LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California sheriff’s deputy was shot in the head but survived an “ambush” by a gunman intent on harming or killing police and authorities said Wednesday they were investigating whether there was a connection to two recent deadly attacks on officers.
Authorities were looking for Mason James Lira, 26, a transient from the Monterey area of the Central Coast, and he was considered armed and dangerous, the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Office said in an announcement late Wednesday night.
After wounding the San Luis Obispo County deputy in the small city of Paso Robles, police believe the shooter killed a transient and then eluded an intense manhunt. Police sought the public’s help and released photos from surveillance video showing the suspect — a young dark-haired, bearded man.
The shooter opened fire around 3:45 a.m. on the back side of the police station in Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said. Officers were inside at the time and windows and a door were shot out but no one was injured.
A dispatcher monitoring security cameras saw the attack unfold and called for help.
The deputy was struck while responding and his partner dragged him to safety and returned fire, Parkinson said. The wounded deputy was in serious but stable condition with a bullet lodged in his head, he said.
“We feel that this was an ambush, that he planned it, that he intended for officers to come out of the police department and to assault them,” Parkinson said.
While searching for the suspect investigators found the body of a man near railroad tracks several blocks away. The 58-year-old, unidentified transient was shot once at close range in the back of the head, police said.
Paso Robles is an unlikely spot for such violence. The bustling community 175 miles (282 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles is a tourist destination and centerpiece of the wine industry on California’s Central Coast.
The violence came just five days after another unlikely location, the community of Ben Lomond in Santa Cruz County farther north on the California coast, was the scene of an ambush on police.
Santa Cruz sheriff’s Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, 38, was killed and another deputy injured Saturday in an attack allegedly carried out by an Air Force sergeant armed with homemade bombs, an AR-15 rifle and other weapons. Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart said the suspect, Steven Carrillo, was intent on killing officers.
The FBI is investigating whether Carrillo, 32, has links to the killing of a federal security officer who was shot outside the U.S. courthouse in Oakland during a protest against police brutality on May 29.
The FBI also is assisting the San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles departments with their investigation of the shooting that left the two-year deputy in serious condition.
“He’s not out of the woods, as the doctors have explained to me,” Parkinson said.
He said there’s no clear link between the latest shooting and the other two but that over time the investigation could lead there.
The deputy, who was not identified, and his partner heard gunfire as they approached the station and got out of the car to search but didn’t see the suspect “until they started taking fire,” Parkinson said.
The deputy’s partner managed to get him to safety behind a patrol car. The wounded deputy was conscious and managed to radio that he’d been shot.
Parkinson said there was no local event or imminent arrest that might have prompted the violence. He also said investigators didn’t know if the attack was connected to anger swelling nationwide at police over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis officers. He called Floyd’s death unjust and horrific.
“You see what’s happening nationally, you see the riots, you see the looting, you see the acts of violence occurring … there’s naturally fear as a result of that,” he said. “So trying to calm the community has been our goal.”
Associated Press writers John Antczak and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.