SANTA BARBARA COUNTY — It was late on the night of June 12th when the sleepy bedroom community of Buellton became the scene of a tense 7-hour standoff between multiple law enforcement agencies and 53-year-old local resident Michael Lee Johnson.
According to Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Kelly Hoover, Johnson had “reportedly threatened to set the family home on fire with his wife in it.”
When that news hit the switchboard at the SBSD 911 Emergency Dispatch, SBSD deputies rushed to the reported residence, soon determined that Johnson was “on active county probation for a crime of violence” and was suspected to be in possession of multiple firearms inside the house.
Once deputies secured the location and moved Johnson’s wife and household pets outside of the home, it became apparent that their suspect was armed with a knife and had no intention of stepping outside regardless of official entreaty to do so.
It was at this point that deputies “smelled the odor of natural gas” emanating from the residence, whereupon neighboring residences were evacuated and others in the area were advised to shelter in place.
Not long afterward, multiple public agencies responded to the scene, including officers of the California Highway Patrol, Santa Barbara County Fire Department units, the SBSD Special Enforcement Team, and the SBSD Hostage Negotiation Team. The Special Enforcement Team, suspecting that Johnson had turned on the gas inside the home with nefarious intention, disconnected the house from all utility services.
Throughout the pre-dawn hours of June 13th SBSD deputies worked to establish communications with Johnson. It was at 4:30 a.m. that deputies “used distractionary devices” to no avail, and subsequently fired tear gas cannisters inside the house.
At 6:00 a.m., Johnson stepped outside and into the waiting arms of law enforcement. Johnson, who has suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, was transported to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for emergency medical treatment.
A subsequent service of search warrant upon the residence led deputies to the discovery of “several firearms and other weapons,” pursuant to which Johnson was “booked in absentia” at Santa Barbara County Jail on charges of making criminal threats and attempted arson, with his bail set at $75,000.
Photo: Courtesy Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department