LOS ANGELES (AP) — The man charged with murder in the ambush killing of a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity Wednesday.
Officials say Kevin Cataneo Salazar fatally shot 30-year-old Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer as he sat in a patrol car on Saturday in Palmdale, a city of more than 167,000 people in the high desert of northern Los Angeles County.
The deputy was “waiting for the light to turn red” when he was shot, Sheriff Robert Luna said.
Prosecutors charged 29-year-old Cataneo Salazar with one count of murder, as well as special circumstances counts of murder of a peace officer, murder by ambush, murder by drive-by shooting and personal use of a firearm. His attorney, George Rosenstock, entered a not guilty plea on his behalf during Wednesday’s arraignment and a double plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Cataneo Salazar was arrested Monday after an hours-long standoff with sheriff’s deputies. He was holed up in his family’s home in Palmdale.
Cataneo Salazar remained in custody without bail and is scheduled to return to court in November. Rosenstock did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment, although his office said the legal team would not discuss the case further.
At an afternoon news conference, District Attorney George Gascón said prosecutors owed it to the slain deputy’s family to secure a conviction and a life sentence.
“We will do everything in our power to ensure that the defendant never gets out of prison,” Gascón said. He was flanked by Clinkunbroomer’s fiancée, his parents, his brother and his sister. Dozens of sheriff’s deputies lined the walls, wearing black mourning ribbons over their badges.
Brittany Lindsey, Clinkunbroomer’s fiancée, fought back tears as she shared her plans to get married and start a family.
“Ryan was the best guy I ever met,” Lindsey said during the press conference. “I couldn’t wait to start our life together.”
Prosecutors have not outlined a motive in the case or said whether Clinkunbroomer and Cataneo Salazar previously knew each other.
Cataneo Salazar’s mother and other family members did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.
His mother, Marle Salazar, told the Los Angeles Times Her son was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia about five years ago. He would say he heard voices in his head, she said, and sometimes she claimed that cars or people were following him. He attempted suicide twice, she said.
“My son is mentally ill, and when he did something, he was no longer at his full mental capacity,” she said in an interview with the newspaper.
Marle Salazar told the Times she didn’t know her son owned a gun, but investigators told her he legally purchased the weapon used in the attack. The gun was purchased in the weeks before the shooting, Assistant District Attorney Michael Blake said at Wednesday’s news conference.
Under California’s so-called “Red Flag Law” – the first law of its kind enacted in the country – firearms can be confiscated from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. Law enforcement, as well as family and household members, as well as some co-workers, employers, and teachers, may petition the court to remove the weapons from the person’s possession or to prohibit the person from purchasing those weapons.
Despite Cataneo Salazar’s reported schizophrenia diagnosis, it was not clear whether he would have qualified under the state’s red flag law or other laws aimed at keeping guns away from people with mental illnesses.
There were no Los Angeles County court records indicating that anyone had requested that his guns be confiscated or prevented from purchasing them.
Marle Salazar said her son was hospitalized last year, but it was not clear whether he sought self-treatment or was involuntarily admitted.
She said she had called officers at least twice in the past and asked for help when her son refused to take his medication and became aggressive towards himself. She said he had never hurt anyone and his aggression was always self-directed.
“I called the police several times,” she told the newspaper. “In the end they would say, ‘He’s an adult, so if he doesn’t want to take (his medication) there’s nothing we can do.'”
Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida previously said investigators were looking into whether there had been any police calls to the home.