'Those police officers walked into a trap': Suspect in Palm Springs police killings charged with murder

The man accused of shooting and killing two Palm Springs police officers had set a trap and ambushed his victims as they stood outside his door Saturday, according to the Riverside County district attorney, who announced the filing of capital murder charges Wednesday.

John Felix, 26, faces two counts of murder with the special circumstances of multiple murders, murder of a police officer in the line of duty and lying in wait.

“He wanted to gun down police officers because they wore the uniform,” Dist. Atty. Mike Hestrin said at a news conference. “He was deliberate in his actions. He attacked the officers for no reason other than they were officers coming to a call.” 

Hestrin said Felix was “prepared” for the attack.

“I would describe this as an ambush,” he said. “Those police officers walked into a trap.”

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department previously said that Felix used an assault rifle with an extended magazine to fire on Officers Lesley Zerebny, 27, and Jose “Gil” Vega, 63, through a metal security gate.

Felix also has been charged with three counts of attempted murder for allegedly firing at three other officers, one of whom was wounded and survived. That officer was discharged from the hospital on Sunday and “is doing well,” the Palm Springs Police Department said in a statement. The remaining officers have not been identified.

Authorities said Felix wore body armor during the shooting and that he was prohibited from owning or possessing firearms because he was a convicted felon. Felix, who also allegedly used armor-piercing bullets, has been charged with being in possession of a stolen AR-15 assault-style rifle, Hestrin said.

“My dad was a Palm Springs officer,” Hestrin said. “My heart aches for what happened.”

Hestrin said he would decide within three weeks whether to seek the death penalty.

Felix, an admitted gang member, spent 18 months  in state prison after he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in 2010. He had been off parole since last year, according to officials.

Felix is scheduled to make his first court appearance and be arraigned Thursday.

On Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Department said the officers who were killed were responding to a family disturbance at Felix’s home in the 2700 block of Cypress Road just after noon Saturday. A family member told officers that Felix was armed, sheriff’s officials said in a statement Tuesday.

“Officers spoke to Felix through a metal screen door and instructed him to step outside so they could conduct their investigation,” the department said. “Without provocation or warning, Felix fired upon the officers with an assault rifle.”

The officers were wearing ballistic vests at the time of the attack, according to the statement. 

Felix was arrested after a lengthy standoff.

A new mom and a 35-year-veteran two months from retirement; Palm Springs mourns the loss of first officers killed on duty since 1962 »

In 2010, Felix was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon after an initial charge of attempted murder the year before. He admitted to being a member of a criminal gang as part of the sentencing and served 18 months in prison. In 2013, he was accused of resisting arrest by Palm Springs police on the same street where Saturday’s shooting occurred. He pleaded guilty to a count of malicious noise.

Saturday’s shooting stunned Palm Springs and sparked widespread mourning for the two slain officers.

Zerebny had returned to work early to help out after giving birth to her daughter, now 4 months old. She’d been an officer with the Palm Springs Police Department for just 1½ years. 

Vega had submitted paperwork for a December retirement after a 35-year career with the department. Vega, a father of eight, wasn’t scheduled to work Saturday but had picked up an overtime shift. 

Memorial services for Vega and Zerebny will take place at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Palm Springs Convention Center. Graveside honors for Vega  are scheduled immediately afterward at the Coachella Valley Public Cemetery, in Coachella. Services for Zerebny will be held at a private location open to family members only.

richard.winton@latimes.com

Twitter: @lacrimes

Times staff writer Hailey Branson-Potts contributed to this report.

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