Three men have been charged in the fatal shooting of a Northern California sheriff's deputy who was killed responding to a reported theft from an illegal marijuana growing operation in the rural Sierra Nevada foothills, authorities said Thursday.
A 911 caller reporting the theft did not disclose crucial information — that he had a business arrangement with the supposed thieves — that the El Dorado County sheriff said could have prevented his deputy's death.
"Had he been truthful with our deputies and the 911 dispatcher, this tragedy would not have occurred," Sheriff John D'Agostini told reporters.
The caller, Christopher Ross, leased the land to grow 75 plants in the community of Somerset, D'Agostini said. But Ross only told police that people were stealing from his home's growing operation and did not mention an apparent dispute when he spoke to Deputy Brian Ishmael and an off-duty deputy from San Joaquin County who was accompanying him on a ride-along.
Ishmael was fatally shot as he approached the suspected thieves and the off-duty deputy was wounded, authorities said.
Ross, 47, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and remains incarcerated on $50,000 bail, jail records show.
When Ishmael and the off-duty deputy announced their presence at the growing operation, "they were immediately confronted with gunfire," D'Agostini said. Both returned gunfire.
Ishmael, 37, was struck once in the upper chest, above his bulletproof vest, and once in the foot, the sheriff said. The off-duty deputy, whose name has not been made public, was hit once in the upper thigh and tried to help Ishmael, but he died in minutes, authorities said.
A SWAT team and other officers surrounded the residence and growing operation for hours before they arrested two men.
The suspected gunman, Juan Carlos Vasquez Orozco, underwent surgery for gunshot wounds, D'Agostini said. He was arrested on suspicion of murder and assault with a deadly weapon.
Ramiro Bravo Morales, 22, is charged with being an accessory and is in custody on $250,000 bail. It was not immediately clear if any of the suspects, including Ross, had attorneys who could speak on their behalf.
The arrests were first reported by The Sacramento Bee.
Orozco, 20, and Morales are Mexican citizens, D'Agostini said, adding that he did not know if they were in the United States legally.
Ishmael was a four-year veteran of the sheriff's office and had worked two years for the Placerville Police Department. He is survived by a wife and three daughters.