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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Police arrest 29-year-old in ambush shooting of Los Angeles County deputy

Attendees take photos of a poster of Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer during a vigil in Palmdale, Calif., Sept. 17, 2023. The officer was found unconscious in his patrol car in Palmdale, a city near Los Angeles. It was unclear whether there was more than one suspect in the shooting or what the motive was.

By Adeel Hassan

For more than a day, Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies scoured the high desert city of Palmdale, desperately searching for a man who killed one of their own in an ambush shooting over the weekend. They had little to go on except surveillance video showing an older, dark gray Toyota sedan.

In the early hours Monday, they arrived at a suburban Southern California home, just a few miles from where Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer was shot dead while alone in his sheriff’s cruiser. The man they sought, served with a warrant, refused to come out and barricaded himself inside. Deputies brought in hostage negotiators and the SWAT team, all to no avail. Hours passed.

Only after they resorted to using chemical agents — tear gas is common — did the 29-year-old man emerge from his parents’ house. Authorities arrested the suspect, Kevin Cataneo Salazar, and found multiple firearms on scene, Sheriff Robert Luna of Los Angeles County said in an emotional news conference Monday.

And they found a dark gray Toyota sedan.

“I feel extremely confident that we have the right person in custody,” Luna said. “I’m going to leave it at that.”

Clinkunbroomer, who was transferred to the Palmdale station in July 2018, had worked in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for about eight years, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, officials said. For the past year and a half, he also trained and supervised other deputies, a responsibility bestowed on only the most trustworthy members of the force.

But perhaps the most heartbreaking detail of the tragedy was that, just four days before his death, Clinkunbroomer had gotten engaged to be married to the “love of his life,” his family said.

“Our son Ryan was a dedicated, hardworking deputy sheriff who enjoyed working here at the Palmdale station,” Clinkunbroomer’s family said in a statement that Luna read Monday. “He was proud to work along the side of his partners that he considered brothers and sisters, as he sacrificed daily to better the community that he served. Ryan made the ultimate sacrifice in doing so.”

Luna described a grieving Sheriff’s Department that finally got its breakthrough after a Sunday afternoon news conference. There, officials released photos and a description of the vehicle, the main clue they had from the shooting. They announced a reward that climbed to $250,000 for information leading to an arrest. Tips poured in.

“That was key at this point, leading our detectives to this suspect,” Luna said.

The Sheriff’s Department has not determined a motive in the shooting, and homicide investigators are still asking questions. Luna said Monday that he had assumed the deputy was targeted for being a law enforcement officer, “but our intent is to find out.”

Five officers have died in situations designated as “ambushes” this year through August, compared to 12 officers killed in such situations in all of last year, according to statistics released by the FBI. Eight were killed in 2021 and nine in 2020.

Marle Salazar, the mother of the man arrested Monday, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that her son had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia about five years ago. She added that she had called deputies to respond in the past when he had become too aggressive after not taking his medication.

“That’s all part of the investigation,” Luna said.

“Whether mental health is a factor or not,” he added, “think about this: If I had to go to your family and tell them that you were not coming home and that you were just murdered, does it matter what the person was thinking, or their condition?”

Although Palmdale is situated in Los Angeles County, it hardly resembles the LA that most people know. The city is separated by mountains from the coastal basin, more than an hour’s drive from the Hollywood attractions and beaches that draw visitors to Southern California. Palmdale grew popular in the late 20th century among aerospace employees who worked nearby, as well as with families searching for cheaper homes — albeit with a long commute.

Palmdale has a recent history of tension between law enforcement officers and the community. In 2015, the U.S. Justice Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced a settlement involving policing changes in Palmdale and the nearby city of Lancaster after an investigation found patterns of excessive use of force, biased practices and unlawful searches and seizures.

Monitors have documented a lack of progress toward the goals set in the settlement, although they also recognized “new signs of commitment to reforms” and better communication and transparency in a report this year.

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