As Los Angeles Police Department officer Sean Schneider monitored police radio traffic by other officers pursuing a carjacking and homicide suspect who had an assault rifle, "I knew this wasn't going to end well," he said.
Schneider and his partner, who were working in a neighboring division, responded to help set up a perimeter to lock down the suspect, arriving on scene as he crashed the stolen car into another car in downtown Los Angeles.
The suspect was out of the car and shooting the rifle when Schneider, with his partner covering him, pulled a bystander out of a vehicle that was caught in the crossfire.
Los Angeles Police Department officer Sean Schneider’s Top Cop 2013 award is on display, along with his recruit school graduation plaque, at the home of his mother, Betty Schneider, in Pukalani. Schneider is a 1992 Seabury Hall graduate who grew up in Pukalani.
Los Angeles Police Department officer Sean Schneider (third from left in top row) and other winners of the 2013 Top Cops award pose with President Barack Obama at the White House on May 10.
Photo courtesy of SEAN SCHNEIDER
"He was stuck in the middle of the intersection," Schneider, who grew up in Pukalani, recalled in a telephone interview. "I'm sure he saw the guy start shooting. He had a clear view. When he looked at me, he looked a little frozen."
As it turned out, no one other than the suspect was injured in the Sept. 11 late-afternoon shooting.
Schneider, a 1992 Seabury Hall graduate, was among a dozen LAPD officers who were honored for their actions in capturing the suspect and preventing others from being harmed.
"These officers worked as cohesively as a well-oiled machine, trusting each other to perform their assigned tasks throughout this potentially deadly incident," according to a summary of the incident presented as part of the award. "Their exemplary skill, courage and professionalism under pressure are what make them Top Cops."
The Los Angeles officers were among more than 40 law enforcement officers from across the country who received 2013 Top Cops Awards from the National Association of Police Organizations. The awards were presented May 11 at a ceremony at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. The day before, the officers met President Barack Obama.
"He's very unassuming," Schneider said. "He was very friendly, very welcoming. It seemed like he was easy to talk to. We were there for several hours."
The officers stood behind Obama in the East Room of the White House as he gave a speech that was televised on CSPAN.
In the audience were officers' family members, including Schneider's mother, Betty Schneider of Pukalani, who got the chance to visit Washington for the first time over the Mother's Day weekend.
She said she had seen the LAPD incident televised on CNN, at the time not knowing her son had been one of the officers there. "Then he called me when he got the award," she said.
Sean Schneider remembered telling his mother he had been involved in the shooting but hadn't been hit.
"I didn't know it was going to be as publicized as it was," he said. "I had no idea it was going to go as high as D.C. I wasn't expecting it. It was good for my mom."
Schneider, who is 39 years old, was born in Singapore and moved to Maui with his parents in 1985 when he was 12 years old. He attended Pukalani Elementary and Kalama Intermediate schools before graduating from Seabury Hall.
Afterward, he served with the Marine Corps for four years, ending up at Camp LeJeune, N.C., with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines.
Schneider graduated from Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where he majored in criminology, before joining the LAPD.
"I knew I wanted to get into law enforcement, so I applied at different law enforcement agencies," he said. "I figured why not try the Los Angeles Police Department because they have a good reputation of being one of the best departments in the country, if not the world."
Schneider worked in a gang unit in LAPD's Rampart Division for a few years.
On the day of the high-speed chase that ended in the shootout, Schneider was assigned to a special problems unit investigating a rash of robberies and burglaries in the Olympic Division, which borders the Rampart Division where the pursuit began.
"The suspect was driving through different divisions," Schneider said. "We decided to monitor it in case something bad happened."
The suspect was a gang member whose brother had been fatally shot by police a couple of years earlier, Schneider said. He said the suspect had told friends he wouldn't be caught alive.
Six officers were in pursuit of the stolen 1995 Honda, which was equipped with a theft recovery system that allowed officers to track the location of the vehicle, when a sergeant confirmed the identity of the car thief, according to the award summary.
Schneider and his partner, officer Joseph Broussard, were among additional officers called to the scene to help set up a large perimeter to contain the suspect.
Using the car he had crashed into as a barricade, the suspect took an AK-47 rifle from his guitar case and began shooting at the officers, the award summary said. The suspect was shot and fell to the ground. "But rather than surrendering, he continued to spray bullets into the air," according to the summary.
That was when Broussard saw the man in his vehicle pinned down by the gunfire and began firing at the shooter while making his way to the man, the summary says. Schneider "also dodged the shooter's bullets and came to assist in the rescue," according to the summary.
When Schneider was trying to get the bystander out of the car, "I think he put it in reverse because it started to roll backward," he said. With the brake back on, "we pulled him out," Schneider said.
Meanwhile, a sergeant saw that the driver whose car was hit was still in her vehicle that was next to the shooter. With other officers covering, the sergeant opened the back passenger door and pulled the woman over the front seat to guide her to safety.
Eventually, the shooter's wounds took a toll and he was unable to continue shooting, according to the summary.
Pecco, a police K-9, was deployed so the officers could handcuff the shooter, who suffered numerous gunshot wounds. He was arrested for homicide, attempted homicide on the officers, carjacking, robbery with a deadly weapon and other felony charges.
"Nobody got hit except the individual that started it," Schneider said. "They hit cars, but that's it."
Schneider said he wasn't one of the officers who shot at the suspect.
"The other officers are the ones that deserve more credit because they actually assisted in stopping his actions," Schneider said. "There were a number of bystanders in the intersection when all this went down. I just pulled this guy out of the car. My partner covered me. Nothing spectacular."
It wasn't the first time Schneider has found himself in the line of fire.
About a year earlier, Schneider and his partner were hit by shotgun pellets when they responded to a call. Schneider had surgery to remove a pellet that lodged by his ear after he was hit to the right of his right eye.
While he said he's fine, his partner, who was hit in the eye, suffered worse injuries.
"I was lucky," Schneider said. "He got two or three pellets. I just got one."
Betty Schneider said she doesn't worry about her son.
"Worry won't help him," she said. "All I can do is pray every day.
"He loves what he does. He lives on adrenaline."
When he returns to Maui for regular visits, Sean Schneider said, he enjoys relaxing by hiking and going to the beach. "That's why I enjoy coming home to Maui," he said. "It's such a nice break."
When he was hired by the LAPD, Schneider thought he might return to Oregon after five years.
But a little more than 11 years later, "I've grown to love the department," he said.
"It's such a big city, and there's so many opportunities as a police officer to do different things," he said. "I enjoy being a cop in LA."
After having various assignments, Schneider now works as a field training officer for recruits who have graduated from the police academy, monitoring their progress and instructing them on basic police work.
"It's stressful at times," he said. "You get a chance to mold people."
He said receiving the Top Cops award was "once in a lifetime."
"Who gets to walk around the White House and meet the boss?" he said. "It was nice. They really, really treated us well."
Schneider said he appreciates how the awards help call attention to the job that police officers everywhere do daily.
"All the officers that were involved are very well deserving," he said. "I don't think I did anything that they wouldn't have done. That's the same with law enforcement around the country.
"I don't think too many people realize what officers do. They actually go out and they put their lives on the line when stuff happens like this. It takes a big incident, unfortunately, to make people realize that sometimes it's a thankless job. It's good that officers get recognized."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.