Deputy, Neighbor Fired Shots Before SWAT Standoff

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Published Sept. 24, 2013 by Imperial Beach Patch.

A sheriff’s K9 deputy and Imperial Beach man fired their guns during a July 25 pursuit of attempted murder suspect Ramiro Espinoza, according to Detective Sgt. Miles Ting with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Imperial Beach Substation.

Ramiro Espinoza was arrested after a seven-­hour standoff for allegedly shooting his girlfriend in the head while she protected her child on May 24.

Espinoza was charged almost immediately with attempted murder but an investigation by sheriff’s department officials into who fired four shots during a two­minute chase through streets and backyards in the 300 block of Elkwood and Ebony avenues did not conclude until a little over a week ago.

Three shots fired by 14-­year sheriff’s department deputy Carlos Serrato blasted through a home in the 300 block of Elkwood Avenue steps away from the homeowner.

A single shot was fired by Elfred “Gunny” Guntrum when Espinoza ran through his yard, Ting said.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office will determine whether further action is taken.

The result of the shooting investigation contradicts initial statements by sheriff’s department spokeswoman Jan Caldwell.

“What I can tell you definitely it was not law enforcement [who fired shots],” Caldwell told reporters five hours after the start of the incident.

Serrato notified a superior officer he fired his weapon within an hour of the start of the incident. The deputy was removed from the scene when it was “tactically feasible,” as is customary in any officer-involved shooting, Ting said. Command staff did not find wrongdoing in the way the shooting was reported.

When asked what made her confident an officer wasn’t involved when the initial facts of the case were reported to members of the press, Caldwell said, “During any scene, I ask involved personnel what the situation is at that time. As with many scenes, changes in information occur. At the time I made the statements, it was the best information I had at the time.”

Sheriff’s department investigators found no evidence Espinoza was armed at the time of the shooting, Ting said, but deputies had to assume he was armed and dangerous.

Listed at the time as one of San Diego’s Most Wanted fugitives by the sheriff’s department, Espinoza was found by members of the multi­agency Fugitive Task Force July 25 in the 300 block of Ebony Avenue around 5:30 p.m.

A call was made to the home to tell Espinoza to come outside to be taken into custody. A helicopter loud speaker also demanded Espinoza come outside, and a short time later he jumped over the back fence and began to zig zag between backyards.

After hopping a few fences, Guntrum shot at Espinoza when he entered his backyard. The bullet hit a tree.

“So he bounces around a backyard or two and gets into the street on Elkwood [Avenue] and tries to get into one woman’s house. The deputies order him to stop, got his gun out and he makes a movement that the deputies believe… he [Espinoza] turned away from him and made a movement which made him think he had a gun on him and fired,” Ting said.

Deputies were informed before the chase Espinoza should be considered armed since he allegedly shot his ex­girlfriend, Ting said.

“He [Serrato] heard the gunshot and could have thought this guy [Espinoza] is shooting,” he said.

Espinoza continued to run, found an open back door of an empty home on Elkwood Avenue and the standoff began.

Upon hearing a report of shots fired during the two­minute chase, dozens of officers flooded into Imperial Beach from Chula Vista, Coronado, San Diego, National City and the California Highway Patrol.

A command center was established at the city’s Sports Park and Recreation Center.
The scene was “chaotic,” Ting said.

Sharon Leyton said she was standing at her glass front door looking at Espinoza when the three.

shots were fired by the sheriff’s deputy. She went to the door after a friend called to tell Leyton her home was on television.

“I was so scared I didn’t even hear any firing or anything,” she said. “He hits the door like this and he’s trying to get in. And I’m on the other side like ‘Oh my God! I said ‘Sandy, he’s at the door! He’s at the door! He’s trying to get in!'”

Leyton said it’s surreal to see SWAT team officers and armored vehicles in your neighborhood but that she’s happy law enforcement did what they did to capture Espinoza.

“This guy [Espinoza] was a bad dude,” she said. “I mean they’re doing their job and this guy was a bad guy and they have to do what they have to do. I just feel like, no I don’t feel angry with them or anything else. It’s just something that happens, you know?”

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