Police Officer Shot In Pico Neighborhood
Gene Williams and Ann K. Williams
February 3 -- A pair of suspects is in custody after a Santa Monica police officer was shot in the Pico neighborhood early Thursday morning.
The shooting occurred around 5 a.m. on the 1900 block of 17th Street as police closed in on the suspects' van. Police believe the two men may have been preparing for a robbery.
Police officer Walter Ramirez, a four-year veteran of the department, was taken to UCLA Medical Center with a bullet wound to his wrist. Ramirez was treated and released Thursday morning. His partner was uninjured in the incident.
The two suspects surrendered about an hour later at a nearby apartment building, police said.
Police identified the primary suspect as Michael Espindola, a 20-year-old Hispanic from Santa Monica and a known gang member.
He has been arrested and booked for attempted murder on a police officer with a gang enhancement and for being an ex-convict in possession of a firearm, police said.
The other suspect was not identified.
Commuters and arriving college students were surprised to find Pico Boulevard between 16th and 20th streets closed, as reporters descended on the scene and news helicopters hovered overhead.
At 8 a.m., Police Chief James T. Butts, Jr. explained how events leading up to the shooting unfolded.
An officer saw a van suspiciously parked partway on the sidewalk at the Ralph’s Supermarket on Olympic and Cloverfield boulevards, Butts said.
He requested an undercover unit, and Ramirez and his partner responded.
They were wearing plainclothes and driving an unmarked car. They stopped to do a robbery surveillance of the van.
When the suspects drove away, the officers followed them down Pico Boulevard.
They lost the van briefly, but found it again pulled into a driveway on 17th street.
As the officers drove up, one of them saw the shooter get out of the passenger side holding a gun.
“Gun, gun!” the officer shouted as the gunman fired three shots.
One round went through the officers' windshield. One hit Ramirez in the right wrist. The third bullet went through the right rear passenger window.
The officers moved away and called in a SWAT team and aerial surveillance.
The suspects fled and hid in an apartment in the area, where they later surrendered without incident.
The officers knew them by sight, and the suspects knew the officers, Butts said.
“We are working on the assumption that they knew they were shooting at plainclothes officers,” he said.
Police were still looking for the gun several hours after the incident.
“We are certain the weapon is around here,” Butts said.
“This is Santa Monica,” Butts responded. “We always get them."
Copyright 1999-2008 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.