EVENING UPDATE - The lone Modesto police officer who confronted a hostile crowd early Sunday morning was punched in the face and forced to dodge glass bottles that were thrown at him, according to new details police released Tuesday. The case is receiving nationwide attention.
According to witnesses and police, some in the crowd taunted the officer, shouting, "Shoot me, shoot me!" Another said, “You know you’re not going to make it out of here.”
Residents on the 1700 block of Pelton Avenue described the scene as “horrifying” and “like something you would see on Cops,” the TV show that showcases confrontations between police and criminals.
The officer and his canine companion were both slightly injured during the struggle, said Police spokesman Sgt. Brian Findlen.
The office was alone with the crowd for five to eight minutes.
The case has been featured much of today on the Drudge Report Web site.
A Modesto police officer had to pull his gun to keep a hostile crowd at bay early Sunday.
The officer sustained minor injuries in the southwest Modesto incident, said police spokesman Sgt. Brian Findlen. Police are not releasing the officer's name. The officer's dog was assaulted but not seriously injured, Findlen said. Police arrested several suspects in connection with the incident. A loaded assault rifle was found later at the scene of the struggle, which unfolded about 2 a.m.
Findlen said the officer pulled his gun only after other deterrents, including his police dog, failed to keep the crowd under control. "In a situation where you really feel that your life is in imminent danger, your options become very few," Findlen said.
Some members of the crowd told the officer that "he was not going to leave the scene alive," according to police.
The crowd of as many as 60 people included some known gang members, Findlen said. Police believe the group was gathered for a party in the 1700 block of Pelton Avenue. The officer happened upon the group when he was responding to another call in the area.
The officer saw several people assaulting one man, Findlen said. As the officer tried to break up the fight, the crowd's attention shifted from the assault victim to the officer. The crowd surrounded the officer. The officer sent his dog into the crowd in an attempt to stop the group.
The dog apprehended one suspect, who police later identified as 18-year-old Alfredo Espinoza of Modesto. As the officer tried to arrest Espinoza, the crowd pulled Espinoza away from the officer.
According to police, some in the crowd then challenged the officer to a fight. One suspect attacked the officer, police said.
Officer's radio broken
The officer's two-way radio was broken during the struggle. The officer then used his gun to hold off the crowd as he tried to tell neighbors to call 911. Someone in the crowd had a police scanner, Findlen said, and told the rest of the crowd that other officers weren't responding to the scene. It was then that the officer was told he wouldn't be leaving the scene alive, according to police.
Backup units responded after calls from other residents.
Other officers responding to the scene stopped a vehicle and found Espinoza inside, Findlen said. The driver, 20-year-old Modesto resident Andrew Mitchell, and the passenger, 19-year-old Modesto resident Matthew Reyes, were arrested on suspicion of resisting and delaying a police officer, assaulting a police dog, and "lynching." Lynching is a law enforcement term that means forcibly removing a suspect -- in this case, Espinoza -- from police custody.
Two police scanners were found in the vehicle.
Two other suspects were arrested at the scene of the struggle. William Rodriguez, 29, of Modesto was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer, false imprisonment of a police officer and lynching. Junior Suarez, 19, of Modesto was arrested on suspicion of resisting and delaying a police officer and lynching.
Assault rifle found
Officers reportedly found a loaded assault rifle magazine near the scene of the assault.
During a follow-up investigation later Sunday morning, police said, officers found a loaded, banned assault rifle that police believe was used at the scene of the party. Gabriel Avila, 21, of Modesto was arrested on suspicion of possessing an assault rifle.
Detectives are continuing their investigation. Anyone with information is asked to called the Modesto Police Department at 572-9500 or Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. Tipsters also can text information to 274637. Type "TIP704" with your message.
Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2378.