Police Officer Kills Girlfriend, Self In Saipan Law Office

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On-duty officer was assigned to guard Governor’s residence

By Ferdie De La Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 22, 2014) – An on-duty police officer fatally shot his girlfriend with his service gun inside a law office in Garapan before shooting himself in the head Friday morning.

The tragic incident stunned the community and the Department of Public Safety as it happened a few days before Christmas. A similar shooting involving another police officer and his girlfriend also occurred in Garapan in January 2013.

Joanna T. Vitug, 30, was pronounced dead by Dr. Gregory Kotheimer at 11:55am, while Police Officer 1 Christopher S. Santos, 24, was pronounced dead by Dr. John Tudela at 12:56pm.

Vitug and Santos have one child together. Vitug has three other children.

Police said the Department of Public Safety’s Dispatch received a call about a shooting incident at the Mailman & Kara law offices in Garapan at about 11:08am.

Police officers that responded to the scene immediately secured the area and came upon two victims of gunshot wounds. Both Vitug and Santos were rushed to the Commonwealth Health Center, where they succumbed to their injuries.

It was learned that Santos had a verbal altercation with Vitug inside the law office, where she worked, prior to the shooting.

According to witnesses’ accounts, Santos and Vitug were arguing when Santos pulled out his DPS-issued firearm and shot Vitug in the head before shooting himself in the head as well.

Saipan Tribune learned that both lawyers Bruce Mailman and Maya Kara were inside the office when the shooting happened.

Saipan Tribune tried to obtain comments from Kara but she has yet to respond to the email as of press time.

Santos has been with DPS for four years. His last assignment was with Uniform Services.

DPS Commissioner James Deleon Guerrero said DPS, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation processed the crime scene and collected evidence.

At a news briefing on Friday at 4pm, Deleon Guerrero said DPS will release more information once they conclude their investigation.

He extended his condolences to the families of Vitug and Santos, saying the incident came at the worst time for both families as the holiday season is approaching.

"Today is a sad day for the men and women for the Department of Public Safety," Deleon Guerrero said.

He said they first received information that the shooting happened at a building that houses the Shenanigan Restaurant. Police later learned that it actually occurred on the second floor of a building where the Shenanigan Restaurant is located. The restaurant is on the first floor, while the law office is on the second floor.

"We express our deepest regrets to both families and also to the members of the community for this unfortunate incident," Deleon Guerrero said.

He revealed that Santos was assigned that morning to perform guard duties at the governor’s residence.

He said Santos had left the governor’s residence after consulting with his supervisor to buy some items.

Deleon Guerrero said he believes that Santos left to buy drinks because he does have a small refrigerator at the guard’s post.

The commissioner said Santos never returned since his supervisor assumed duties at that particular location.

Deleon Guerrero said they have yet to clarify with forensics whether or not the 9mm handgun issued to Santos was indeed used.

"We suspect that was the weapon utilized in the course of the incident," he said.

The commissioner said they will certainly request the attorney general to authorize an autopsy on the remains of Santos and Vitug. He said the final decision whether or not an autopsy is needed rests with the OAG and not DPS.

Police immediately blocked the roads in the vicinity of the crime scene and rerouted the traffic flow. An ambulance was seen in front of the entrance to Mailman and Kara law office past noon.

Investigators immediately cordoned the area as many bystanders, including tourists, flocked to the place.

Until DPS Commissioner Deleon Guerrero disclosed initial information about the incident past 1pm, rumors and wrong information swirled all over the island and on social networks about what happened.

DPS police information officer Travis Hurst conducted a press briefing shortly after talking with Deleon Guerrero.

One bystander even stated that two people were shot and that the gunman was still on the loose and that officers were hunting him in Garapan.

Another worried woman rushed to the scene after getting the wrong information. She stated that she has a family member who works at Shenanigans and that she heard the shooting happened in the restaurant.

Shenanigan Restaurant staff did not hear the gunshots. The employees only learned about the shooting when police officers arrived. At that time, there was no customer in the restaurant.

Deleon Guerrero said he has been communicating with Maisie N. Tenorio, the executive director of the Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence, as the coalition provides some counseling assistance. Deleon Guerrero said the coalition did the same thing during the last shooting incident in 2013.

The commissioner was referring to an incident on Jan. 12, 2013, when Police Officer 1 Josef Deleon Guerrero fatally shot himself after shooting his girlfriend near True North Bar and Grill in Garapan. The girlfriend survived. Just like Santos, Josef Deleon Guerrero was also police officer 1 and 24 years old.

Commissioner Deleon Guerrero said Tenorio offered to provide some assistance and that is something that they’re currently coordinating.

"Whenever an incident like this occurs and it involves an officer, we would make sure that proper counseling assistance is offered to them, at the very least to those primary responders," he said.

Deleon Guerrero said DPS does not have a readily available counselor.

"This is quite shocking to a lot of officers and employees of the department and to me personally…" he said.

When asked if DPS will revisit the department’s recruitment process for officers considering that the two shooting cases involved young officers, Deleon Guerrero said one of the things that they try to emphasize to personnel is that if they do detect an officer that may be in need of attention because of what’s happening within their relationship, they must notify the management right away.

Deleon Guerrero said the policy of the department is that whenever someone is either accused or suspected of having even a minor domestic dispute, they would recall that officer’s firearm in order to prevent any incident from occurring.

He said in Friday’s incident, based on his conversation with the police director, it was something that the officers never saw coming.

"This is going to be a lesson learned from a lot of different reasons. We want to know what are the things that triggered this incident, triggered the occurrence of this incident and to take whatever actions are necessary in order for us to prevent another incident from happening," the commissioner said.

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