If there had been a more restrictive policy of booking and releasing people who are arrested in Merced County, former Hollister police officer Chad Browning may have never had the chance to go on a driving rampage that could have been ended in tragedy Sunday in Gilroy.
Browning, age 42, is the former Hollister police officer suspected of stealing a car and going on a driving rampage Sunday at Gilroy High School. Police say he attempted to drive onto a field where Pop Warner athletes from Hollister and other areas were playing games at the time. Alert Pop Warner onlookers closed a gate before Browning could enter, while a brave parent jumped in the vehicle in an attempt to stop him as well. After Browning backed up the car and did a U-turn, a Gilroy officer fired one shot at the suspect, causing the vehicle to lose control before his arrest.
Browning faces charges for felony assault with a deadly weapon against a peace officer, felony auto theft, misemeanor methamphetamine possession and misdemeanor theft of personal property in Santa Clara County Court.
It turns out Browning had been arrested just two days earlier in the Santa Nella area of Merced County, near Highway 152 and Dinosaur Point, after he was accused of slapping and spitting on a police officer to go with cocaine possession. Merced County jail personnel booked and released him at the time.
A Merced County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, Daryl Allen, told San Benito Live the Merced County jail has a policy of booking and releasing people arrested on misdemeanor charges as long as they’re not domestic violence matters.
Browning’s arrest in Merced County resulted in the sheriff’s office there recommending misdemeanor counts against him, and Allen confirmed that even the battery against a peace officer allegation didn’t rise to a felony level or something for which the jail would hold a suspect.
Allen pointed out that the battery against a peace officer charge is just a misdemeanor due to Proposition 47 approved in 2014 that lowered an array of crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
“Yes, if there were any felonies on here, we would have held him,” Allen said.
Allen also expanded on the situation surrounding Browning’s arrest. He said Browning had been in the middle of a median when taken into custody.
“He started kind of flipping out while he was in the car, saying that somebody was following him,” Allen said.
Allen clarified on a previous statement about police initially intending to take Browning to a safer location before the alleged slapping and spitting incidents.
“The officers told him we’ll let you out when we get you to a safer location,” Allen said. “They stopped to deal with him. That’s when assaulted the officer.”
In San Benito County, the sheriff’s office will release suspects on their own recognizance on all non-violent misdemeanors.
“Any misdemeanor (suspect) with violence or a felony has to post bail,” said sheriff’s Capt. Eric Taylor.
Otherwise, a suspect would have to post bail, though Taylor said those dollar amounts can be relatively small in some cases.
“But it pretty much, anything that’s any type of violence or any type of felony they would have to bail to get out,” Taylor said.
Browning was a patrol officer for the Hollister Police Department until 2007. He started at some point before 2003, Police Chief David Westrick confirmed.