By Pauline Repard and Kristina Davis The San Diego Union-Tribune
SAN DIEGO — A man in a College Area condominium opened fire on San Diego police officers and firefighters late Saturday night, wounding two officers and prompting a SWAT operation that ended with confirmation of the suspect’s death.
The injured officers were rushed to the hospital, where one remained in serious condition but was stable and another was stable with less serious wounds, said Police Chief David Nisleit.
The officers, both male, have three and 18 years of experience on the force. Their names were not released.
Police officers gathered quietly at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest where at least one officer was taken.
#SanDiego: A shooutout near @SDSU between a man and police ended with that man’s death and two officers injured. We’ll have more details on this developing story on #TODAYinLA this #SundayMorning from 7-8am on Channel 4 @nbcla l https://t.co/A3ujbLG8Sv pic.twitter.com/iVODun0XYw
— Mekahlo Medina (@MekahloNBCLA) June 24, 2018
The two officers went to the Tuscany Place condos on Rolando Court north of El Cajon Boulevard after someone called 911 reporting a disturbance with violence about 10:15 p.m. When officers arrived they smelled what seemed to be smoke coming from the first-floor unit and called San Diego firefighters for backup, Nisleit said.
When they forced open the door, “they were met with gunfire,” the chief said.
One officer was able to return fire, he said. Several rounds in the gunfight pierced neighboring units.
The injured officers and at least one firefighter were pulled out of the building on a ladder, police said.
Another firefighter took cover in a unit next to the suspect’s and was rescued about an hour later, uninjured.
Officers from around the county rushed to the scene. They quickly surrounded the three-story complex, blocked off streets and worked at evacuating nearby tenants. A police helicopter watched from above.
At 11:20 p.m., officers moved in on a possible suspect and swiftly took him into custody. But they ascertained within moments that he was not the shooter.
Two officers injured in San Diego standoff; suspect dead. See WE-005SU for scene video. pic.twitter.com/UDBAgsGZ2o
— CNN Newsource (@CNNNewsource) June 24, 2018
A tactical robot was able to push the suspect’s front door open about 12:15 a.m., and a camera spotted him on the floor with apparent head trauma and wearing what looked like body armor, according to police scanner traffic. After a more thorough robotic search, a police dog went in and bit the suspect on the leg. After getting no response from the man, police determined he was dead shortly before 1 a.m.
Investigators have not determined if the man was killed in the firefight or perhaps by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Authorities did not release his name nor confirm he was the 30-year-old resident of the unit.
Nisleit added that police have been called to that condo in the past but did not elaborate.
A few residents said they’d been warned about a “weird guy” who lived on the first floor but were unable to provide additional details. Some said they would hear him shouting at times.
One man who lives on the second floor above the suspect said in an email that the man was placed in a mental institution after boring a hole through his wall about 18 months ago.
After he was released and returned, he could be heard screaming sometimes, the other resident said.
“I had no idea that he was armed, and I’m very grateful for all that the SDPD did this evening,” the resident said.
Stray rounds went into another man’s unit a few doors down from the shooting suspect.
He said he saw three police officers head to the man’s condo and knock repeatedly, ordering the man to open the door. They called in firefighters and used an ax on the door.
“I heard them bashing the door, then I heard gunfire. I panicked, lying on the floor,” said the man, who did not give his name. “There was plaster from my wall on my couch and carpet. crawled over to the window.”
He said bullets came into his walls from the hallway, but did not go all the way through. One round hit above his sofa.
He moved to his bedroom and waited until officers came by and directed him to escape out his window. He sat in a police car for about two hours, until Red Cross volunteers showed up with drinks and blankets for residents who evacuated without jackets or shoes.
Matthew Bezrouch, who lives a few doors down from the suspect, said he heard a barrage of at least 20 rounds after officers tried to force their way through the door.
“It was fast,” Bezrouch said. “They were screaming ‘two officers down, bleeding!’
After more officers arrived, Bezrouch said he heard one final gunshot.
Police said most of the 100 units in the complex had been evacuated, although some residents had decided to hunker down during the SWAT operation. Officers conducted welfare checks on neighbors closest to the suspect to make sure no one was shot by errant rounds.
Suspect dead, two police officers and a firefighter injured in shooting in #SanDiego pic.twitter.com/Jg0WfOVvWN
— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) June 24, 2018
Megan Ashdown, 23, and boyfriend William Blood, 24, who had moved into the building two weeks ago, were watching TV when they heard 15 or more gunshots.
“It sounded like automatic gunfire,” Blood said.
“We got in bed, locked the door and turned out the lights,” Ashdown said. “We were too scared to look out the window.” Some time later police knocked on their door and escorted them out, down a hall lined with officers and down a back stairwell to safety.
The scene drew several onlookers who stood on street corners shooting cellphone video and listening to the unfolding drama on police scanner apps. Dozens of law enforcement patrol vehicles lined El Cajon Boulevard, awash in red and blue lights.
The Red Cross is assisting those who remain displaced during the investigation, which the chief acknowledged “is going to take some time.” By 2 a.m. some residents were being escorted back home.
Staff writer Gary Warth contributed to this report.
©2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune