Napa Valley County, CA – The gunman who opened fire on a lone Napa County sheriff’s deputy at was an illegal immigrant with a warrant out for his arrest.
But the career criminal still made his way back into the U.S., where he committed new offenses in the years that followed, including various probation violations, battery on a peace officer, and driving under the influence.
ICE officials issued detainers on four separate occasions, but none of them were honored.
“This incident may have been prevented if ICE had been notified about any of the multiple times Hernandez-Morales was released from local custody over the last few years,” the agency told FOX News. “This is an impactful, scary example of how public safety is affected by laws or policies limiting local law enforcement agencies’ abilities to cooperate with ICE.”
“ICE is grateful the deputy involved in this shooting was not harmed during this attack,” the statement continued. “It’s unfortunate that our law enforcement partners and the community are subjected to dangerous consequences because of inflexible state laws that protect criminal aliens.”
Napa County Undersheriff Jon Crawford said that there were “a few warrants” for Hernandez-Morales’ arrest at the time of the encounter, and that he was known to use “several aliases,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The former farmworker had been arrested on at least five occasions in the past for offenses including assault on a peace officer, driving under the influence, and possession of a concealed and loaded firearm.
But Hernandez-Morales’ family blamed the incident on a lack of support for people with mental illness and substance abuse disorders, and claimed that society “turned their back” on him, the Napa Valley Register reported.
“Our family has chosen to stay quiet in an attempt to heal our own pain and protect our children from the onslaught of anger and hate that has begun to engulf our family,” family member Jodi Hernandez wrote in a statement on the family’s behalf. “But after reading the article regarding Immigration and Customs Enforcement, we felt the need to speak out.”
Hernandez-Morales contributed to the “strength” of the country by working in the Napa Valley vineyards, she said.
But he also struggled with “many demons,” and used drugs and alcohol to cope with his depression, according to Hernandez.
She claimed he had “limited access to mental health services,” so he would drive to rural areas to “calm his mind,” which is where the deadly encounter occurred.
“We can build walls. We can keep people who do not look like us and do not speak our language out as much as we want. And nothing will change. Because we are rotting from the inside out,” Hernandez declared.
“As a city, as a state and as a nation we do not value mental health. We ignore the pain of mental health conditions and the subsequent substance abuse caused from self-medication,” she wrote. “You cannot ignore the pain and anguish of an individual and expect to have a safe, strong country.”
Hernandez acknowledged that Napa County Sheriff’s Deputy Riley Jarecki was forced to destroy Hernandez-Morales in self-defense.
“To the officer who had to make the difficult choice to pull the trigger, our family is so very sorry,” she wrote. “As much as we are hurting because we lost a beloved member of our family, we can only imagine the pain you are in…the decision to discharge your firearm on a person is never an easy decision to make. Our family wants you to know you are in our thoughts and prayers as much as Javier.”
The fatal encounter began at 10:59 p.m. on Feb. 17, when Deputy Jarecki noticed a parked red Honda facing the wrong direction along a rural section of Henry Road, the Napa Valley Register reported.
The lone deputy approached the car and spoke with the driver – later identified as Hernandez-Morales – for several moments, Undersheriff Crawford explained.
From her position outside the partially-opened passenger side window, Deputy Jarecki asked Hernandez Morales if she could “look around” the vehicle, bodycam footage showed.
The driver threw his hands up, and Deputy Jarecki asked him to stay put and not move.
“Okay,” Hernandez Morales said, showing the deputy his hands again.
“No problem, I don’t have problems,” he added in Spanish.
The deputy circled around the back of the car, shining her flashlight inside, and stopped at the driver’s side window.
She knocked on the glass, and told Hernandez Morales to roll the window down.
He hesitated for a moment, so Deputy Jarecki repeated her request.
Hernandez Morales muttered something to himself and scanned the area around him inside the vehicle before he finally pressed on the electric window button and opened the window.
“What’s up?” he asked her in Spanish.
Before she could reply, Hernandez Morales drew a .22-caliber revolver and immediately fired at least one round directly at the deputy.
“Hernandez Morales fired from close proximity, essentially without warning, and it’s pretty obvious to us he intended to kill her,” Undersheriff Crawford told the San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday.
Deputy Jarecki immediately backed away and circled behind the car while alerting over the radio that there had been “shots fired," the video showed.
Hernandez Morales started the vehicle's engine as Deputy Jarecki made her way to the passenger side and returned fire.
She steadily unloaded at least 15 rounds into the vehicle, and the suspect yelled out just before the video clip ended.
Hernandez Morales was pronounced dead at the scene, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Investigators located a loaded .22-caliber rifle inside the car, and determined that the revolver Hernandez Morales used in his attempt to kill the deputy had been reported as stolen.
Deputy Jarecki was uninjured in the attack, and has been placed on administrative leave, as per protocol.
“I’m gonna call it divine intervention” that she wasn’t hit during the attack, Undersheriff Crawford told the Napa Valley Register.
“That was a pretty violent, shocking thing,” Napa County Sheriff John Robertson agreed. “Nobody wants to use lethal force, nobody even wants to use their gun… but she did what she was trained to do to eliminate the threat.”
Sheriff Robertson commended her for her swift action.
"The loss of life is something that we always take very seriously, either by this agency or by any other law enforcement agency,” Undersheriff Crawford told KGO. “In this case however, Hernandez Morales made the choice to attempt to murder Deputy Jarecki, and she responded accordingly.”
“We are proud of the deputy’s composure and her fight to save her life,” he added, according to KPIX.
Deputy Jarecki was sworn in as a NVCSO deputy on June 20, 2018, following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, according to a department Facebook post.
She also served as a Calistoga police officer prior to joining the sheriff’s office, The Weekly Calistogan reported.