with my shots.”

Bonnarens looks relieved when Barkley changes the subject to Bonnarens’ medals.

“Craig should have been a fireman.” Barkley digs the huge patrolman in the ribs. “He’s got three medals from the bureau for being a hero, and every time he’s carrying somebody out of a fire.”

Barkley’s own service jacket includes two medals for valor and 61 letters of commendation, perhaps the most in the Police Bureau.

Barkley says several times that he has never second-guessed himself about Sandoz.

– – – –
Stacey is dead.

He went to prison for trying to murder Barkley. Then he got a parole and a good job and was doing fine until he raped and murdered two young sons of a girlfriend. He went back to Oregon State Penitentiary on another life sentence, serving only a few weeks before he hanged himself in his cell.

Barkley says that Stacey never entered his mind after he arrived at the bank plaza that night.

“The Stacey thing? Nah.”