Woman had knife, ‘demonic growl’ when she charged at sheriff’s deputies, DA says

Story Ann Miller
Story Ann Miller

Prosecutors have determined that a Stanislaus County sheriff’s deputy acted reasonably and within the law when he shot a woman with a knife who “growled” and charged at deputies.

Deputy Brent Salyer shot Story Ann Miller on May 17, 2017, at a home in the 200 block of Bragg Road, a few miles south of Modesto and just west of Crows Landing Road.

Miller, 37, survived her injuries and has since been convicted of assault in connection with the violent confrontation with the sheriff’s deputies.

Prosecutors said Miller had already stabbed and bitten a man at the Bragg Road home. Deputies arrived to find the victim bloodied, according to a letter from the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office. The letter to Sheriff Jeff Dirkse was released Wednesday afternoon.

The incident was initially reported about 10:40 p.m. as a domestic disturbance involving a knife. Police radio traffic later informed the deputies — on their way to the home — that the incident was an attempted stabbing and biting.

Sheriff’s officials have said the incident involved Miller and her boyfriend. Prosecutors said the man who was stabbed had been living with Miller at the trailer in the rural area along Bragg Road.

The man later told investigators that Miller had been behaving “weird” for three days, and she was improperly taking her mental health medicine. He also said he found Miller cutting electrical wires with a knife, which was producing sparks near their trailer.

He was afraid she might start a fire, so he told her to stop. Prosecutors said Miller then stabbed the man in the shoulder. As the man wrestled with Miller for control of the knife, she bit him on the arm, according to prosecutors. The bite tore out a piece of flesh from his arm. The man was then cut by the knife again.

The injured man escaped and went to a neighbor’s trailer, where someone called 911 for help. Salyer and fellow deputies Darwin Summerton, Justin Wall and Earl Gaarde arrived at the home. They found the man bleeding from what appeared to be knife wounds and a bite.

Deputies confront woman

Sheriff’s officials have said the deputies spotted the woman standing outside the home holding the knife.

Prosecutors said the deputies identified themselves as “Sheriff’s Department” and ordered Miller to drop the knife. Miller initially dropped the knife. Summerton later told investigators that Miller made a “demonic growl,” and he said “she looked crazy.”

Miller then gave the deputies a look and a “heavy growl” as she retrieved the knife, according to prosecutors. Miller charged toward the deputies. Summerton and Wall, who were closest to Miller, retreated.

The prosecutors noted in the letter that Miller was about 15 feet from the deputies when a sheriff’s helicopter above the scene broadcasted she was “charging at the deputies.” Salyer — who was providing cover for the other deputies — fired his gun at Miller.

Miller was holding the knife with the blade up in front of her as she approached the deputies and Salyer fired his gun, according to prosecutors. Salyer later told investigators that Miller had a “crazy rabid dog” look on her face and snarling.

The prosecutors said Miller held onto the knife after she was shot, and the knife had to be forcibly removed from her hand. She was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.

Criminal case

Miller recovered from her injuries and was formally charged May 31, 2017, in Stanislaus Superior Court. The District Attorney’s Office waited to review Salyer’s use of force until after Miller’s criminal case concluded, in accordance with countywide policy.

On July 9, Miller pleaded no contest to one count of assault on a police officer likely to cause great bodily injury. Another count of assault on a police officer and a count of assault with a deadly weapon were dropped. The assault with the deadly weapon charge stemmed from the stabbing.

Prosecutors said Salyer’s use of force in this confrontation with Miller was measured and in direct response to the perceived threat, which means the shooting was reasonable, justified and not excessive. They said their determination is further supported by the fact that Miller admitted her guilt in attempting to assault the deputies with the knife.

This story was originally published October 18, 2019 1:15 PM.

Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.
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