A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy identified a state prison parolee as the man he saw standing over the body of a sheriff’s sergeant outside a Lancaster apartment complex in 2016.
Deputy Zachary Anderson’s testimony came during the first day of a hearing in downtown Los Angeles before Superior Court Judge George G. Lomeli, who will determine if there is enough evidence to require Trenton Trevon Lovell, 28, of Lancaster, to stand trial on murder and other charges stemming from the Oct. 5, 2016, killing of Sgt. Steve Owen, 53, who was shot five times.
Anderson said he heard three to four pops that sounded like gunfire before he arrived at the apartment complex in the 3200 block of West Avenue J-6.
“I saw Sergeant Owen laying on his back and a male black standing over him,” the deputy testified before identifying Lovell in the downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
The deputy said that he yelled at Lovell to “get on the ground” and that Lovell “pointed the gun that he was holding at me.”
Anderson said he immediately opened fire and began shooting at the defendant, who got into Owens’ patrol car, accelerated toward him and rammed into his patrol car. He said that he had to move out of the way because he feared that Lovell was “going to attempt to run me over,” and that both vehicles were disabled as a result of the crash.
The deputy said he re-loaded his weapon as Lovell fled through the apartment complex. Anderson said that he lost sight of Lovell after he jumped over a fence, and that he returned to try to render aid to Owen after another sheriff’s unit pulled up nearby.
“He was still breathing. He had a pulse,” Anderson said of the sergeant after the shooting.
“Was he responsive at all?” Deputy District Attorney Michael Blake asked.
“No,” said the deputy, who went with the sergeant as he was rushed in an SUV to a hospital.
Lovell was arrested the same day.
The murder charge against Lovell includes the special circumstance allegations of murder of a peace officer in the performance of his duties and murder for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest. Prosecutors will determine later whether to seek the death penalty.
Along with murder, Lovell is charged with one count each of attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a felon and two counts each of first-degree residential robbery and false imprisonment by violence. The latter charge includes a knife use allegation. The attempted murder charge includes an allegation that Lovell used a patrol car as a deadly and dangerous weapon against Anderson.
The criminal complaint also alleges that Lovell was on parole at the time of the crime and that he had been convicted of robbery as a juvenile in 2006 and again as an adult in 2009. He has been held without bail since his arrest that day.
Another prosecution witness, Joel Avery, testified that he could only see the gunman from the waist down as he stood over Owen and fired shots at the sheriff’s sergeant, but identified Lovell as the man he saw subsequently get into Owens’ patrol car.
He said he initially heard one shot while inside his apartment, then a series of shots seconds later.
“Was he doing anything at that point to defend himself?” the prosecutor asked Avery about the sergeant.
“No,” responded the witness, who lived nearby at the time.
He said he initially posted the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook Live, but subsequently took it down out of respect for the slain sergeant’s family. The cell phone footage — which was played in court on a large screen — shows Owen on the ground and deputies subsequently moving the fallen sergeant from the scene.
The prosecution’s first witness, Deputy Benjamin Casebolt, grew emotional as he was asked about seeing the fallen sergeant, who was in his sheriff’s uniform, outside the apartment complex.
The officers were among those responding to a call of a possible burglary in progress nearby when Owen broadcasted over the police radio that he had the suspect at gunpoint, authorities have said.
“I first saw him lying on the ground. Then I saw him being carried,” Casebolt said.
The deputy said he subsequently interviewed the woman who said she made the 911 call when she discovered that a rear sliding glass door in her two-story home had been shattered. She went downstairs about 20 minutes after hearing a loud crashing noise that she initially thought was a trash truck, but didn’t discover anything missing, Casebolt said.
After making the 911 call, the woman subsequently heard what she thought were gunshots and saw the deputy lying next to his patrol vehicle, then heard more gunfire and saw the car crashing into a second patrol car before the person inside Owen’s car fled, the deputy said.
Lovell allegedly ran from the scene, took a 19-year-old girl and her 17-year-old brother hostage at knifepoint in a nearby home for about an hour, after convincing them that he needed help after a robbery and shooting, according to authorities.
The young woman secretly texted her mother, who alerted sheriff’s deputies about Lovell’s location, and her brother locked the family’s barking dog in a room where guns were stored, authorities said. Lovell was ultimately arrested when he walked out of the back of the house, and was treated for a gunshot wound to his shoulder, authorities said.
Lovell allegedly admitted that Owen chased him and told him to freeze as Lovell approached the front door of the residence he was sharing with his sister, according to a report from the District Attorney’s Justice System Integrity Division following an investigation into the deputy-involved shooting of Lovell, who was struck once.
“Lovell stated he fired one round at Owen, striking him in the face. Lovell then `walked up and (he) finished the job.’ Lovell said that he `emptied the whole five shots’ from his revolver,” according to the report from the District Attorney’s Office, which found that Anderson had acted in self-defense and used lawful force in shooting Lovell once while trying to arrest him.
Owen was a 29-year department veteran who had worked in the Antelope Valley for years and was well known for his community involvement, especially with area youths. He was promoted to sergeant five years earlier and worked as a sheriff’s Arson-Explosives detective.
His killing prompted an outpouring of support for his family and remembrances of Owen’s unwavering dedication to his job and commitment to the community. Law enforcement officers from as far away as New York and public officials including Gov. Jerry Brown attended his funeral service. A section of State Route 14 in the Antelope Valley was dedicated in his name on the one-year anniversary of his death.
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said at the ceremony that the dedication “will serve as a continuous reminder of his selfless act, as well as a lesson to us all that we each have the ability to improve our community — much like Steve did every day.”
The hearing — which is expected to last several days — is scheduled to resume Wednesday.
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