SAN DIEGO — A man accused of trying to gun down a pair of police snipers during a 2016 Clairemont-area SWAT standoff explicitly stated his intent to kill officers, a prosecutor alleged Tuesday, while a defense attorney maintained that mental illness coupled with an act of excessive force sent his client over the edge.
Hayden Abraham Gerson, 36, is accused of firing on two police snipers who were positioned on the roof of a home adjacent to his residence, as well as choking a lawman and a police dog and punching another officer on Dec. 12, 2016. He faces 44 years to life in prison if convicted of 11 felony counts, including attempted murder of a police officer, interfering with an officer and harm to, or interference with, a police dog causing great bodily injury.
Deputy District Attorney Oscar Hagstrom said in his closing argument that two officers responded to Gerson’s home due to a number of disturbing the peace calls, some of which indicated that domestic violence might be involved. One of the calls was placed by Gerson himself, who told officers he was only joking and there was no emergency.
Around 9:30 p.m., officers found Hayden’s ex-girlfriend in front of the home. She told the officers that Gerson was on drugs and believed he was the Hindu god Lord Shiva, according to the prosecutor.
Gerson was eventually contacted and asked the officers several times why they were there, Hagstrom said. The officers tried to detain Gerson, but he refused, and was subsequently zapped with a stun gun, which was ineffective, according to body-worn camera footage played for the jury.
Gerson then choked one of the officers “nearly to unconsciousness” and punched that officer’s partner in the face, Hagstrom alleged. He said Gerson only released his grip on the officer’s throat when the lawman’s partner struck Gerson in the head with a baton.
“I will (expletive) murder you,” Gerson can be heard saying on the body camera footage. “Call it in, see what happens. I’ll (expletive) you up.”
Hagstrom said Gerson’s statements were “some of the best possible evidence regarding someone’s intent that you can get in an attempted murder case.”
Gerson then retreated back into his home and emerged with what turned out to be an unloaded gun, which prompted a SWAT team response.
About two hours after the initial response, Gerson opened fire on officers out of his bedroom window and the officers returned fire, but no one was struck, Hagstrom said. A short time later, police fired tear gas into the home and Gerson came out of the residence unarmed, but choked a police dog prior to being arrested, the prosecutor said.
Multiple weapons and “more than 600 rounds of ammunition” were discovered inside the home, according to Hagstrom, who said Gerson was “preparing for war.”
Defense attorney Michael Pancer told the jury that Gerson did not fire directly at the officers but rather into the air, in just one of a series of irrational actions he engaged in that night, illustrative of his delusional thought process.
In addition to suffering from bipolar mania and psychosis, Pancer said that the baton blow to the head and use of a stun gun left Gerson with a traumatic brain injury, which had to be taken into account when explaining his behavior that night.
A number of bizarre claims Gerson made in the months leading up to the shooting were on display throughout the trial, including beliefs that he was God and that he could control events such as volcanoes and earthquakes with his mind.
The attorney said that despite those delusions, Gerson generally functioned well, was successful both in his work and in raising his daughter, and was not a violent person. However, he said Gerson’s various bizarre statements were more than adequate evidence that the defendant suffers from mental illnesses and was not fully conscious of his actions.
Hagstrom alleged that excessive drug use fueled those delusions. The prosecutor also denied that the actions of the officers exacerbated Gerson’s mental condition, stating there was ample evidence of his erratic behavior dating well before the shooting.
Pancer alleged that the standoff escalated because Gerson’s ex- girlfriend had “an agenda to have him committed” and the attorney accused her of filing a false police report.
Pancer said the ex-girlfriend unsuccessfully tried to have Gerson involuntarily placed in a mental hospital that night, and when that failed, alleged that he’d been violent with her to prompt a police response.
When officers arrived, Gerson asked why they were at the home, but the officers tried to detain him without explaining why they were there, making their actions unlawful, the defense attorney said.
Jurors will begin deliberations on Wednesday morning.