Sukhdeep Gill, a sheriff’s deputy in Santa Clara County, California, said he had been walking back to his patrol car on a dark road near a reservoir when a silver sedan pulled up and cut its lights and someone inside fired at him from the passenger-side window.
“Shots fired! Shots fired!” he screamed on his department-issued radio.
When other officers arrived, swarming the area, Gill appeared to have been shot in the chest, where the bullet had been stopped by his body camera. Several other bullets had hit his patrol car, and Gill said he had fired two shots back at the sedan before it drove off.
At a news conference in February 2020, law enforcement officials praised Gill for his bravery and vowed to find the gunman.
“It’s kind of one of those miraculous stories, right?” Jason Malinsky, a deputy district attorney in Santa Clara County, said on Saturday. “An officer saved by his body-worn camera: It’s one of those one-in-a-million shots.”
But it wasn’t true, Malinsky said.
An investigation that examined ballistics evidence revealed that Gill had faked the attack, prosecutors said. On Friday, the deputy, 27, was arrested and charged with staging the ambush on Jan. 31, 2020, just after 10:30 p.m.
Malinsky declined to discuss a motive or explain how Gill might have staged the shooting, saying the crime remained under investigation. The deputy’s body camera, he said, was too damaged to recover any footage.
“As the investigation progressed, there were more and more inconsistencies with Deputy Gill’s story, and it to got to a point that the story did not add up,” Malinsky said. “The evidence pointed more and more toward the fact that Deputy Gill had fabricated this incident.”
Gill was charged with felony vandalism, for the damage to his patrol car and the body camera, and falsely reporting a crime, a misdemeanor, Malinsky said. If convicted, he faces three years in state prison and one year in county jail.
“This case is bewildering and deeply disappointing,” Jeff Rosen, the Santa Clara County district attorney, said in a statement. “Deputy Gill’s actions abused the trust of his fellow officers and diverted public safety resources away from protecting the community to investigate a made-up crime.”
Gill, who has been placed on leave, will not be able to enter a plea until he is arraigned in February, his lawyer, Nicole Pifari, said.
“Unfortunately, at this stage of the proceedings, I do not have a lot of information,” she said. “I can tell you we look forward to getting a look at the investigation and the related evidence to understand why these charges are being pursued.”
The Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of Santa Clara County, which represents the county’s deputies, said that it was “deeply disappointed” by the charges, which “can have a tremendous impact on community trust” but “are not reflective of the vast majority of law enforcement officers and deputies.”
The association added that Gill was entitled to due process and the opportunity to defend himself against the allegations.
Gill, who was not seriously injured, told the first officer on the scene that he had parked on the dirt shoulder of a rural road near Morgan Hill, California, to urinate during a routine patrol, prosecutors said.
He said he had been returning to his car when he was attacked. Officers responded from the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office as well as from the San Jose, Morgan Hill and Gilroy police departments but were not able to find the silver sedan that Gill had described, prosecutors said.
At the news conference in February 2020, law enforcement officials expressed relief that Gill had been shot in his body camera and said they believed that he had been the victim of an “unprovoked sneak attack.”
On Friday, the Sheriff’s Office said that the evidence had shown that the shooting had been fabricated.
“If the allegations hold true,” the Sheriff’s Office said, “Deputy Gill’s actions are not representative of the upstanding men and women of the Sheriff’s Office, who risk their lives every day to serve and protect our community with honesty and integrity.”