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Santa Barbara Police Detectives Given Award for Valor for Capturing Fugitive

Brian Miller and Jeff DeForest describe how they tracked down the suspect and his young son on a train; Lompoc's Sergio Arias and Brian Guerra also honored

The Santa Barbara Citizens Council on Crime honored four police detectives on Wednesday with the H. Thomas Guerry Award for Valor for excellence in law enforcement in Santa Barbara County.

Santa Barbara police Detectives Brian Miller and Jeff DeForest took custody of a man who had federal arrest warrants from Fairbanks, Alaska, for violating a custody agreement by taking his 9-year-old son with him out of the state.

“It will be an honor to put that pin on our uniform,” Miller said.

DeForest said it was humbling just to be recognized, since thousands of men and women in uniform do this kind of work every day and don’t get awards for it.

U.S. Marshals told local police last summer that Michael Lee Moore, 58, had abducted his son and would be traveling on an Amtrak train through Santa Barbara. Sgt. Riley Harwood recalled that Moore was going through a “bad divorce” and had a “nothing to lose attitude.”

Miller and DeForest are partners in the investigative unit and were called to check the train for Moore.

The situation had every factor that made it dangerous, Miller said: It was a domestic child custody case, Moore was accused of burning down his house and had his son with him on the train.

Miller and DeForest went onto the train in plainclothes, which meant they weren’t wearing their bulletproof vests, even though Moore was rumored to be armed. DeForest noted that storming the train in SWAT fashion could turn the already dangerous situation even worse.

“We really got him by surprise,” Miller said.

Miller had caught a glimpse of Moore through a doorway and determined he had gone into the restroom. DeForest pretended to be talking on his phone while Miller hid out of sight.

They had worked together as partners in the gang unit for years and could read each other well, not needing to talk over a plan before making their move.

With a nod, DeForest let Miller know that Moore was leaving the train car’s restroom and they were able to get on each side of him, grab an arm and identify themselves. Moore tried to pull away but didn’t fight them; he just asked what would happen to his son.

Moore was apparently on the way to Oregon, where he had relatives. Harwood said Moore had personal notes in his luggage that indicated he was doing research on states and countries that didn’t follow normal child custody laws.

The boy was taken care of by Child Welfare Services, and arrangements were made for the mother to come pick him up, Harwood said. Moore was taken back to Alaska to face charges.

According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Moore pleaded guilty to child custodial interference, a felony, and was sentenced to three years of probation in February. He plans to move to Oregon and must notify the court if he moves within 60 miles of Fairbanks.

Police were also told that Moore burned down his house. According to the News-Miner, Moore’s cabin burned to the ground under suspicious circumstances the day after he and his son left the state.

Lompoc Detectives Sergio Arias and Brian Guerra also received the H. Thomas Guerry Award for Valor, for their work on the gang and narcotics enforcement team.
Lompoc Detectives Sergio Arias and Brian Guerra also received the H. Thomas Guerry Award for Valor, for their work on the gang and narcotics enforcement team. (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

Detectives Sergio Arias and Brian Guerra of the Lompoc Police Department were also honored Wednesday with the H. Thomas Guerry Award for Valor, for their work on the gang and narcotics enforcement team.

“It’s great to be honored for just doing our job,” Guerra said.

During a traffic stop in November, two known gang members fled their vehicle after stopping and led the detectives on a foot chase.

Both detectives were born and raised in Lompoc and knew the two suspects well — they had even stopped them and arrested them numerous times.

Guerra said the running wasn’t really a surprise, since they don’t respond to the normal calls for service and end up in a lot more chases than other patrol units.

During the foot chase, the two suspects — Raymond Garcia and Luis Lopez — ran down an alleyway and hopped a fence. When the two detectives were about to follow over the fence, they heard a shot ring out.

“In that instant — it’s quick — we look at each other, we’re both fine, and we get on the radio,” Guerra said. “Once we’re in a foot pursuit, anything can happen,” adding that they definitely weren’t expecting shots fired from 20 feet away.

The chase continued until the two men entered a house, which prompted the family living there to leave and tell police.

Officers organized a perimeter from other patrol units and, after the suspects didn’t come out, SWAT went in.

“I remember it was a pretty long standoff; it was freezing that night, and I couldn’t feel my hands by the end of it,” Guerra said.

The men eventually came out after SWAT deployed gas through the attic vents, which is “pretty potent,” he said.

Police found a gun and spent casing near the fence, revolvers at the side of the house, a sawed-off shotgun in the car as well as a “robbery kit” — stun gun, gloves, duct tape and the like — that the detectives said indicated the men were most likely planning a robbery.

In both cases, police were relieved the incidents didn’t turn into hostage situations or left someone injured.

Many more law enforcement standouts were honored Wednesday for superior performance: Officer Mark Daniels of the California Highway Patrol, supervising investigator Greg Wilkins of the District Attorney’s Office, Cpl. Frank Medina of the Guadalupe Police Department, Detective Sgt. Nathan Flint of the Lompoc Police Department, Deputy Wayne Flick of the Sheriff’s Department, Sgt. Matthew Bowman of the UC Santa Barbara Police and senior deputy probation officer Joe Talaugon of the Probation Department.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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