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3 men sentenced to 15 years in San Bernardino police shootout

3 men sentenced to 15 years in San Bernardino police shootout
San Bernardino Police Officer Gabriel Garcia, 31, left, was badly injured in a gun battle last year withwith Alex Alvarado, 38, right, officials say. Garcia is paralyzed. Alvarado was killed at the scene. (San Bernardino Police Department)

Three men were sentenced Friday to 15 years in prison for assaulting two San Bernardino police officers during a lengthy shootout last August that left one gunman dead.

As part of a plea deal, Jonathan Contreras, 20, Orlando Cruz, 24, and Gonzalo Medina, 22, all of San Bernardino, pleaded guilty to one count of assaulting the officers with an assault weapon and another related charge, according to the San Bernardino County district attorney's office. The men had initially been charged with attempted murder of a peace officer.

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Officer Gabriel Garcia was shot once in the head during the gunfight last year, which left him in a coma and with paralysis to the right side of his body.

"While this case may be finished in the courtroom, our thoughts and prayers will continue to be with Officer Garcia whose recovery has been an inspiration to so many, and with his partner, whose bravery we will never forget," Dist. Atty. Mike Ramos said in a statement.

Calls to Contreras and Cruz's attorneys were not immediately returned.

Medina's attorney, Mark McDonald, said "this case was the clearest statement of the fact that it is not 'justice for all.'"

Medina had no record of any violence, and was just hanging out and drinking with friends, McDonald said. Medina left before the officers arrived, he said.

"After ... efforts to have the court dismiss the case for lack of evidence, I faced a decision: send the innocent Medina to prison for 15 years, or watch him get a life term following a trial in which society's norms gave him no chance of an alternative outcome," he said. "I had to choose between 15 years in prison, and life in prison, both for the same innocent man."

On Aug. 22, 2014, Garcia and his rookie partner, Marcus Pesquera, approached half a dozen people in a residential neighborhood in the 1900 block of Garner Avenue. A gunman immediately opened fire, striking Garcia in the head.

As Garcia lay wounded, Pesquera, who was just two months out of the police academy, called for additional police officers and returned fire.

During the shootout, Pesquera shot and wounded 38-year-old Alex Alvarado.

Alvarado, who police identified as the shooter, was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

"August 22, 2014, was a tough day for the San Bernardino Police Department," police Chief Jarrod Burguan said in a statement Friday. "Today is a milestone in that we can continue to move forward knowing that justice has been done."

Pesquera earned recognition for his swift actions, and will be honored in September with the Governor's Medal of Valor, the state's highest award for valor.

Prosecutors were thankful Contreras, Cruz and Medina accepted responsibility for their actions and didn't "put the Garcia family through any more," said Supervising Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Webster.

"I believe the Garcia family is ready to put this behind them," he said.

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