EXCLUSIVE: SWAT Standoff Team Takes Post Behind the Scenes

By DAYNA DRUM | Reporter

It was a worst-case scenario.

A family with their small infant awoken in the night by gunfire through a backdoor to their home, and a suspect desperate to get away from authorities.

In the early hours of May 11, Kharl Stuart allegedly stole a vehicle in Long Beach and led police on a chase onto Pacific Coast Highway and into Pacific Palisades. He eventually crashed into a parked car at Lombard Ave. and fled on foot to a nearby house in the Via Bluffs. When he was unable to gain access to the home, he barricaded himself in the family’s garage and was in a standoff with LAPD for almost six hours, firing gunshot rounds at officers and the LAPD helicopter overhead.

Officer Michael Mullins stands in front of “The Bear,” the armored vehicle that vacated a Palisades garage in an LAPD standoff with a suspect on May 11. Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
Officer Michael Mullins stands in front of “The Bear,” the armored vehicle that vacated a Palisades garage in an LAPD standoff with a suspect on May 11.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Shortly before 8 a.m., SWAT officers used an armored vehicle to ram the garage door and apprehend Stuart.

Behind the wheel of the ballistically armored, 30,000-pound vehicle called “The Bear” was Officer Michael Mullins.

On a recent visit to the new LAPD Metropolitan Division headquarters, Mullins gave the Palisadian-Post a tour of the Armory and the equipment used in the Palisades incident.

Officer Mullins stands outside of the truck used as SWAT command post. Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
Officer Mullins stands outside of the truck used as SWAT command post.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

In a situation where the suspect is armed, all of the division’s armored vehicles respond, plus a large truck that serves as the command center stocked with weapons and cookies. The large supply of snacks and caffeine enables officers to work for long periods of time when no clock-out time is in sight.

A vest that is part of typical SWAT gear Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
A vest that is part of typical SWAT gear
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Despite the hundreds of calls Mullins has been on in his nine years with the LAPD Armory, the call to the Palisades didn’t fall far down the list of extreme situations he’s been in. As an armorer Mullins offers logistical support to the SWAT team. By now he’s seen almost everything but the nerves don’t really get to him anymore.

A remote control robot with camera that SWAT officers use during hostile situations Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
A remote control robot with camera that SWAT officers use during hostile situations
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

“We’re in good hands,” Mullins said referring to the SWAT team’s protection. He also acknowledges that death has a schedule of its own, and when it’s his time he could either be on his couch or in the field. However, the officers are anything but unprepared. In the field, Mullins wears a protective helmet, vest and utility belt that weigh around 60 pounds, which the officer explains is light by some standards.

The team is called up about 100 times a year and responds to a variety of situations from standoffs to serving dangerous warrants. Each day is different and always has the potential to turn into a 30- or 40-hour day. Sometimes they’re called up for fairly unusual situations. In 2009 after Michael Jackson’s memorial service at the Staples Center, “The Bear” was used to transport the pop star’s body to a different location. Mullins explained they were unsure how fans would react after his death and were worried someone might try to steal the body.

Officers in the armory are responsible for keeping SWAT equipment prepared for action. Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer
Officers in the armory are responsible for keeping SWAT equipment prepared for action.
Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

Mullins has spent so much time with the equipment he knows almost every scratch, pointing to different marks and explaining what kind of situation was occurring at the time it was made.

For him this is a dream job. Mullins was slated to be a firefighter in Manhattan Beach, but his brother, who was a police officer, implored him to apply to LAPD. He has now been on the force for 27 years and still loves it.

Officer Michael Skajem, who also responded to the Palisades standoff with Stuart, explained there is a big misconception about what SWAT does. Whenever the team responds to a situation, the intent isn’t to go in “guns blazing.”

“It’s really about preserving life,” Skajem said.

The SWAT team is equipped with a myriad of response methods, from robots to sponge bullets to gas canisters—the same gas that was used to try to extract Stuart from the Palisades garage.

Mullins explained some people have a higher tolerance to the gas and that’s why Stuart was unaffected by it and “The Bear” was ultimately called to duty.

The team’s ultimate goal is to avoid contact with the suspect whenever possible and get everyone in the situation to safety.

The six-man armory team is still settling into their new facilities and adjusting to their expanded quarters.

When they aren’t navigating “The Bear” and all of its fellow vehicles through Los Angeles streets or ramming down garage doors to apprehend suspects, the team spends a lot of their office time getting things ready for their next call.

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