A man suspected of being a south Florida drug dealer led police on a high-speed chase through Huntington Beach late Tuesday night and tossed a box of cocaine out of a car window onto Beach Boulevard before he was shot by pursuing officers and crashed into a concrete wall, authorities said.
When it was over, police arrested three suspects on drug charges and confiscated about 22 pounds of cocaine with an estimated street value of $2 million, Huntington Beach Police Sgt. Carl Vidano said Wednesday.
The arrests were the culmination of a brief, 24-hour investigation by state narcotics officers, who labeled the case a "one-day wonder."
Manuel Consanego, 30, of Miami was in serious but stable condition Wednesday at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital and Medical Center with one gunshot wound to the left side of his chest. The suspect, driving a 1980 two-door sedan, was wounded by Huntington Beach officers after he attempted to run them over at the intersection of Yorktown Avenue and Delaware Street, just east of the Civic Center, Vidano said.
Although wounded, the suspect sped away, slamming into the cinder-block wall two blocks west of Delaware, Vidano said. The officers were not injured. Police quickly sealed off the area, and an investigative team from the district attorney's office was called to the scene.
Huntington Beach police declined to release the names of the officers involved in the shooting.
As in most officer-involved shootings, the district attorney's office will investigate the circumstances of the incident, said Maury Evans, assistant district attorney in charge of special assignments.
The incident was the fourth shooting involving a police officer in Orange County in the past two weeks. Three people were fatally wounded in the three previous shootings.
In Tuesday's incident, Frederick P. Brown, 32, and James S. Prentice, 29, both of Huntington Beach, were also arrested.
Brown was arrested on suspicion of possession and sale of cocaine, and Prentice was held on suspicion of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. Both were being held Wednesday in the Huntington Beach Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail each.
Consanego was under police guard at the Fountain Valley hospital, where he was being held on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and possession, sale and transportation of cocaine. His bail was set at $1 million, police said.
The shooting and narcotics arrests come at a time when Huntington Beach law enforcement officials have stepped up efforts to curb drug traffic in the city. Since mid-June, police have arrested more than 34 suspects on a variety of drug-related charges, mostly in the city's Commodore Circle area, about a mile north of Tuesday's shooting.
Unlike most narcotics cases, the apprehension of Consanego and two others was not the result of a painstaking, time-consuming investigation.
In fact, narcotics agents with the state Department of Justice said they were "damn lucky" to have received a tip about a sizable cocaine sale earlier Tuesday that led them to Huntington Beach.
"It's rare you get a tip and the same day you make the bust," said Special Agent Benny Rincon, a supervisor in the Justice Department's narcotics bureau in Los Angeles. "I wish they were all this easy."
Rincon said his office received a call Tuesday morning that Consanego, a Miami resident suspected by authorities of having drug connections, was going to Huntington Beach that evening. Rincon said he later learned that Consanego had arrived in Los Angeles from Florida on Sunday night.
A team of state agents followed Consanego to Huntington Beach. About 9 p.m. they watched him carry a large cardboard box into an apartment in the 2200 block of Florida Street, Rincon said.
Half an hour later, Brown was seen leaving the apartment, then stashing a duffel bag in the trunk of a small import sedan parked outside.
Rincon asked Huntington Beach police to assist in the arrest of Brown, who was stopped in the sedan and taken into custody a short time later on Beach Boulevard. Police found about 6 1/2 pounds of cocaine in the trunk.
About 9:45 p.m., Rincon said, Consanego left the apartment with a cardboard box. He drove away, heading south on Beach Boulevard. Police were called, and when two motorcycle officers switched on their red lights and siren, the suspect made a "sharp U-turn, tossing the box out the window," spilling the contents, Rincon said. The box and about 14 pounds of cocaine in seven tightly wrapped bags were later found, the agent said.
"Five of the bags fell out in the No. 3 lane of Beach Boulevard," said Rincon, who was trailing Consanego and the officers in another car and stopped to retrieve the box. "For a split second, I thought I would be writing up two reports--one about the arrests and the other about how a state vehicle was hit."
Huntington Beach police continued to chase Consanego to the intersection of Yorktown Avenue and Delaware Street, where he ran a stop sign and collided with a small truck.
When the officers approached the suspect's car, he "accelerated toward (them) at a high rate of speed," Vidano said. "Both officers drew their weapons and fired" at the suspect.
Consanego was hit once, but kept driving west on Yorktown, eventually crashing two blocks away.
Minutes after the shooting, Prentice, who had remained at the Florida Street apartment, tried to escape by slipping out a back door and riding away on a bicycle, police said. But officers who were monitoring the first-floor unit arrested the suspect less than a block away.
"He apparently got spooked when he heard all the sirens and the police helicopter overhead," Rincon said.
One witness to the shooting, John Tackett, who lives on Yorktown about 100 yards from the Delaware intersection, said he rushed outside when he heard the sirens. Then he heard "four or five rapid-fire pops."
"I didn't see who was shooting who," Tackett, 23, said. "I was kind of hiding because I didn't want to be a sitting duck. . . . It didn't seem like an exchange of gunfire."
Tackett and his father, Budd, said there is a lot of drug activity in the neighborhood, composed largely of apartments and townhouses.
Authorities remained at the shooting scene until 3:30 a.m., using a large floodlight that Tackett's father said "lit the whole place up like daylight." Investigators methodically combed the streets looking for bullet casings as well as photographing the accident scene.
Assistant Dist. Atty. Evans said it is uncertain how long it will take to complete the inquiry into the Huntington Beach incident, adding that the department's officer-involved shooting investigation team is "very busy" with the recent spate of shootings.
For years, some sections of Huntington Beach have been problem areas for drug dealing, city officials said.
In response, Mayor Pro Tem Tom Mays said police have accelerated efforts in recent weeks to halt narcotics traffic, particularly in the downtown and Commodore Circle neighborhoods. Much of the drug trade, Mays said, has been generated by gangs moving into the city from other parts of Orange County. But he said there is no evidence that out-of-state drug offenders are setting up shop in the city.
"Based on what the City Council has been told, I'd say this was an isolated case," said Mays, referring to Consanego's ties to Miami. "There's no question we've had a drug problem in this city, but we believe it's a local problem.
"But if we get evidence to the contrary," he said, "we won't hesitate to get whatever help is necessary to stop it. . . . We don't want anybody dealing drugs in this city."
The Huntington Beach incident comes on the heels of two weekend police shootings in which officers in Anaheim and Orange shot and killed two men. Earlier this month, a Westminster student died when he was shot by an officer.
In the Anaheim shooting Saturday, police were called to an apartment complex where four men were sitting in the parking lot, drinking beer and listening to the radio. When the officer asked one of the men his name, the man drew a gun and fired, police said. The officer returned fire and killed Ruben Ayala, 28, of Anaheim.
On Friday, Orange police were called to a family disturbance. When the officer entered the home, he was confronted by Robert Horst, 41, who was armed with multiple handguns, police said.
"A shooting occurred when (Horst) pointed a handgun at the officer," according to a press release jointly prepared by Orange police and district attorney's officials. Horst died at the scene.
On July 15, a week before the Orange shooting, an 18-year-old Westminster High School student was shot and killed by police in his driveway after he and others allegedly attacked three police officers who were pursuing a suspect.
Police said Frank Martinez struck one officer with a bottle and charged at another officer, who pulled his revolver and shot him.