Woman says she 'blacked out' during standoff
by Seth Hemmelgarn
The San Francisco woman police say launched an hourslong standoff after she brandished a gun and barricaded herself for hours in her Mission district residential hotel room says she only had an airsoft rifle and was "blacked out" on tequila during the incident.
In a jailhouse interview Monday, Samantha Helstrom, 57, said she doesn't remember most of what transpired Friday, March 10 when much of her neighborhood was placed on lockdown as police negotiated with her.
"I just don't know what happened," she said, but the police response "seems so outrageous and over the top."
Helstrom pleaded not guilty in Superior Court Tuesday to two counts of drawing or exhibiting an imitation firearm.
Judge Ross Moody told her that she was "lucky to be alive," since police had believed "she had a weapon."
Helstrom told the Bay Area Reporter that she was "kind of depressed" when she got off work Friday afternoon and bought a quart of tequila on her way home. She sometimes does webcam videos for adult websites, and she said when she got back to the Crown Hotel, at 528 Valencia Street, "I was going to do some theme photos" with her airsoft rifle.
Within about 30 minutes, though, she'd drunk the entire bottle. She set aside the rifle, turned on Netflix, lay down, and "passed out," she said.
Helstrom said when she came to, someone was saying, "Samantha, we need you to come out," and there was a speaker in one of her second-floor windows.
"I didn't know what was going on," she said.
She stepped into her hallway, and saw "a couple rows" of police officers "with their weapons trained on me."
Helstrom told them that she hadn't done anything, but they shot her with rubber bullets, she said.
"I started getting agitated," Helstrom said, and she went back inside her room. Helstrom, who remembers going in and out of her unit about three times during the incident, showed a reporter two gray, pink, and purple welts that took up most of her left upper leg.
At one point after officers shot her with the projectiles, she told them, "Go ahead and shoot me. Go ahead. I don't care."
She doesn't remember pointing a gun at anyone, and she said "the only thing I have resembling a pistol" is the airsoft rifle.
Helstrom recalled a negotiator talking to her, but she couldn't remember what was said.
She's also not sure why she's been described as barricading herself in her room, since all she had on the door was a deadbolt and a small chain lock.
Helstrom recalled having her arms outstretched during the incident and eventually walking down the hall toward officers and putting her hands behind her back. She was placed in handcuffs and taken to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.
A text message that went out at about 2:45 p.m. Friday urged people to avoid Valencia Street between 16th and 17th streets "due to police activity" and to "shelter in place" if in the area.
According to a news release from police Sergeant Michael Andraychak, when a pest control worker and the building manager went to Helstrom's unit at about 1:55 p.m. Friday, she "opened the door and pointed a handgun at them."
"At approximately 6:45 p.m.," as negotiators communicated to her from the street, Helstrom walked out of her room and confronted officers in the hallway, Andraychak said.
"Helstrom stated several times, 'Kill me' to the officers and advanced on their positions," he said. "Officers noted that Helstrom's shirt was un-tucked covering her waistband. They saw the outline of an object in her front waistband. The officers knew that Helstrom had brandished a firearm at the two victims and the officers had reason to believe that she was still armed."
Two officers "delivered four foam batons, which struck Helstrom," and she went back inside. Negotiators continued to talk to her, and at about 9:05 p.m., she "stepped into the hallway and surrendered," Andraychak said. He added that "a handgun was recovered" from her apartment.
In court Tuesday, Deputy Public Defender Sierra Villaran said, "I understand the court is concerned about public safety," but she requested that Helstrom be released on her own recognizance.
She said someone from the Veterans Administration would be able help Helstrom with services, including housing.
Assistant District Attorney Chloe McLean said that Helstrom had "brandished ... what appeared to be a firearm" Friday, and along with the standoff, McLean also noted a conviction Helstrom has from a 2012 incident.
Helstrom told the B.A.R. that in that case, she'd accidentally shot a hole in the door of her North Beach apartment with a real gun when someone had banged on her door. She said she pleaded to assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm in that case.
Moody denied Villaran's request to have Helstrom released and set bail at $25,000.
Her next court date is Monday, March 20 for a pre-trial conference.
(Helstrom has had gender reassignment surgery but said, "I generally don't" identify as transgender.)