Winton, CA – Bodycam footage captured the moment when a 17-year-old alleged gang member shot a Merced County sheriff’s deputy in the ear during a foot chase in April (video below).
“We believe in being transparent with our community and we wanted to share the details of this incident as soon as we could,” Merced County Sheriff Vernon Warnke said in a critical incident briefing on June 20. “We take every use of force very seriously.”
The series of events leading up to the deadly deputy-involved shooting began at approximately 1 p.m. on April 29, when the Merced County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) received a report of “potential gang members with firearms” in the area of the Winton Cemetery, Merced County Undersheriff Corey Gibson said in the video briefing.
MCSO Deputy Nasir Wali responded to the scene and spotted several individuals fleeing the cemetery on foot and loading up into a vehicle.
Deputy Wali attempted to pull the driver over, but the suspect refused to stop, resulting in a pursuit through Winton, Undersheriff Gibson said.
MCSO Deputy Lucy Lopez joined the chase a short while later.
Undersheriff Gibson said the pursuit lasted approximately three-and-one-half minutes before the suspect crashed into a parked vehicle at the corner of Walnut Avenue and Suzie Street.
The collision occurred at 1:14 p.m., the undersheriff noted.
Multiple suspects bailed out of the wrecked car and took off on foot.
Among them was 17-year-old Jonathan Daniel Diaz-Duarte, who took off running through a nearby apartment complex with Deputy Wali in pursuit, Undersheriff Gibson said.
Bodycam footage showed the deputy repeatedly ordering Diaz-Duarte to stop and show his hands, but the suspect continued to run away.
Deputy Wali lost sight of Diaz-Duarte as the suspect circled back towards Suzie Street, but the deputy said he could see the teen was carrying what appeared to be an AR-15 rifle, Undersheriff Gibson said.
Deputy Lopez saw Diaz-Duarte running northbound on Suzie Street away from the apartments a moment later and chased after him until they reached an empty lot north of the complex.
“Stop!” the deputy yelled repeatedly. “You’re going to get Tasered!”
As she was closing in on him, Diaz-Duarte tripped and fell to the ground, then pointed the rifle back towards her and fired off a single round, bodycam footage showed.
The bullet hit Deputy Lopez in her left ear, Undersheriff Gibson said.
The wounded deputy immediately returned fire, hitting her attacker three times.
Deputy Wali rushed over to the scene and assessed Deputy Lopez’s injuries, then rendered aid to Diaz-Duarte until emergency medical personnel arrived, Undersheriff Gibson said.
The suspect succumbed to his wounds at the scene.
Deputy Lopez was transported to a local hospital for treatment of her gunshot wound and gunpowder burns to her left cheek, according to the undersheriff.
The bullet that hit her ear also broke off the back portion of her sunglasses.
“This shows how close the bullet came to potentially ending her life,” Undersheriff Gibson said. “Deputy Lopez received treatment and is expected to make a full recovery.”
Investigators said the gun Diaz-Duarte used to shoot the deputy was recovered at the scene.
The undersheriff described it as an AR-15 platform rifle with no stock, which made the weapon easier to conceal.
The suspect’s sister, Itzel Diaz, said she does not believe her brother intended to hurt Deputy Lopez, KSEE reported.
“To me, it looks like it was an accident, and that’s what I’m gonna stand by, regardless of what anybody else says, you know what I mean?” Diaz told the news outlet. “That’s still my little brother at the end of the day.”
She said Diaz-Duarte had just been released from juvenile hall on a robbery charge shortly before the deputy-involved shooting and said she believes he would still be alive if he hadn’t gotten involved with street gangs, KSEE reported.
Watch the incident unfold in the video below. Warning – Graphic Content:
Illuminating, freshly released police video. A 17-year-old gang member with a AR-15 platform rifle without a stock was chased, repeatedly called for stop by a good-hearted female police officer but when he was caught up, turned and shot the left ear of PO who shot and killed him. pic.twitter.com/lsvumyiDQm
— Dr. Csaba B. Stenge Ph.D. (@CsabaBStenge) June 21, 2023