Former Santa Clara County deputy pleads in fake cop shooting

Former Santa Clara County deputy pleads in fake cop shooting

SAN JOSE — A disgraced former Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy has been convicted in a bizarre case in which authorities say he inexplicably staged a fake on-duty shooting of himself on a remote road near the Uvas Reservoir four years ago.

Sukhdeep Gill, 30, pleaded no contest Tuesday to a misdemeanor charge that he staged a fake shooting of himself when he was a Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy in January 2020. (Photo courtesy of the Santa Clara Co. Sheriff’s Office) 

Sukhdeep Gill, 30, pleaded no contest Tuesday — the day his preliminary examination was scheduled to start — after agreeing to a court offer to reduce his felony vandalism charge to a misdemeanor, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, which objected to the leniency.

As part of the court agreement, Gill will have to perform 150 hours of community service, pay unspecified restitution and surrender his policing license to the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. The latter requirement means he will be barred from serving as a police officer again in California.

Gill’s listed attorney did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the plea, for which Gill was not required to be present in court.

In the wake of the Jan. 31, 2020 drive-by shooting claim by Gill, the sheriff’s office called the incident an “unprovoked attack” and that it was a “close call” between life and death for the then-deputy. But a year later, the agency changed its tune and said its investigation uncovered significant factual inconsistencies and no evidence of another motorist being on the lightly traveled Uvas Road at the time of the purported shooting.

“I have gone to officers’ funerals after they are shot,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a statement Tuesday. “I hope to never hear again about an officer faking being shot. It’s outrageous, diverts public resources, and dishonors officers who put their lives on the line to protect us.”

According to the sheriff’s office investigation, on the night of the shooting report, Gill told his supervisors and later detectives that he was on patrol and pulled over on the northbound side of Uvas Road near Wallace Place, just south of the reservoir parking lot, so that he could urinate.

He reported that a vehicle approached, the driver turned off its headlights, and someone in the vehicle fired four shots, with one bullet hitting him squarely in the chest and destroying his body camera, and three bullets hit his SUV. Gill also reported he fired two retaliatory shots with his 9mm service pistol, as he tumbled down an embankment.

The sheriff’s office staged a massive manhunt, and stopped drivers whose cars matched Gill’s phony description of the shooter’s vehicle. But none were linked to the shooting, and home security footage from the area showed no cars heading toward or away from Gill’s location 10 minutes before and after the shots were fired.

Investigators had more grounds for suspicion: Two .380 bullet casings were recovered on the passenger side of the patrol SUV, well away from the roadway, and no markings to suggest that they had been inadvertently kicked over or displaced by a car tire. When they tried to recreate the shooting — firing at a standing target from a moving vehicle — they could not replicate the pattern in which the bullet casings fell at the shooting site.

But when they decided to shoot at the target from a stationary position, the test pattern matched.

In the summer of 2020, sheriff’s detectives started surveilling Gill, and he seemed to notice, reaching speeds of 120 mph on the freeway and 80 mph on city streets in San Jose to elude the tail, according to a police report. Gill’s home was searched three months later, and detectives found he had two .380 pistols registered to him, but did not recover guns or ammunition that matched the crime scene.

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Given the facts of the case, Deputy District Attorney Jason Malinsky, who works in his office’s Public and Law Enforcement Integrity Unit, objected to the charge reduction, saying that the original felony vandalism charge was already limited in encompassing the scope of Gill’s crime.

“Making it a misdemeanor undermined the seriousness. He fabricated a shooting, and multiple deputies responded who believed this was real,” Malinsky said. “They believed two people out there were randomly driving up on law enforcement officers and shooting at them, and were on the loose.”

Additionally, Malinsky noted that a felony conviction would bar Gill from possessing guns.

“I thought it was appropriate that he should not be allowed to have firearms.”