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Suspect held in slaying of Riverside police officer

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Riverside police early Wednesday announced the arrest of a suspect in the slaying of a Riverside police officer during a traffic stop Sunday night.

Earl Ellis Green, 44, of Rubidoux was arrested by police and FBI agents at a Target store in Riverside about 8 p.m. Tuesday and was booked on suspicion of murder and a parole violation, according to a Riverside Police Department statement issued just before 3 a.m.

Officer Ryan P. Bonaminio, 27, was shot and killed after pursuing the driver of a stolen semi-truck believed to have been involved in a hit-and-run collision near the 60 Freeway. The officer may have been shot with his own gun after he chased down the driver, who had jumped out of the big rig, and fought with him in a city park, authorities said Tuesday.

Police did not disclose any more information about Green’s arrest, or the evidence that led investigators to identify him as a suspect, saying only that the investigation is ongoing. A Target store employee said dozens of heavily armed officers swarmed the store’s parking lot when the arrest was made, but declined to provide any more details, saying that store management had instructed employees not to discuss the incident.

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The arrest came less than five hours after Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz at a Tuesday afternoon press conference announced that $390,000 in reward money had been raised for information leading to an arrest and conviction. The department also released a seven-second video of a suspect jumping into the big rig and fleeing, images captured by the camera in Bonaminio’s squad car.

“We think this almost $400,000 in reward money that’s been offered will loosen some tongues. It’s a lot of money to forgo for protecting a criminal like this,” Diaz said.

At the news conference, the officer’s father, Joseph Bonaminio, also had urged the videotaped suspect to turn himself in to “let justice do its job.” He said his son, a 27-year-old Army veteran who returned from his second tour in Iraq just a year ago, deserved nothing less.

“He’s been home one year. He gave his life on our soil, and we want to know why,” Joseph Bonaminio said, standing before the media with his wife and daughter. “I just wish this person would just come forward. Those people out there, if you know this individual, make him come forward. … Let’s put an end to this. I’m just looking for justice, that’s all.”

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Witnesses told detectives they saw the officer and truck driver in an altercation in Fairmount Park seconds before shots were fired. The man fled in the semi-truck, escaping about a minute before other officers arrived to find Bonaminio mortally wounded on the grass.

Bonaminio’s gun was not recovered, and investigators said it was unclear if he fired his weapon. Det. Ron Sanfilippo said it’s “very possible” that the suspect was able to get Bonaminio’s gun and shoot him with it.

“We’re looking into that,” he said, “but we don’t know for sure.”

Detectives quickly suspected that the killer was a former inmate of the state prison system and a trained big-rig truck driver, which would greatly narrow the pool of suspects.

Court records show that Green has been in prison before. They show a criminal record going back almost three decades, including convictions for domestic violence, battery of a police officer, selling drugs, and vehicle theft. In 2007, Green was convicted of vandalism over $400 and sentenced to three years in state prison.

The truck had been stolen from a rental lot just outside city limits; the man returned the rig to the same lot after the shooting. Sanfilippo on Tuesday said analysts are processing the vehicle for fingerprints and other possible evidence.

Although the incident will be reviewed thoroughly, the police chief said that Bonaminio appeared to have followed proper procedure in trying to apprehend the suspect, and that there was no evidence he knew the man had a gun.

In cases in which suspects are believed to be armed, officers are instructed to wait for backup, Diaz said.

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“I certainly don’t blame Officer Bonaminio for any of the decisions he made on that fateful night, and there’s nothing that jumps out at me as a mistake made,” Diaz said. “Officers put themselves in the face of danger, in the way of danger, all the time. ... That’s police work. That’s what we do.”

On Tuesday, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, Riverside City Council and Riverside County district attorney’s office each approved $100,000 in reward money.

The U.S. Marshals Service, FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives combined to add $55,000; the Riverside Police Officers Assn. contributed $25,000; and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians contributed $10,000 to the reward fund and $10,000 to a family memorial fund.

Supervisor John Tavaglione, whose son served with Bonaminio on the police force, said the board authorized the reward to ensure that there was “quick justice to bring this despicable coward who took Ryan’s life to justice and put him away not for life, but to death. And I hope that happens very quickly.”

Bonaminio was a Riverside native who joined the Army after graduating from Ramona High School in 2000. He served two tours in Iraq as a military police officer.

Army Spc. Brian J. Roy remembers serving in Mosul, Iraq, with Bonaminio in 2008-09.

“I always had to hand it to him; he always looked after us,” Roy wrote in an e-mail. “He was a great mentor to all of us. He was always easy to talk to whenever we had problems. … Sgt. Bonaminio was a great friend and a great brother to us all.”

The funeral for Bonaminio is scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Grove Community Church in Riverside. He will be interred at Riverside National Cemetery.

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Donations may be made to the Officer and Family Assistance Fund via the Riverside Police Officers Assn., 1965 Chicago Ave., Suite B, Riverside, CA 92507; phone (951) 784-1034.

phil.willon@latimes.com


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