Two Palm Springs police officers died and another was injured in a shooting after responding to a domestic disturbance call, the Palm Springs Police Officers Association said. Photo via OnScene.TV.
Two Palm Springs police officers died and another was injured in a shooting after responding to a domestic disturbance call. Photo via OnScene.TV.

Capital murder charges were expected to be filed Tuesday against the man accused of killing two Palm Springs police officers, while a memorial of flowers, pictures and balloons continued to grow Monday on the steps of the police department headquarters.

John Hernandez Felix, 26, remains jailed without bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside for allegedly shooting and killing veteran training Sgt. Jose Gilbert Vega, 63, and rookie Officer Lesley Zerebny, 27, as well as wounding a third officer, who was released from the hospital Sunday.

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said Sunday there is sufficient evidence for at least two special-circumstance allegations — murder of a police officer and committing multiple murders — to be filed along with first-degree murder charges against Felix, making him eligible for the death penalty. Hestrin said his office would make a decision on whether to actually seek the death penalty “very quickly,” within the next two or three weeks.

Felix was flushed out of his house in the 2700 block of Cypress Avenue at 1 a.m. Sunday by a Riverside County sheriff’s SWAT team after a 12-hour standoff. He was wearing soft body armor and carrying multiple magazines of bullets, but police did not immediately report what type of weapons he may have had in the home.

Palm Springs police responded to the home around 1 p.m. Saturday to a call from a woman reporting that her adult son was causing a disturbance, according to police. Three officers were shot through a closed front door as they tried to get Felix to come outside, sheriff’s department officials said.

Vega had been with the department for 35 years — five years past his retirement eligibility — and had planned to finish his career in December. Zerebny had been with the department for a year-and-a-half and she had just returned to duty from maternity leave after the birth of a daughter four months ago. Her husband is a member of the sheriff’s department.

“I have two officers that are now looking down at us from above, and our police department today is walking in the footsteps of two additional heroes,”  Police Chief Bryan Reyes, speaking through tears, said Sunday.

“She was a very excited officer, to learn her new profession, just gave birth to her baby daughter four months ago,” he said of Zerebny. “She elected to come back to the department early to help out.

“To see her laying down, with her eyes open, and to witness her husband in full Riverside County sheriff’s office uniform, kiss her on the forehead for the last time …

“It’s tough. We are going to rely on all of you to help us through this,” the police chief said, echoing the tenor of a statement Mayor Rob Moon tweeted on Saturday: “It’s probably the worst day of my life.”

Hundreds of people attended a candlelight vigil at the Palm Springs Police Department Sunday night to mourn the deaths of the officers. Saturday marked the first time a Palm Springs police officer was killed in the line of duty since Jan. 1, 1962, when Officer Lyle Wayne Larrabee died during a vehicle pursuit. Officer Gale Gene Eldridge was fatally shot Jan. 18, 1961, while investigating an armed robbery.

“We are grateful to have so much support from so many people in our community and beyond,” the department’s Facebook page proclaimed after the vigil. “Words cannot describe our pain at this time.”

Felix was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to two years in prison for a 2009 crime that originally drew an attempted murder charge. Prosecutors also charged him with being a member of a criminal gang.

After being released from that sentence, he was later accused of resisting arrest by Palm Springs police on the same street where he allegedly shot three officers Saturday.

Following his arrest Sunday, he was treated at a hospital for incidental injuries before being booked into the county jail at Riverside.

Adding to the stress being experienced by Riverside County’s law enforcement community, an Indio police sergeant was critically injured in a motorcycle crash about 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The sergeant was driving a 2007 Honda motorcycle on southbound Jackson Street approaching Odlum Drive when the driver of a 2013 Nissan SUV turned directly into his path, according to Stephanie Hamilton of the California Highway Patrol.

The sergeant was thrown off his motorcycle and landed in the intersection, she said. He was taken by ambulance to Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs with major injuries and listed in critical condition, according to the CHP.

The SUV driver, 53-year-old Margaret Kendric of Orange, was not injured, Hamilton said. Kendric was arrested on  suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs and booked into the Riverside County jail in Indio. She was being held in lieu of $50,000 bail.

 

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