Wednesday’s on an older man by a younger man wielding a handgun may have been a case of overblown vigilantism.
Police say that at about 3 p.m., 23-year-old Ashley Viola witnessed a man strike a woman near the corner of San Mateo Drive and E. 3rd Avenue “almost knocking her down.” The victim in that assault was described as a 57-year-old San Mateo resident. The man kept on walking, according to police.
Police determined that Viola, who was driving a car, witnessed this assault and became angry. After asking the woman if she was OK, he parked, walked up to the older man and pulled out a silver .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun.
With several people in the area, the police were called right away and arrived at the scene quickly.
“SMPD’s assigned downtown officer and another uniformed officer were on the scene immediately,” police said in a statement. After drawing their weapons on Viola and telling them to drop his gun, Viola instead “turned toward the officers with the gun still in hand,” police said.
“The officers showed great restraint and continued to order suspect Viola to drop the handgun. (He) finally complied, dropped the weapon and was safely taken into custody,” police said.
The incident rattled downtown merchants and patrons who witnessed the conflict.
“Saw it toward the end once the police pulled up in front of my store,” wrote Jamie Sears Turri, owner of , on San Mateo Patch’s Facebook page. “I noticed the street was on lockdown and heard there was a gun. Myself and my customer went inside and locked the door to be safe until we knew it was OK.”
Kiera McKernan, a manager at at that intersection, said a customer came in screaming for her to call 911. She looked across the street and saw the confrontation happening in front of the .
“An older gentleman was standing out there and a younger kid pulled a gun on him and was pointing it at him,” she said.
The older man was trying to hide behind a newspaper rack, and the gunman, who she said looked no older than 25, was circling the rack trying to get to him, holding a silver gun, McKernan said.
“He was waving it and making it really known that he had a gun,” she said.
She said at one point the younger man cornered the other man and looked like he was going to shoot him.
“He was getting ready to do whatever,” she said.
That was when police arrived with what she said looked like shotguns and told him to drop the weapon and get on the ground, McKernan said.
The young man initially pointed the gun in the air then tossed it under a car and lay on the ground, allowing police to arrest him, she said.
She said that when officers put him in the back of a patrol car, he was crying.
“I was so scared when it first happened, but thank God they caught him,” she said.
“We have an amazing police dept that responds immediately,” Turri wrote. “We are all lucky to have officer Robert Anderson as our downtown officer. He never misses a beat!”
Tried to Shoot?
Across the street from the U.S. Bank, an employee at said it looked like the younger man tried to shoot the older man.
“From our side we heard him click the gun three times but we didn’t see any bullets coming out,” she said.
She said that at that point she assumed it was a toy gun, but then saw the gunman fishing around in his pocket and then making motions as if he were trying to reload the gun.
She said it looked as though the two were involved in an argument and that she heard both yelling, although she couldn’t make out what they were saying. The older man was wearing a white T-shirt, and the younger man was wearing a T-shirt and a baseball cap.
The employee said she tried to call 911 and no one answered, but then she heard sirens so she hung up.
She then saw officers with what looked like shotguns running toward the suspect, who had disappeared behind a van.
Meanwhile, down the street, Bruce Wynn, a salesman at , had closed the store after a “hysterical” woman ran in asking him to call 911 and saying there had been a shootout down the street, he said.
Wynn said he locked the store doors and was preparing to “herd” customers into the basement if needed.
Police came by the store after the incident was over and asked about any damage from bullets.
“A cop came into our store and asked if there were any holes in our walls,” he said.
After police took the gunman into custody, streets remained closed while officers carried out an investigation. Third Avenue was closed between San Mateo Drive and El Camino Real until around 5 p.m.
Viola, whose last known address was in San Pablo, has been booked into the San Mateo County Jail for assault with a firearm and other charges.
“Viola needlessly jeopardized many lives by introducing a weapon into a situation that involved a simple assault,” police said. “If it were not for the officers on scene, this situation could have proven to be tragic.”
Bay City News contributed to this report.