Former Fairfield police Detective Mark Smith is grateful to be alive, 25 years after being shot and seriously wounded by a suspected drug dealer.
At 1:42 a.m. Feb. 24, 1989, the Oakland Police Department, with assistance from Fairfield police, went to search the home of Roberto Adolpho Ramirez on Hayes Street in Fairfield.
“In the late ’80s, Bay Area law enforcement cracked down using task forces. The big-time drug dealers moved to the suburbs, but sold drugs in the larger cities,” Smith said. “Ramirez was a model citizen in Fairfield, but was moving kilos of cocaine in the Bay Area.”
Police identified themselves in English and Spanish, then attempted to force their way into the house. Ramirez fired a .357-caliber revolver at the police, hitting Oakland officer Marc Burrell and Smith.
“The house had a room built into the garage, which was at a 90-degree angle to the front door and Ramirez’s son was sleeping in there. He actually stood over his son’s bed when he shot out the windows sideways at the officers that were at the front door,” Smith said. “I was at the opposite corner looking toward the back of the house to see if anybody came out of the windows.”
Smith was knocked to the ground by the force of the shot, which went between the panels of his bulletproof vest. His aorta, liver, pancreas and large bowel sustained serious damage.
“Most doctors that look at the record told me it was a 99 percent fatal injury. With an abdominal injury, if it doesn’t kill you, the infections usually do,” Smith said.
Officer Burrell was shot in the arm and treated and released from NorthBay Medical Center. Smith spent the next three months there.
The shooting of Smith came just a few years after two Solano County law enforcement officers were killed in the line of duty. Fairfield Police Sgt. Art Koch was shot July 28, 1984, responding to a disturbance call, and Deputy Jose Cisneros was gunned down Aug. 25, 1985, by two juveniles who had stolen a van.
After shooting Smith and Burrell, Ramirez holed up in his house. At 3:45 a.m., he surrendered and used the same son whose bed he had shot over at officers as a human shield. The search yielded 40 ounces of cocaine worth $30,000.
In 1991, Smith retired from police work, but three years later began working for the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office, where he stayed for nearly 18 years before retiring.
Ramirez was charged with two counts of attempted murder, along with several drug and assault charges. His wife Eladia was also arrested for possession of cocaine. Before they could be tried, they skipped bail and have never been brought to justice.
“Ramirez was allowed to post a $500,000 property bond straight to the county on a gas station in East Los Angeles that his friend owned that was appraised at $750,000. He didn’t have to go through a bail bondsman, who would have done his due diligence to determine if the property was actually worth that much,” Smith said. “His judge later apologized to me.”
Smith discovered the county had not gone after the property after Ramirez skipped town. Due to a leaking underground gasoline tank that contaminated the soil, it was not worth the bond.
In a search for justice, Smith contacted TV shows “America’s Most Wanted” and “Unsolved Mysteries” and the latter did a profile that aired Dec. 8, 1995. In 2006, Ramirez’s daughter, interviewed by Fairfield and Stanislaus County investigators, said her father died in Mexico, but that has not been proven.
Smith has a few lingering effects from the shooting, but looks back on his extended hospital stay as the grueling part.
“Getting shot once is nowhere near as painful as the treatment. I was poked and prodded. I had an IV they had to redo every three days and they used up all the veins in my arms so they had to start sticking needles in my feet,” Smith said. “I never had a fear of getting shot again, but after spending three months there, I do have a fear of hospitals.”
Reach Fairfield writer Tony Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.