An early morning call to Los Banos police regarding a man entering an apartment through a window resulted in a struggle between two officers and a suspect. All three were shot, the suspect fatally, authorities said, after the man got hold of an officer’s handgun.
The 39-year-old man, whose name was not released, died Monday afternoon at a Modesto hospital.
The Merced County Coroner’s Office was working to notify the rest of the man’s family Monday evening, Deputy Daryl Allen said.
The officers were shot around 6:30 a.m. inside an apartment 2100 block of Gilbert Gonzalez Jr. Drive in Los Banos during a struggle with the man, described as the estranged husband and father of the children and the woman who lived there.
Speaking at a City Hall news conference Monday evening, Police Chief Police Chief Gary Brizzee said, “This has been a tremendously tough day for us.”
Brizzee said the suspect’s son called 911 at 6:18 a.m. to report his estranged father had entered the apartment through a window. He said the first officer on scene spoke with the man in the apartment’s kitchen. The chief said the man was “argumentative” and refused to exit the apartment with the officer.
“A struggle ensued between the suspect and the officer which resulted in the officer deploying his Taser,” Brizzee told reporters.
The man pulled off the Taser probes and continued fighting with the officer. The second officer arrived and joined the struggle.
According to law enforcement sources, the man managed to get his hands on a handgun belonging to one of the officers. He fired multiple shots. At least one of the officers returned fire, striking the suspect at least once, sources confirmed. No other injuries were reported.
The officers’ names have not been released.
One of the officers was shot three times — in the head, torso and leg. That officer has been with the department for about six years. The other officer was shot once in his upper torso. He has been with the police department for about one year, Brizzee said.
Both officers remained in stable condition in a Modesto hospital Monday evening, Los Banos police Cmdr. Ray Reyna confirmed.
The chief said the suspect was known to police through at least one prior drug-related arrest “a few years back,” but did not elaborate.
Residents at the apartment complex said they awoke to the crime scene. Many didn’t even hear the gunshots. Neighbors said the complex is usually quiet with minimal crime and children can be heard playing outside all day.
Esmeralda Cervantes, who lives next door with her boyfriend and two little boys, awoke at 5 a.m to yelling next door. The 22-year-old said she and her boyfriend wanted to mind their own business and went back to sleep.
But, an hour later to woke up again and heard yelling and doors slamming. They saw officers run into their neighbor’s apartment and began to worry about the two little girls who lived there with their three older brothers and mother.
The couple heard shots and heard an officer yell “Get on the floor!” The man responded: “I have rights,” Cervantes said.
Cervantes heard more shots and said a bullet whipped through her kitchen window, ricocheted off a wall and land on her dining table.
“I had a panic attack,” Cervantes said. “I ran to my kids and put myself and my kids in the closet. I couldn’t even breathe.
“It was really awful,” she said. “The fact that I heard the gunshots and then to see one flying in. I can’t even think about it. It was pretty awful to go through it.”
When she emerged from the closet and looked outside, Cervantes saw one of the officers being dragged through the doorway of the apartment next door.
The couple had seen the man, the neighbor’s estranged husband and father of the children, a few times, but knew he didn’t live at the apartment.
While police processed the crime scene all day Monday, the family stayed in Cervantes’ apartment. They weren’t allowed to move their cars or leave the apartment. She did not want to release names of the family members staying in her home.
“We talked to them. They’re here right now. We took them in,” she said. “They got the news that they’re dad passed away and they’re not taking it so easy.”
Cervantes’ parents moved from San Jose to Los Banos a couple of years ago. She followed, moving into the apartment complex six months ago to escape the Bay Area violence.
“Now, it’s clear it’s not safe here,” she said.
Monday’s violence marked the first officer-involved shooting in Los Banos since 2013, Reyna said.
Reyna, who joined the department in 1999, said it’s the first time officers been shot during his time on the force.
“It’s sad anytime any of our officers are injured,” Reyna said. “It’s sad any time there is a shooting in our city, whether our officers are involved or not. Our hearts and prayers are going out to our officers and their families.”
Investigators with the police department, sheriff’s office, Merced County District Attorney’s Office and Los Banos Fire Department were all on hand Monday.
Law enforcement officials remained at the crime scene through the afternoon as the Department of Justice’s bureau of forensic science collected and examined evidence.
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482