Search for cop killer focuses

Red Bluff rocked by first officer slaying since 1895

SCENE OF THE CRIME Mike Russell, a truck driver from Sacramento, fuels his car at the pump where Red Bluff Police Officer David Mobilio was shot last week.

SCENE OF THE CRIME Mike Russell, a truck driver from Sacramento, fuels his car at the pump where Red Bluff Police Officer David Mobilio was shot last week.

Photo By Tom Angel

Officer down:
The last time a law enforcement officer was murdered in Tehama County was in 1895, when Sheriff John Jasper Board was fatally shot while trying to apprehend a gang of train robbers.

The search for clues in the apparent slaying of a Red Bluff police officer took a sharper focus last week, as investigators began searching for a “scraggly haired” man they say may have been frequenting the site of the shooting.

Officials said the man, whom they described as a white male between 26 and 30 years old with brown wavy hair and a “grunge” look, had been seen by a witness in the area of the shooting for at least two days in a row prior to the actual crime. Investigators are describing the man as a witness rather than a suspect and are not saying who tipped them off.

In an unwelcome first for Red Bluff, Officer David Mobilio, 31, was shot and killed while on duty at about 1:30 a.m. Nov. 19 as he was fueling his patrol car at a gas station near the edge of town. Mobilio, an officer known for his gentle demeanor and his work with sixth-graders in the D.A.R.E. program, was found by a fellow officer after failing to respond a dispatcher’s radio message.

Investigators are being very tight-lipped about the particulars of the shooting. Information gleaned from official statements and newspaper reports indicates that officer Mobilio was shot twice, once in the head. So far, the type of weapon used has not been named.

Police Officer David Mobilio

Mobilio’s gun was found about three feet away from him with the safety off. According to remarks in the media attributed to Red Bluff Police Chief Robert Pettit, the officer’s sidearm had not been fired. There were apparently no surveillance cameras in the area that could have recorded the scene.

Rumors about the shooting, the first killing of a Red Bluff police officer since the town was incorporated in 1876, are rampant in the town of about 13,000 residents. Many Red Bluff residents have made tenuous connections between the officer’s slaying and the death of a suspect in Red Bluff police custody that occurred about two weeks ago. In that incident, Robert Rathje, who was said to have been running from police, died from what police called a massive heart attack. Investigators said they are following up on leads but remain unconvinced of a connection.

The Red Bluff Police Department, with a force strength of about 21 officers, is getting help from at least 35 extra investigators, culled from law enforcement agencies from across the northstate. Forensic investigators from the California Department of Justice blocked off the scene of the shooting the day after it happened to search for clues, concentrating their efforts on the gas station grounds and on the railroad tracks behind them. Tehama County Undersheriff Dennis Garton, an investigation spokesman, would not say what they were looking for or if they had found any clues.

“Somebody targeted a Red Bluff police officer, and we don’t know if it’s broader than that,” Garton said. “I wish I knew.”

At the Red Bluff police station and at Cone-Kimball plaza downtown, people left flowers and cards in Mobilio’s memory. A memorial was scheduled Tuesday at the Red Bluff fairgrounds.

Investigators are hoping that a tipster will emerge with information leading them to the alleged killer. They are also looking for a brown, mid-'90s Oldsmobile Acheiva, in which a Highway Patrol officer saw a man matching the description of the possible witness on the night of the shooting. Anyone with information is asked to call (800) 500-8944.