Prosecutors charged a 36-year-old man Wednesday with a brazen ambush of two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies earlier this month, an apparently unprovoked shooting as they sat in a squad car outside a rail station.
The deputies suffered head wounds in the Sept. 12 attack and have since been released from the hospital. Sheriff Alex Villanueva said their recoveries will be a long process and include further reconstructive surgeries.
The suspect, Deonte Lee Murray, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and other charges Wednesday during his arraignment. He faces life in state prison if he is convicted.
Murray’s attorney, Jack Keenan, declined to comment and said he has not yet seen prosecutors' evidence. Murray is being held in jail on $6.15 million bail and is due back in court in November.
The sheriff's department arrested Murray two weeks ago in connection with a separate carjacking. But officials at the time said it was not related to the ambush case.
Murray has a criminal history including convictions for sales and possession of narcotics, firearm possession, receiving stolen property, burglary and terrorist threats, authorities said. Wednesday’s criminal complaint includes allegations that he associates with gangs.
Investigators on Wednesday did not provide a specific motive for the attack, “other than the fact that he obviously hates policemen and he wants them dead,” said Capt. Kent Wegener, the head of the sheriff's homicide bureau.
In the shooting — which the sheriff said depicted “the worst of humanity” — surveillance video shows a person walking toward the patrol car, which was parked at a Metro rail station in the city of Compton, and firing a handgun through the passenger-side window.
The deputies — a 31-year-old woman and 24-year-old man who had graduated together from the sheriff’s academy 14 months ago — radioed for help despite their wounds.
The suspect fled in a black Mercedes Benz sedan. Investigators discovered that type of vehicle had been stolen Sept. 1 in a carjacking where the driver was shot. Photographs of the carjacking suspect seemed to match images from the ambush, Wegener said, strengthening a connection between the two cases.
On Sept. 15, an investigator spotted the suspect driving another vehicle and tried to stop him. The suspect threw a gun out of the car during a pursuit before abandoning the vehicle in the city of Lynwood. The suspect ran off and was ultimately captured after a nearly nine-hour standoff with police. The black Mercedes was found nearby.
That day, Villanueva and other sheriff's officials told reporters the carjacking suspect was not related to the ambush case. On Wednesday he defended his actions that misled the public, saying police didn’t at the time have the hard evidence needed before telling citizens the suspect was linked to such a significant crime.
“We’re not going to tell you everything we suspect,” the sheriff said, adding that the investigation of the ambush could have been harmed had the name been made public sooner.
Ballistics testing of the gun — a so-called ghost gun that is homemade and unregistered — that was discarded during the pursuit showed it was the one used in the attack on the deputies, Wegener said.
The Los Angeles Timesfirst reported Murray's arrest ahead of the news conference.
Compton is among communities near South Los Angeles, an area with a large Black population that has long been a flashpoint for racial tension and mistrust of police.
In recent weeks, demonstrators have marched to protest fatal shootings in the area, where deputies killed a Black man on Aug. 31 and a Black teenager in 2018.
After the ambush, a handful of protesters gathered outside the hospital where the deputies were treated and tried to block the emergency room entrance. Videos from the scene recorded protesters shouting expletives at police and at least one yelling “I hope they ... die.”
Wednesday’s announcement of the arrest in the shooting of the deputies followed a separate, seemingly unprovoked assault on another law enforcement officer in Southern California.
A Los Angeles police officer was attacked Saturday night inside the Harbor Community police station in San Pedro.
The assailant was recorded on surveillance video as he knocked the officer to the ground inside the station, pistol-whipped him with his own gun and pointed it at his chest. The officer is recovering from his injuries.