SAN LEANDRO, CA (AP)--A man who protested government inspections of his sausage factory was in custody June 22 after allegedly shooting three inspectors to death and chasing a fourth with a gun after they showed up for a visit.
The Santos Linguisa factory had recently reopened after being closed for health violations. Its owner, Stuart Alexander, is a former mayoral candidate in this Bay Area community with a history of legal and financial problems.
The bodies of the three victims--two inspectors for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a state meat inspector--were found in a corner office June 21. They had multiple gunshot wounds.
The names of the two men and woman were not immediately released.
The fourth inspector narrowly escaped, fleeing down the street as Alexander ran after him and fired in his direction, San Leandro Police Lt. Dan Marchetti said.
Alexander, 39, eventually turned around, set the gun down inside the factory and waited outside, he said. He was captured without incident a few minutes later.
A sign outside the factory, which has been in Alexander's family for three generations, decried alleged harassment by inspectors. It was signed by Alexander.
"To all our great customers, the USDA is coming into our plant harassing my employees and me, making it impossible to make our great product," the sign reads. "Gee, if all meat plants could be in business for 79 years without one complaint, the meat inspectors would not have jobs. Therefore, we are taking legal action against them."
Danny Gomes, a friend of Alexander's who waited outside the police tape at the factory for news, told The Daily Review of Hayward that Alexander was upset because inspectors wanted him to raise the temperature of his meat while preparing sausage.
"He was a good man, but pressure, pressure--everybody blows up under pressure," said Michael Smith, another friend.
Phone messages left June 22 with the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service in Washington and with the state health department were not immediately returned.
The unarmed inspectors arrived at about 2 p.m. and called a supervisor to say that Alexander was not there, Marchetti said. The shooting started 90 minutes later inside the storefront factory, where about 10 employees worked for Alexander.
Police found three guns inside the plant, located a few miles south of Oakland. FBI spokesman Andrew Black said federal agents also are investigating.
Alexander could face federal charges and a person convicted of murder of a federal officer or employee could face the death penalty, Black said.
Alexander was taken to the San Leandro city jail, arrested on suspicion of murder and attempted murder. Federal charges are possible.
The factory was closed in January and reopened in March, according to Jackie Galvan, a longtime friend of Alexander. She said he had been harassed for months, and that inspectors would show up frequently, bothering employees.
"He did everything they asked of him," Galvan said. "He was the most mild-mannered person I've ever known."
Marchetti had a different view.
"He was pretty vocal about, well, everything," Marchetti said. "A lot of people apparently had words with him. I don't know of any recent threats, however."
Alexander, who ran for mayor of San Leandro in 1998, was arrested in 1996 on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse and other charges for allegedly attacking his 75-year-old neighbor after they argued over garbage on Alexander's property. The charges were dropped after Alexander paid his neighbor $10,000, according to court records.
Alexander has filed for bankruptcy twice, most recently in January, according to court records. Several lawsuits claim that Alexander did not repay tens of thousands of dollars in personal loans.
Calling the shootings an "unspeakably barbarous act," Gov. Gray Davis said he had ordered flags at state-owned buildings to be flown at half-staff in honor of the slain state inspector.
"These investigators were working hard, doing their jobs, protecting California consumers," Davis said.