Commentary: And the Davis Serial Killer Saga Comes to an End – Or So We Hope

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – It has been a surreal week in Davis.  It seems like it finally came to an end on Thursday when Police Chief Darren Pytel announced that they had made an arrest of the suspect.

“I believe that we have the right person in custody, and I think that Davis can resume life as normal now,” Chief Pytel said.

It was a community on edge.  Walk around town, and you see signs on businesses indicating that they have temporarily moved their hours to daylight.  As someone often oblivious to the surrounding environment, having been used to as a young man walking in Southwest Washington, DC, late in the night alone, I took extra precautions walking to my car in the dark city hall parking lot on Tuesday night.

The news broke on Wednesday that the police had a person of interest—detained.  At that point, I really did not believe they had the guy.  For one thing, they had detained several people throughout the investigation, only to release them.

For another, the news coverage showed a guy who was calmly sitting on the curb.  Talking to other reporters before the press conference on Thursday, many of them shared the skepticism—the roads were not blocked, the man was not handcuffed—he did not seem like a guy who was about to be arrested and probably but not certainly spend the rest of his life in prison.

It wasn’t until I happened to be meeting with the West Sacramento Chief, when there was a press conference called for 2 pm on Thursday and he told me that the city of Davis had ended their mutual aid request, that it became obvious that the Davis Police believe they had the right person.

It’s a reminder that we should not be evaluating demeanor.  My friend Mark Godsey, of the Ohio Innocence Project, has pushed back on the notion that so-called “demeanor evidence” is a way to evaluate guilt and innocence.

The way you think someone ought to act in a given situation may not be as telling as you think because human beings are complex, emotions are powerful, and we simply do not gain as much insight as we think we do.

There is a lot of speculation and a lot of anger about the killings—and that is all understandable.

I think it’s important to remember and not forget that, while the community—shaken as it is—will have a chance to move on.

For Karim Abou Najm’s family, he was about to graduate in a few short weeks and clearly this is not something they can simply move on from.  The community was devasted by the senseless nature of the killing of Najm and also the beloved David Breaux, who lived his life with “Compassion.”

I was struck by the words however of Maria Breaux, David’s sister, who said on Thursday, “I hope this young man, someone who’s someone’s son, someone who seemed to want so much to help other people, will eventually find the inner peace that David did through compassion.”

For the Beaux family, they clearly walk the walk, they don’t just talk to the talk.

There will be a lot of speculation about the mental state of Dominguez.

We know from UC Davis, “Dominguez was in his third year at UC Davis until April 25, 2023, when he was separated for academic reasons.”

We really can’t learn that much more at this point, and we may not learn a lot more unless there is a preliminary and a trial—which, as most who follow the courts know is perhaps unlikely depending on the strength of the evidence in this case.

Pytel on Tuesday was asked if there was any sign of mental illness.

He said, “We’re still evaluating that, but there’s no obvious.”

He was described as cooperative and spoke to investigators.  He did not immediately request an attorney.

The community is naturally relieved that this ordeal has ended with a relatively quick arrest—as these things go.  In a lot of ways, we were very, very fortunate.

We got a fairly accurate eyewitness description of the suspect.  Based on that, and the high level of media attention and interest, the community was basically on the lookout for people matching this description.

Pytel described the arrest as having occurred Wednesday at Sycamore Park, following roughly 15 callers who reported seeing a person matching the description provided after the third attack.

“All of them reported kind of the same thing. A person was at the park, was wearing the same clothing that we had put out in the description, and that he was wandering around,” he said.

Eventually, he said, one of the callers told them he was following and was able to lead police directly to the suspect.

“He was wearing really the same clothing that was described by the witnesses after the third attack,” Pytel said.  “This looked like a match.”

Indeed.  There was a lot of hard work by the Davis Police.  Chief Pytel was effusive in the support received by the FBI and the region in helping to track down Dominguez.  Mayor Will Arnold was similarly laudatory of the efforts of the Davis Police.

But in the end, this was really about luck.  The guy came back to the scene of the second crime wearing the same clothing as he had when he was spotted two days before.

While Pytel did not believe he wanted to be caught, he certainly did not make it hard to catch him.

There will be a lot of talk about whether we should expand surveillance.  There were those who argued that we should be tracking license plates that enter the city—but that seemed predicated on the idea that this was someone from outside of town, when in fact, it was someone who had lived in our community the last three years.

And surveillance probably wouldn’t have made a difference either.  Surveillance would have gotten a description of the suspect—but they ended up getting one anyway and, in the end, it was alert citizens that spotted him and in fact led police right to him.

The community was clearly shaken by this event—and rightly so.  It will take some time for the community to recover.  For the families of the victims—they probably never will.

Maybe someday we will learn why this all happened, but for now this just seems like a tragic and senseless loss of life.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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24 Comments

  1. Keith Olsen

    I was struck by the words however of Maria Breaux, David’s sister, who said on Thursday, “I hope this young man, someone who’s someone’s son, someone who seemed to want so much to help other people, will eventually find the inner peace that David did through compassion.”

    David, can you explain what this?  Is it misquoted?

  2. Keith Olsen

    And surveillance probably wouldn’t have made a difference either. 

    You don’t know that.  If they had pics of the killer after the Central Park incident they could of broadcasted those out and maybe saved a life and another stabbing.

    1. David Greenwald

      They would have had grainy images in the dark park of a guy dressed in dark. The key to finding this was the combination of a clean identification from one of the witnesses and the fact that the guy returned to Sycamore Park wearing the same clothing.

      1. Keith Olsen

        Once again, you don’t know what clues the pics might have given the police and the public. For example, as you pointed out, the surveillance video might have shown he was wearing distinctive clothing which could have lead to his apprehension before they second and third attacks.

        1. Richard_McCann

          Due to Constitutional protections, the burden of proof is on those who want to institute surveillance that it would have been significantly helpful in these types of cases. We should not implement Chinese-style surveillance everywhere based on speculation about its usefulness. The burden is not on those who say that it wouldn’t be useful. This is how we protect ourselves from authoritarian rule.

        2. Keith Olsen

          Richard, like how guns are also how we protect each other from authoritarian rule.  For instance in the case of British-style surveillance.

           

           

           

           

           

  3. Ron Glick

    Orwell, who was right about so many things, got the Big Brother is watching thing wrong. It isn’t that big brother is watching you it’s that everybody is watching everyone.

    How many cases have had different, more just outcomes, because of cameras? If there hadn’t been someone filming George Floyd’s murder would there have ever been justice? Or look at January 6, because of cameras many insurrectionists have been brought to justice.

    I live near Sycamore Park the cops came by looking for video. So what is the difference if its public or private video? I don’t think we should be using video for minor stuff but the idea that people are entitled to have privacy in public places is making it harder to keep us all safe.

    1. Keith Olsen

      Or look at January 6, because of cameras many insurrectionists have been brought to justice.

      Now you make me second guess myself.  That camera footage is being used to go after many protesters who simply walked into the Capitol without doing any harm or damage.  So in that case there was misuse of the surveillance video for political purposes.

      1. Walter Shwe

        Now you make me second guess myself.  That camera footage is being used to go after many protesters who simply walked into the Capitol without doing any harm or damage.  So in that case there was misuse of the surveillance video for political purposes.

        There was no misuse of surveillance video for so-called political purposes. Those Republican traitors were either tried and convicted, plead guilty or in process of doing one or the other. Once again, you have provided further evidence that you are indeed a closet Republican and an Independent in Name only.

        1. Keith Olsen

          There was no misuse of surveillance video for so-called political purposes. T

          Read my comment here thoroughly, in many cases the patriots were forced to plead to lesser charges out of fear of much longer sentences even though they were innocent.  I’m not going to bother to explain it to you, ask David how that works.

           

           

        2. Keith Olsen

          You never mentioned this in any of your prior comments on this page. I am not a mind-reader.

          Walter, look at the time stamp on my comment, May 5 at 11.09 am.  I responded to you  44 minutes after you commented.  But for some reason my comment was deleted and then magically reappeared the next day sometime.  Why, I don’t know.

      2. Walter Shwe

        Or look at January 6, because of cameras many insurrectionists have been brought to justice.

        Now you make me second guess myself.  That camera footage is being used to go after many protesters who simply walked into the Capitol without doing any harm or damage.  So in that case there was misuse of the surveillance video for political purposes.

        Those insurrectionists/traitors were there under the direction of Trump to “Stop the Steal.” They fully intended to interfere with and halt the certification of Biden as President. For a time they accomplished their mission, but eventually Congress reconvened and certified Biden’s victory. Once again, there was absolutely no misuse of video surveillance. Once you plead guilty, you admit to your guilt. No one should plead guilty if they are actually innocent. They should go to trial.

        in many cases the patriots were forced to plead to lesser charges out of fear of much longer sentences even though they were innocent.

        You never mentioned this in any of your prior comments on this page. I am not a mind-reader. You should never plead guilty to any alleged crimes if you are innocent, because by doing so, you admit your guilt. That’s how our system works. Oh, I do understand our criminal justice system as evidenced by the prior sentence. If you remain unconvinced, please ask me any question regarding our federal criminal justice system and I will answer.

  4. Keith Olsen

    David, how do you feel about the vigilantism that was being put forward at the the last city council meeting?  I’m surprised you haven’t commented or written an article about it.

    1. David Greenwald

      I focused mainly on the surveillance issue because there was some support from the Chief and possibly from council on it. I didn’t see a huge amount of groundswell for vigilantism, and there’s only so much I could work on at this point.

      1. Keith Olsen

        I know you’re a busy guy, but I thought knowing you that for sure you would be all over the vigilantism.  Is there a reason you’re avoiding it or don’t think it’s an important enough issue?

        1. Matt Williams

          Keith, for those of us who have heard nothing said about vigilantism, can you give us a synopsis of the events that brought that subject to the surface?

    2. Keith Y Echols

      I know you’re a busy guy, but I thought knowing you that for sure you would be all over the vigilantism.  Is there a reason you’re avoiding it or don’t think it’s an important enough issue?

      Haven’t you put two and two together?  David is Aggie Batman!  (I’m thinking less Christian Bale Batman and more Adam West Batman)

      “A reporter’s lot is not easy, making exciting stories out of plain, average, ordinary people like Robin and me.” -“Batman” (1966)

       

  5. Keith Y Echols

    Oh…geeze…what’s the big deal about more surveillance in PUBLIC areas?  Cameras at the entry and exit points of Davis can help catch (possibly prevent?) out of town thieves that do hit and run theft from stores, cars and residences.

    As for personal privacy in public areas?  Eh, I feel sorry for any poor government employee that has to track me walking to the little league fields, driving to the soccer fields and driving to Costco on a regular basis.  I suppose increased public surveillance could be used by my wife to prove that I had a couple scoops of ice cream that I probably shouldn’t have indulged in a few days ago….but you know what….for the sake of public safety, I’m willing to risk it and give up a little personal freedom.

    Bob Morton: What are your Prime Directives?

    RoboCop: Serve the public trust, protect the innocent, uphold the law.

    Reporter: Robo, excuse me, Robo. Any special message for all the kids watching at home?

    RoboCop: Stay out of trouble.

    1. Walter Shwe

      This case is a lot more about untreated mental illness than it is about rampant criminality.
      on Tuesday was asked if there was any sign of mental illness.
      He said, “We’re still evaluating that, but there’s no obvious.”

      Aren’t you making an assumption in this instance? I am tired about people often assuming that individuals that commit crimes possess untreated mental illness.

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