San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson called the actions of a lone gunman Wednesday morning a cowardly unprovoked attack on law enforcement.
“This morning we had an unprovoked attack on local law enforcement and in my opinion the act of a coward,” Sheriff Parkinson said during a 30-minute press conference outside of the Sheriff’s Office in Templeton.
A SLO County Sheriff’s Office deputy was reportedly shot in the face by the shooter, who remains at large. The deputy was shot while responding to the man firing upon the Paso Robles Police Department station on 10th Street in Downtown Paso Robles shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday.
Deputy was “shot in the face by a suspect that was laying in ambush at the police department in Downtown Paso Robles,” Parkinson said.
Officers believe the shooter shot and killed a 58-year-old homeless man who was camping near the Paso Robles Amtrak train station a couple of blocks from the police station. His body was found at about 7 a.m by business owners in the area.
“At this point, it appears for lack of a better term to be unprovoked,” Paso Robles Police Department Police Chief Ty Lewis said. “We don’t even know at this point if the victim knew that he was going to be attacked. It appears preplanned, premeditated. It was a single shot to the back of the head from what we can determine at this point.”
The identity of the homeless man was not released. Lewis said evidence collected at the location of the homicide can be linked to the shooting at the police department.
Photos of the alleged shooter were released to the public following the press conference that saw Parkinson and Paso Robles Police Chief Ty Lewis provide details on what happened early Wednesday morning.
Witnesses described the suspected shooter as a Hispanic male adult, about 5-feet-8-inches tall, 150 to 160 pounds with dark curly hair and a beard.
“Please encourage this person to turn himself in,” Lewis said. “There is no need for further bloodshed. There is no need for further violence in our community. We need to end this.”
The wounded deputy was flown to a trauma center outside of the county. He’s in serious but stable condition. He has been with the Sheriff’s Office for two years and is married, Parkinson said.
“We are praying for his recovery,” Parkinson said. “Our thoughts are with his family and with the families of all local law enforcement officers in this county.”
The events of Wednesday’s tragedy began at approximately 3:09 a.m. when staff at the Paso Robles Police Department inside the building started hearing and observed through cameras a man firing at their police station.
“Several bullet holes to the station on the backside of the building, where the evidence room is located,” Lewis said. “Windows shot out, doors shot at, shots fired into the brick siding of the police department as well.”
Officers immediately responded and requested the assistance of local law enforcement, including the San Luis Sheriff’s Office, the California Highway Patrol and the Atascadero Police Department.
The suspect began firing at police cars as they entered the Downtown area where the police building is located, Parkinson said.
Two deputies who were driving in a two-person unit arrived on scene at approximately 4 a.m. to assist the other officers that were being fired upon.
At approximately 4:19 a.m., the two deputies were searching the area of 10th and Riverside, where the shooter was last seen.
“They were out of their vehicle and came under fire and as I stated, one of the deputies was shot in the head,” Parkinson said.
The second deputy with him began defending him and returning fire to the shooter and protecting his downed officer. The deputy grabbed the wounded partner and removed him to a position of safety.
The Paso Robles Fire Department arrived on scene and went to his aid, got him removed and ultimately transported to a local hospital.
A shelter-in-place call went out for the Downtown corridor from 13th Street south past the train station as law enforcement from across the county converged and began an intense search for the gunman.
The gunman has not been found. The type of weapon used by the shooter is known but the law enforcement did not release that information during the press conference.
“This suspect is obviously considered armed and dangerous and we do not want the public approaching him,” Parkinson said. “We simply want them notifying us.”
Sheriff Parkinson was asked if the shooter’s actions were related to other attacks on law enforcement, specifically the deadly shooting of a Santa Cruz County sheriff deputy on June 6. Some believe the violence against law enforcement is due to the tragic death of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer on May 25.
“We have seen nothing that links them per se except the unprovoked violence toward law enforcement,” Parkinson said. “At this point in the investigation, we have not found anything that links them directly but with time, that might tell.”
Parkinson said what happened Wednesday was disappointing.
“We lost an innocent person today,” Parkinson said. “We have a deputy sheriff that is in serious condition with a significant injury. It’s disappointing that these types of things are occurring.”
The press conference concluded with Parkinson saying, “We are going to catch this person. There is no doubt in my mind.”