Fairfield police snipers play key role for SWAT team

One shot with intent to kill. The Fairfield Police Department has four snipers. Part of their job is to kill the bad guys before the bad guy can kill police or innocent people.

Almost every time the 20-member Special Weapons and Tactics team rolls out, it uses two or four specialists -- the snipers whose job it is to observe, stay hidden and -- if need be -- kill.

Last year the department's SWAT team was activated 18 times. So far in 2011 it has not been called into action.

'We are the eyes on the situation,' sniper team leader Troy Oviatt said. Those eyes can be anywhere from a few yards to as far as 1,000 yards -- more than a half mile -- away from whatever the rest of the SWAT team is targeting. For example, if one of the snipers was positioned under the downtown Fairfield arch, the officer could hit the target if it was in front of Allan Witt Park.

The last time the SWAT team was deployed was in November 2010, when it was hunting Ricardo D. Martinez, 50, at his Fairfield home. The team wanted to surprise Martinez. He had already fled town, but police didn't know that until they raided his home.

Minutes before the SWAT team went to Martinez' home, the four snipers -- in teams of two -- got into place, hiding near the home. Each team positioned itself so members could see all sides of the house.

The decision to call out the SWAT team was made a short time earlier. The team geared up and briefed at headquarters. They knew Martinez was probably armed and that he had allegedly shot and killed his ex-girlfriend and her companion the previous night.

Oviatt decided which of his fellow snipers would be aiming their automatic 30-round Colt M4 rifles at the house and which would cover the sniper's back and observe the entire area. The Colt can strike a small target more than 600 yards away.

Getting the two teams invisibly into an invisible place was easy this time -- it only took a few minutes. 'We've deployed over rooftops, we've crawled through bushes,' Oviatt said.

Sometimes it can take 30 to 40 minutes to covertly place snipers in a camouflaged spot. The two teams looked for any possible threats to the rest of the SWAT team. They looked for any changes from what they knew about the home from their briefing.

A bullhorn warning was made, flash-bang stun grenades were fired at the front of the home by the snipers and the SWAT team went into the empty home. Martinez was found by another SWAT team a few days later -- a 1,000 miles away in New Mexico.

While the department has had sniper teams for many years, the current team came together 18 months ago with Oviatt, Tony Detomasi, Brett Morris and Justin Gutierrez.

'I chose to become a sniper because I wanted a different experience and wanted exposure to a different element of the SWAT team,' Gutierrez said, echoing the sentiments of his teammates.

'A lot of people think it's shooting at people but a lot of it is observing,' Oviatt said.

SWAT team commander Capt. Darrin Moody said a sniper hasn't used deadly force for the SWAT team in at least 20 years.

Each sniper team member has about 10 years in the department and five years on the SWAT team. Each has taken an intensive, 80-hour course on sniper skills -- including observing and reporting, ballistics, marksmanship, field craft, movement, stalking, camouflage and use of force.

The course details are very pinpointed. For example, course work covering bullet travel from the muzzle tip to the target covers the effects of humidity, weather, wind effect, gravity and distance.

The sniper team members also spend a lot of time through the year honing their skills. In 2010, each spent about 150 hours at the shooting range or joining other police, California Highway Patrol or FBI sniper teams for other specialized training.

Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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