SAN DIEGO — A man who punched and choked two San Diego police officers, then later opened fire on a pair of police snipers during a 2016 Clairemont-area SWAT standoff, was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 34 years in state prison.
Hayden Abraham Gerson, 36, was convicted earlier this year of nearly a dozen felonies, including attempted voluntary manslaughter, assault on a peace officer with a semi-automatic firearm, making criminal threats, shooting at an inhabited building and harm to, or interference with, a police dog causing great bodily injury.
Jurors also determined that Gerson was sane at the time of the standoff, but were unable to reach consensus on a pair of attempted murder counts, the most serious charges Gerson faced. Gerson’s attorneys argued at trial that a combination of mental illness and drug use led to the violent altercation with police, making him not fully conscious of his actions that night.
The incident unfolded when two officers responded to Gerson’s home on the night of Dec. 12, 2016, at the behest of his ex-girlfriend, who had called 911 and reported that he’d been violent with her. She later recanted those claims on the witness stand.
The officers tried to detain Gerson, but he refused to comply 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, Deputy District Attorney Oscar Hagstrom said. 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.” 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.”
Gerson’s attorneys said that mental illness played a key role in the standoff, with undiagnosed bipolar mania and psychosis causing him to suffer from delusions, including beliefs that he was God and that he could control events such as volcanoes and earthquakes with his mind.
His attorneys argued that since the incident, he has been on the road to recovery. They also emphasized that he has no prior criminal record and that there were no blemishes while he was out on bail following his arrest.
In a statement to the court, Gerson expressed remorse over what happened and pleaded for the minimum possible sentence, so that he may one day be with his fiancee and children. “That night was the worst night of my life,” Gerson said. “I can’t put into words how remorseful that I am.”
The defense sought a nine-year sentence and urged San Diego County Superior Court Judge Kenneth K. So to strike a 20-year gun enhancement, which he declined to do.
The judge told Gerson that though he’d made positive strides, “I don’t think you’ve really come to grips with your psychological or psychiatric issues. That’s particularly troubling.” The “extremely serious conduct” involved and the amount of weapons and ammunition found inside the house also precluded him from striking the enhancement, So said.
“The first time you came out of the house with a gun, you could have easily been killed,” the judge said, noting the “remarkable restraint” law enforcement displayed during the standoff. “I don’t take any comfort in imposing this sentence, but this is the best that I can come up with after watching and listening to the trial,” So said.