PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – A gunman used an assault rifle to kill two police officers who were responding to a domestic disturbance call at the California home of the suspect’s family, authorities said Tuesday.
The suspect, identified by police as 26-year-old John Felix, was prohibited from legally possessing firearms because of a prior felony conviction, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.
Felix served 18 months of a four-year sentence for assault with a gun in connection with a 2009 gang shooting. He was paroled in 2011, according to state records.
Police officers arriving at the Palm Springs home on Saturday were told by a relative that Felix had an unknown weapon.
Officers spoke with Felix through a metal screen door before he opened fire without warning, the statement said.
The officers were wearing ballistic vests as required when they are in uniform and on duty.
Felix was arrested after a gun battle and lengthy standoff with police. Prosecutors planned a news conference Wednesday were they are expected to announce he’ll be charged with murder in the deaths of Palm Springs Officers Jose “Gil” Gilbert Vega and Lesley Zerebny.
Another officer was treated for a gunshot wound and later released from a hospital.
A neighbourhood home surveillance system recorded the sound of dozens of gunshots echoing through the ordinarily quiet neighbourhood. Its camera did not show the officers.
A neighbour, Frances Serrano, told The Associated Press that the suspect’s panicked father, Santos Felix, told her just before the shooting that his son was armed and “acting crazy.”
When she suggested he call police, Serrano said he told her, “‘Yeah, he already knows they are coming, and he is going to shoot them.'”
Efforts to reach Santos Felix for comment have been unsuccessful.
Authorities declined to release a 911 recording alerting police about a problem or say who made the call.
Vega and Zerebny, like all California peace officers, were trained in handling domestic violence calls, said Riverside County sheriff’s Deputy Mike Vasquez.
Vega, 63, was a 35-year veteran of the force who was preparing to retire soon. Zerenby, 27, had been with the department about 18 months and her husband is a sheriff’s deputy. The couple has a 4-month old daughter.
Experts say that no matter how much training and experience officers receive, they often have little idea what awaits them when they approach the scene of a domestic disturbance.
In addition, the nature of a domestic violence call can change in an instant.
“We can go to what is a domestic violence (call) and it turns to active shooter,” Vasquez said. “Someone says it was active shooter and it was a backfire on a vehicle. Everything is fluid.”
Palm Springs had not lost an officer in the line of duty since 1962.
A makeshift memorial outside police headquarters in the desert resort town of 45,000 people about 100 miles east of Los Angeles featured balloons, flowers, stuffed animals, American flags and cards.
Memorial services will be held for the officers on Oct. 18.
Taxin reported from Palm Springs and Rogers reported from Los Angeles.