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Suspect in shooting of off-duty LAPD officer had been arrested twice in past three months

Investigators gather in the street.
Investigators gather near the scene where an off-duty LAPD officer was shot on Wednesday.
(James Queally / Los Angeles Times)

A 24-year-old “transient” has been charged with attempted murder after he allegedly broke into an off-duty Los Angeles police officer’s vehicle and shot him with his own service weapon, court records show.

Christopher Camarena was charged with attempted murder of a peace officer and robbery in connection with what police described as an April 28 “gun battle” near a Sherman Oaks apartment complex, according to a criminal complaint filed last week.

Records show Camarena had been arrested twice in the last three months, and was still facing a pending assault case when he was last released from jail just weeks before the shooting.

Camarena was scheduled to make his first court appearance Friday, but his arraignment was continued until early June, records show. Prosecutors also filed sentencing enhancements against Camarena for the use of a firearm during the alleged crime and the fact that the officer suffered great bodily injury.

Although Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón largely barred the use of sentencing enhancements when he took office last year, they can be filed in some cases, including those where a victim suffers extensive physical injuries or when a firearm is used in a way that poses “an extreme and immediate threat to human life.”

An off-duty Los Angeles police officer was shot in the chest and seriously injured Wednesday afternoon in Sherman Oaks.

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The complaint identified the officer who was wounded as Michael Beyda. He remains hospitalized in stable condition, according to an LAPD spokesman.

Last week, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said Camarena broke into Beyda’s vehicle, where he found a bulletproof vest and the officer’s service weapon sometime around 2:30 p.m. April 28. Beyda found Camarena inside the vehicle when he walked downstairs from an apartment building in the 5200 block of Vesper Avenue.

A confrontation ensued, according to Moore, and Beyda drew his backup weapon. Camarena was shot in the arm, shoulder and leg before falling in a breezeway near the complex, according to Moore, who said Beyda was shot in the chest and thigh but managed to reclaim his service weapon before collapsing near his vehicle.

Police officials have not said who opened fire first or what security measures Camarena had to overcome to gain access to Beyda’s firearm. Moore said last week that LAPD personnel are expected to make “every reasonable effort to ensure the safety and security” of their firearms, noting the department would seek to determine if Beyda’s on-duty weapon was properly secured.

A law enforcement source told The Times that the doors to the garage and Beyda’s vehicle were unlocked before the shooting. His service weapon was not locked in a case inside the vehicle either, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the matter candidly. An LAPD spokesman said he could not “corroborate those details at this stage of the investigation.”

Camarena had previously been convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest and vehicle theft in 2015 and 2017, according to the complaint. At the time of the shooting, Camarena was awaiting trial on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and petty theft stemming from an incident in Los Angeles in January 2020, records show.

A hearing to determine whether Camarena was suitable for a diversion program was originally slated for last August, but appears to have been repeatedly continued, according to court records. His last hearing was scheduled for April 23, just five days before the shooting. It was not immediately clear what took place in that hearing.

Jail records show Camarena was also arrested twice earlier this year.

In a statement, Glendale Police Sgt. Christian Hauptmann described Camarena as a “transient” who was found carrying screwdrivers, bolt cutters and “other tools” when officers responded Feb. 5 to reports of a suspicious person near a business in the 1600 block of Victory Boulevard. The hinge of a nearby padlocked shed had been partially pried off, Hauptmann said.

“Camarena did not admit to breaking into the shed, but stated he found it open and decided to rummage through what was inside the shed and was planning on taking whatever items he wanted. Camarena was arrested and booked for burglary and possession of burglary tools,” the statement read.

Jail records show Camarena was released the same day. Hauptmann blamed his immediate release on L.A. County’s adoption of an emergency bail schedule meant to keep jail populations down during the COVID-19 epidemic, but also noted Glendale police had yet to present a case against the 24-year-old to the district attorney’s office. Hauptmann said Glendale detectives would do so Wednesday.

Ten days after the Glendale incident, Camarena was arrested again by deputies from the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department’s Temple station. The nature of his arrest was not immediately clear.

A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department referred all questions to the district attorney’s office. A spokesman for the district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Camarena was held in connection with that arrest until April 12, a little more than two weeks before the shooting of Beyda.


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