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February 27, 2024

Ex-Hollister cop suspected of driving stolen car on field near football game

A former Hollister Police Department officer is the suspect arrested Sunday after authorities allege he drove a stolen vehicle onto a Gilroy field in the direct vicinity where local youth football players had been playing a game, a Gilroy police spokesman confirmed to San Benito Live on Monday.

Gilroy police arrested Chad Browning, age 42, after the incident Sunday afternoon. Gilroy police allege he drove onto an unattended field at Gilroy High School. Gilroy police Capt. Joseph Deras also said it appears Browning intended to drive onto the field where Hollister Pop Warner players and cheerleaders had been playing when quick-thinking parents closed the gate and stopped him from entering that area where about 1,000 people had been playing or watching.

“He’d driven around an access road. We think, it was just speculation, that he was going to drive onto the field where the games were being played,” Deras told San Benito Live in an interview.

Deras said once people shut the gate to the football field area, Browning backed up, did a U-turn and left drove back toward the area where he entered the complex.

Browning is a former Hollister Police Department officer. He had been wanted on suspicion of stealing a vehicle in the Fresno area when an alert came across to police agencies like the one in Gilroy. After Browning is believed to have made a phone call to Gilroy police and mentioned the Gilroy High School field, officers immediately responded to that area, Deras said.

Deras also recounted how a brave male parent jumped in the vehicle driven by Browning and attempted to stop him. The parent was actually in the vehicle when police shot toward the suspect, while Deras said the involved officer was unaware that the parent had been in the vehicle at the time.

“We did not know he was in the car,” Deras said. “We didn’t have any idea anybody else was in the car.”

Officers were initially startled when that parent exited the back seat, but quickly realized the person was not a suspect.

“They already had their firearms out when that happened,” Deras said, when asked if officers had guns drawn on the parent.

This all happened after the Pop Warner P.A. announcer called a shelter in place to alert players and fans of the situation.

“They took it upon themselves to do that,” Deras said. “They gave that order when the officer first challenged this guy.”

Deras said some people in attendance hid under bleachers, while others ran toward the exit.

Gilroy police arrested Browning on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer, possession of methamphetamine and auto theft, Deras said.

Hollister Police Chief David Westrick confirmed Browning worked at the Hollister Police Department. Westrick said Browning was a patrol officer. The chief said Browning had been employed in Hollister when he arrived in 2003 and left around 2006 or 2007.

A Hollister Pop Warner junior peewee football team and cheerleaders were on the nearby field, while Deras believed it was a parent from the Gilroy area who jumped in the vehicle.

According to a Facebook post from Hollister Vikings Youth Football and Cheer posted Sunday night:

“Today, during the JP game between Gilroy and Hollister, there was an incident involving the police and a suspect where a shot was fired around the immediate area where the game was being played. Cheer participants and others found cover under the bleachers while upcoming PW teams were locked down in the locker room”

Representatives for the Hollister Vikings organization were not immediately available Monday morning.

According to the Gilroy Police Department in a statement released Sunday, the following occurred:

In the morning hours of September 9, 2018 the Gilroy Police Department was made aware of a stolen vehicle that occurred in the city of Fresno, California. These wanted bulletins are often forwarded to police agencies state wide. The suspect associated to the stolen vehicle had no direct ties to the Gilroy area. Included in the bulletin was information that the suspect is a former police officer and had access to firearms. He had recently tried to access a firearm from a family member.

At approximately 1:00 P.M. the suspect called the Gilroy Police communication’s center. He asked to borrow a cellular phone from a person in the area to call the police. During the call, he referenced the stolen vehicle case from Fresno. He told dispatchers that the woman who reported the vehicle stolen had been kidnapped and the stolen vehicle he had, was stolen from him while in Gilroy. The suspect refused to provide specific information to police dispatchers. The suspect disconnected with dispatchers and left the area, stealing the cellular phone from the developmentally disabled citizen who allowed him to use it.

Minutes later he called police dispatchers again. He made mention of athletic games taking place at the Gilroy High School campus and his desire to fight with police officers. Officers immediately responded to that area and located him driving a vehicle through an unattended ball field. This field is directly adjacent to the Gilroy High stadium where several hundred 5th and 6th graders playing in a series of Pop Warner program football games. Several parents attending the game, did an outstanding job in recognizing the danger, and rushed to close the gates leading the field where the young football players were engaged in their games.

There is no exit in the area and the suspect began to exit via the same path he took to enter the field. As officers moved into this area to contact him, he drove his vehicle directly at an officer who was on the same path and on foot. The officer was in a confined area and had no escape as this trail is lined with fencing on both sides. The officer feared he would be seriously injured or killed and he discharged his weapon once in an effort to defend himself. The officer was aware of the risks in the area and knew his backdrop was clear of any other people minimizing risks to those uninvolved in the incident.

The officers’ actions caused the suspect lost control of his vehicle in the field area and surrendered to officers. The attendees and players were ordered to shelter in place until the area was deemed safe. Nobody was injured in the event to include the officer or the suspect. The suspect is NOT an employee of or in any way affiliated with the Gilroy Unified School District or the Pop Warner program. Several witnesses were present to this event and will be interviewed by Detectives.

The officer will be placed on routine Administrative leave which is consistent with our department policy. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office has been notified and will review all related reports upon their completion. As this investigation is still unfolding, the identity of the suspect and his booking charges will be released in coming days.

Anyone with information regarding this crime are urged to call Gilroy Police Detectives at (408) 846-0350. Parties wishing to remain anonymous may call the We-Tip Line at (800) 782-7463.

Mug shot courtesy of the Merced County Sheriff’s Office