When asked if anything like this had ever happened before in his neighborhood, Bill Simunek, 71, who has lived on Mountain Ranch Road near San Andreas for over 30 years, replied, “Not even close.”
On the evening of July 5, Simunek heard “10 or so” shots fired by law enforcement outside his house, killing a nearby neighbor who he had never met. The neighbor’s name was John James Corrigan. He was 38 years old and had lived in the area for roughly a year, according to those who knew him.
Two Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office deputies and one California Highway Patrol officer fired shots at Corrigan after he pointed what appeared to be a rifle or shotgun toward them, authorities stated on July 6.
In a second press release issued by the Sheriff’s Office that day, it was determined that the weapon Corrigan had been carrying was an air rifle.
On Tuesday, a third press release said the weapon was “manufactured overseas, but it had several aftermarket modifications, which made it appear more to be an assault rifle.”
A statement issued on behalf of Corrigan’s family by Katie Greer on Monday refers to the incident as an “obvious suicide by cop,” and asks for sensitivity from the community surrounding the death of a man who was “a father, brother and son to a family who is grieving from another bad choice of his.”
Greer, who describes herself as the mother of Corrigan’s 17-year-old daughter, has also criticized the Sheriff’s Office’s decision to publish Corrigan’s 2004 arrest for suspected rape in a press release on the grounds that the charge was later dropped. She claims the release of that information to the public is “defamation of character.”
Officers ‘showed restraint’
Bill Simunek says he was just about to go to bed sometime after 9 p.m. on July 5 when he heard car horns honking in the road outside his house. He saw multiple cars pulled over alongside the road, and assumed that there was livestock on the loose. Not bothering to grab a flashlight, he proceeded down the 300-foot hill that separates his home from the road.
“It was really dark,” said Simunek in a phone interview on Monday. “But I saw the shadow of a man standing there with his back to me.”
Simunek says he could not make out any details of the man due to the darkness, but could hear “incoherent mumbling.”
“I decided I didn’t want anything to do with that and went back up to the house to dial 911,” said Simunek.
Simunek was one of many who called the Sheriff’s Office that night. At approximately 9:45 p.m., multiple 911 calls were made describing a man who was “acting strange,” standing in the street and waving a gun, either an AR-15 or a shotgun, the initial Sheriff’s Office press release stated.
Returning outside when law enforcement arrived, Simunek says he saw officers moving east on Mountain Ranch Road. From his vantage point on his property, he could not get a full view of the activity in the glare of the headlights, but he heard officers repeatedly order the suspect to lay down his weapon.
Simunek says he heard, “Don’t point the weapon at us!” at least two or three times in a standoff that continued for what “felt like 10 minutes, but was probably two or three.” Then, somebody yelled, “He’s going toward that house!”
There were additional commands issued to Corrigan to put down the weapon and move away from the house, Simunek says, until shots were fired.
“I’m not sure what he did to make them start firing,” said Simunek, who did not have a visual on the incident.
“One thing I was thinking right after the officers started firing was that they had shown a lot of restraint before they fired,” said Simunek.
Authorities stated that Corrigan refused to comply with law enforcement and pointed the suspected weapon with an attached “red dot laser” toward officers, causing them to fire their weapons and strike the subject “in fear for their safety as well as the safety of nearby residents.”
“Corrigan was struck three times, once in the arm and twice in the lower right side and middle of his back,” Tuesday’s press release states.
Corrigan was pronounced dead at the scene after medics arrived.
Following the incident, Simunek recalls descending his driveway to speak with law enforcement.
“One of the officers who shot him was shaking,” said Simunek. “I was shaking, too.”
Simunek says that nearly a week after the incident, he still believes that officers “showed restraint” before firing.
Although the names of the officers involved have not been released, one of the three sheriff’s deputies involved in the incident has been employed by the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office for three years, and the other two have been employed for over 10 years, according to Sheriff Rick DiBasilio.
The Sheriff’s Office reported on Wednesday that the deputies involved have been placed on paid administrative leave, which is “standard protocol for these types of incidents.” They will undergo a review before being cleared for full duty.
The CHP had not released any information regarding the incident as of press time Wednesday.
A multiagency investigation is still in progress. As part of the investigation, detectives served a search warrant at Corrigan’s residence, during which a firearm and controlled substance were seized.
A family grieves
Following the incident, Corrigan’s family and friends have painted a picture of a man who was severely troubled, though not without hope.
“John was having mental health problems and had not been in a healthy state of mind,” wrote Greer in her statement Monday. “He was extremely depressed.”
“He was a nice human being. He went to church,” said a longtime friend of Corrigan’s family, Michele Fleming, in a phone interview Monday. “He wasn’t always a troubled kid. He worked and tried rehab. … He wasn’t always in the situation or frame of mind he was in (at the time of the incident)."
One neighbor on Mountain Ranch Road who wishes to remain anonymous says that he had seen Corrigan on multiple occasions prior to the incident.
“Ninety percent of the time, (Corrigan) was sitting in a chair on his front porch, never bothering anybody,” the man said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Corrigan’s criminal history was published in a press release issued by the Sheriff’s Office on July 6. It included arrests for driving under the influence, disturbing the peace, and rape, which was connected to a 2004 conviction for lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14 years of age (Penal Code 288).
“(Corrigan) served his time 14 years ago (for the 288 conviction) and never reoffended, never had another allegation or failed an inspection while on probation,” wrote Greer.
In a Tuesday phone interview with the Enterprise, Greer said that Corrigan moved away from his children in Southern California to shield them from his conviction that led to his status as a registered sex offender.
“He didn’t want anyone to associate him with his charge,” said Greer.
However, Greer says she is “disappointed” by the inclusion of the rape arrest in the press release, claiming that the charge was dropped due to “failure of evidence as the victim consented.”
“I would like to publicly apologize to the officers involved for the position John put you in,” wrote Greer on Monday. “I cannot even imagine what you went (through) and are going through. And your families. I would like to commend you for doing your job, as I respect your position and doing what you were trained to do in that situation. With that being said, to the author of Calaveras Sheriff’s department social media press release: was it necessary for you to portray John as a monster who was out to hurt someone, now that the facts are known?”
“If he was really out to ‘hurt’ someone, wouldn’t you think he could have grabbed one of the real guns he had that was locked up but available to him at his house?” Greer continued. “So again I ask, was it necessary to add irrelevant information? Why not leave his grieving family with some pride?”
An autopsy was conducted July 6, though Calaveras County Coroner Kevin Raggio says it could be three to four weeks before any toxicology results are available, and they may not be released at that time, pending further investigation.