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Suspect who prepped for ‘war with police’ gets more than 30 years in prison

Police caution tape. (TNS/Released)

A mentally ill Clairemont man who shot at San Diego police snipers and choked a police dog at his home two years ago was sentenced Tuesday to 33 years and eight months in state prison.

Hayden Gerson, 36, was “prepared for war with police” when he stockpiled some 600 rounds of ammunition at his Mt. Saint Helens Drive home before a 911 call by his ex-girlfriend drew officers there on Dec. 12, 2016, according to a prosecutor.

Gerson got into a scuffle with the first two officers who showed up, then ran indoors. When more officers surrounded the home and snipers set up on rooftops, Gerson fired eight rounds at two officers and into a nearby house.

Deputy District Attorney Oscar Hagstrom said that during the eight-hour SWAT standoff, Gerson inhaled nitrous oxide, also called “laughing gas.” He came out after officers fired tear gas into his house.

A jury in April found Gerson guilty of two counts of attempted voluntary manslaughter, assault with a firearm on officers, assault for choking one officer, making threats, resisting arrest and harming a police dog.

Gerson, in San Diego Superior Court on Tuesday with his parents and fiancée watching, expressed remorse for his actions and asked the judge to be lenient.

“I never imagined I would be on the wrong side of the law,” Gerson said. He noted that he had “adhered to the law” for 33 years leading up to the police standoff, which he called “the worst night of my life.”

“I can’t put into words how remorseful I am. That night will haunt me the rest of my life,” he said.

He said he has been praying for a second chance at life outside of prison, to earn a living, support his four daughters and fiancée and to repay his parents for their financial support over the last three years.

Hagstrom argued for a stiff prison sentence, saying four officers were victims in struggles with Gerson — one was choked nearly unconscious and another was punched.

Defense attorney Michael Pancer argued at trial that Gerson, who has bipolar disorder and was under the influence of drugs at the time of the incident, didn’t know what he was doing that day. Pancer said that when an officer struck Gerson on the head with a baton during their scuffle, the blow triggered his client’s mental instability and a delusion that his life was in danger.

Pancer told the judge that the night of the shooting was a “bad patch” in Gerson’s life, but he has since repaired relations with his family, and showed while out on bail that he could earn a living and remain drug-and crime-free.

Judge Kenneth So, leaning forward and speaking directly to Gerson, said, “I’ve had a chance to learn about you. You have many people who love you. Number one on that list are your parents.”

But, the judge added, “I don’t think you’ve really come to grips with your psychological issues. That’s particularly troubling.”

So imposed the maximum prison sentence for the allegation that Gerson used a gun against the officers, noting that with the number of guns and ammunition boxes inside the house, “It looked like someone was ready for battle.”


© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune