Somerset, CA – El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini announced Thursday afternoon that Deputy Brian Ishmael was killed by “two Mexican nationals” while responding to a call from a man who told 911 that somebody was stealing from his private garden.
Audio recordings from the 911 calls showed that dispatchers received a call from homeowner Christopher Ross who reported that someone was stealing marijuana plants from his private garden, KCRA reported.
Sheriff D’Agostini said that Deputy Ishmael and his ridealong, an off-duty San Joaquin County deputy, responded to a the call in the 4700-block of Sand Ridge Road, in the rural community of Somerset.
He said that when they arrived at the property, the deputies spoke with Ross and he told them the people in his garden were stealing.
“What he failed to report was that he had a business arrangement with the persons growing marijuana on his property,” Sheriff D’Agostini explained. “Had he been truthful with our deputies and the 911 dispatcher, this tragic event would not have occurred.”
The sheriff said that after talking to Ross, the deputies went to the rear of the home, where there was a grow of about 75 plants, and announced their presence.
“At that time, they were immediately confronted with gunfire,” Sheriff D’Agostini said.
The sheriff said that Deputy Ishmael and his ridealong both returned fire, and both were shot during the gun battle that ensued.
He said that Deputy Ishmael was shot once in upper chest above his ballistic vest and once in foot, and that he succumbed to his wounds within minutes.
Radio traffic during the gun battle reflected the desperation of the situation, KOVR reported.
“We have an officer down and we can’t get him out…” one deputy reported.
“…officer down, I need additional people up here by the pool,” another deputy told dispatch.
The off-duty San Joaquin County sheriff’s deputy was wounded in the upper thigh, according to Sheriff D’Agostini.
He was transported to the hospital, underwent surgery, and was later released.
Sheriff D’Agostini said authorities set up a perimeter at the scene and SWAT officers apprehended two individuals near the garden site.
The sheriff said Mexican national Juan Vasquez was wounded by gunfire during the incident.
Vasquez was transported to the hospital and underwent surgery for his gunshot wounds.
Sheriff D’Agostini told reporters that Vasquez had been cleared for incarceration and would be arrested on Thursday and charged with murder and assault with a deadly weapon.
He said police also arrested Mexican national Romiro Morales and booked him on charges of aiding in the commission of a felony.
The sheriff said that California law prevented him from contacting U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to inquire about the immigration statuses of both suspects, but that he had been told they were both “Mexican nationals” who had resided in the United States for some time prior to the shooting.
He also said that authorities were in talks with the U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding federal charges.
Sheriff D’Agostini said the homeowner who had called 911 initially was also arrested.
The sheriff said Ross had “a business arrangement for the leasing of the land to grow the marijuana on” with the men who shot the deputies.
Jail records showed that Ross was charged with involuntary manslaughter and held on $50,000 bail, KCRA reported.
Sheriff D’Agostini said authorities didn’t believe there were any outstanding suspects.
Incidents surrounding legal and illegal marijuana grows in California are not unusual.
“There’s a lot of violence that surrounds these gardens and we’re seeing a perfect example of it right now,” the sheriff said.
He said California laws aren’t good enough to adequately prepare law enforcement to deal with the burgeoning marijuana-growing industry.