Suspect pleads not guilty in California deputy’s slaying

Modoc County Sheriff’s Deputy Jack Hopkins was killed while responding to a domestic disturbance. His suspected shooter is a 47-year-old sex offender. RECORD SEARCHLIGHT

ALTURAS, Calif. — Law enforcement officers shut down a block surrounding the Modoc County Superior Court on Friday for the first court appearance of a man accused of killing a sheriff’s deputy, a crime that has rocked the normally sleepy Northern California community.

“We’re the 10th largest county in the state of California, geographically, but we’re small — less than 10,000 people — and we’ve never had to deal with such a tragic loss,” Sheriff Mike Poindexter said before the arraignment of Jack Lee Breiner.

Breiner, appearing in an orange jumpsuit and using a wheelchair, pleaded not guilty to the murder of Deputy Jack Hopkins and attempted murder of Poindexter.

Breiner allegedly shot and killed Hopkins on Oct. 19 outside the county seat of Alturas as Hopkins responded to a family disturbance, Undersheriff William “Tex” Dowdy has said.

Poindexter later apprehended Breiner, who was shot in a gunfight that also caused minor wounds to the sheriff from glass pieces that hit him after Breiner shot at the sheriff’s car.

Breiner arrived from the Redding area, where he’s still being treated for gunshot wounds to his lower leg, Modoc County District Attorney Jordan Funk said. Deputies loaded him from a stretcher to the wheelchair to take him inside, where a judge forbade all of the about a dozen people who attended the hearing from carrying cellphones.

Hopkins’ parents, who live in Yreka, did not attend the hearing.

The block surrounding the Modoc County Superior Court was locked down ahead of Breiner’s transport from the jail to courthouse, a stretch of only a few hundred feet.

Officers also stood guard on the roof of the courthouse.

Breiner could face the death penalty if convicted, although Funk noted a pending statewide ballot initiative to repeal the death penalty could remove that option.

“We’ll know in a couple of weeks what the status of the death penalty is in the state,” Funk said.

Breiner will continue to be held without bail. Superior Court Judge David Mason appointed Madera-based Richard Ciummo & Associates to represent him. Funk said the same firm handles the hiring of county’s public defenders.

Law enforcement officers in Modoc County and elsewhere continue to mourn Hopkins’ death.

“Jack was great, I wish I had 10 more just like him,” Poindexter said before the arraignment.

Poindexter called Hopkins a team player who worked as a bailiff, patrol deputy and in other roles. He volunteered whenever needed.

“We’re a family and when you lose a family member and — I mean — need I say more? We’re pulling together, we’re trying,” Poindexter said.

At least two signs honoring Hopkins sat along Highway 395, one of only two major thoroughfares in the rural town in far Northern California.

“I just think it’s shock,” said Elsie Burke, who has lived in the area for more than 30 years and on-and-off before that, echoing what many others in the community have said.

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Hopkins was well known in the area.

“Every time you turn around another officer is being shot,” Burke said of the recent high-profile killings of police across the nation. “It touches you really closely, if not personally.”

Burke said the small-town sense that “everyone knows everyone” applies to Alturas.

Hopkins’ funeral is set for Nov. 5 in Yreka.

The Butte County Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Lassen County Sheriff Dean Growden, is handling the criminal investigation into the case.

The California Highway Patrol is handling the administrative investigation into the officer-involved shooting.

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