L.A. officer injured during drug probe

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

An undercover Los Angeles police narcotics officer was seriously injured early Tuesday when he was run over by a suspected drug dealer who the officer was attempting to arrest, authorities said.

Officer Tony Salazar, 37, suffered two broken legs, facial injuries and head trauma when the suspect, Joe Gubiensio Ortiz Jr., 23, of Boyle Heights allegedly struck him with a car as he fled narcotics detectives.

Police had just watched the suspect sell drugs in Boyle Heights and were moving to detain him, authorities said.

The officer remained in serious condition Tuesday night at County-USC Medical Center, while Ortiz turned himself in to the Whittier Police Department after an intense manhunt.

Police said they believe that Ortiz intended to kill the officer and that they plan to book Ortiz on suspicion of attempted murder of a police officer.

"This particular suspect, in his attempt to escape, attempted to murder a police officer," said Capt. Kyle Jackson, head of the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery-Homicide Division.

Three officers were involved in the 8:30 a.m. incident near the intersection of East 4th and South Dacotah streets, said LAPD Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz.

The officers had been conducting surveillance on Ortiz when they saw him make an alleged drug sale near the intersection and then watched him pull his vehicle into a driveway in the 100 block of South Dacotah Street, Diaz said.

When officers attempted to arrest him, he backed out of the driveway, nearly hitting one of the officers who identified himself as from the LAPD, and then sped south on Dacotah.

At that point, the officers radioed Salazar, who was part of the surveillance team and stationed farther down the street, and warned him that the suspect was fleeing in his direction.

Salazar identified himself as an LAPD officer and ordered Ortiz to stop, but the suspect ignored him and struck him, authorities said.

At one point, the officer fired his weapon at the vehicle, but it was not clear Tuesday evening whether he shot at the car before or after he was run down.

Diaz said Ortiz fled in a white 1995 Mazda 626 with front-end damage. He was accompanied by a female passenger, who police declined to identify.

One resident who was working inside a neighborhood house said he heard tires screeching and several shots fired. Before the gunshots, however, the man said he heard a "bumping" sound.

Tim Sands, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said Tuesday's incident is the latest example of an assault on a police officer by a suspect who used a vehicle as a weapon.

"The attempted murder today of an LAPD officer . . . is a sad example of the dangers officers face every day," he said. "Attempting to stop a suspect in a motor vehicle constitutes one of the least predictable and, hence, most potentially dangerous of a police officer's routine duties."

At least 25 officers nationwide have been killed during the last four years by cars driven by crime suspects.

In 2005, the Los Angeles Police Commission recommended tightening a long-standing LAPD policy by prohibiting officers from shooting at moving vehicles unless another deadly threat existed.

The new rules followed the fatal shooting of a 13-year-old boy who had led police on a short car chase.

The LAPD did not formally release Salazar's identity because he works undercover, but several officials named him.

Salazar is a 12-year veteran with a family and several children.

"We're certain this officer is going to need a lot of attention," Diaz said.

"He's receiving very good attention at [the] hospital, and he'll receive attention for a long time, probably."

For their part, authorities said they have no doubt the suspect knew what he was doing when he struck the officer.

"Attempts were made by several officers to take him into custody peacefully," Diaz said. "People identified themselves with badges, announced that they were members of the Police Department."


andrew.blankstein @latimes.com

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