The Orange County Sheriff's Department has identified two men fatally shot by Huntington Beach gang detectives during a car stop as Erick Catalan, 20, of Long Beach and John Andrew Torres, 26, of Fullerton.
The shooting occurred near Westminster Boulevard in that city and the Sheriff's Dept. is contracted by Huntington Beach to investigate the latter department's officer-involved shootings.
And a second Long Beach man was fatally shot by an off-duty Santa Ana police officer, who reported that he interrupted his car being stolen in Lakewood, gave chase and when the alleged thief hopped back in the car and reached for his waistband, the officer shot him. The deceased's family had not been reached so his identity was withheld.
In the Huntington Beach case, according to Sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino, Huntington Beach gang unit officers watched a woman and two men get into a green, four-door Lexus in Huntington Beach Tuesday and followed them. The officers stopped the car just before 4:30 p.m. because they suspected one of the men was an ``armed and dangerous'' gang member they were seeking, Amormino said.
Amormino did not know if it was Torres or Catalan who was the gang suspect sought by Huntington Beach police.
The officers stopped the vehicle under surveillance on Hammond Place just north of Westminster Boulevard in Westminster, Amormino said.
"They did not pull over right away, but it was not a pursuit," Amormino said. "They stopped the car, a femaile driver came out, when interviewing her, a gunshot went off inside the car."
Fearing they were being shot at, both gang detectives fired their guns at the car, but Amormino said what happened is still not clear--whether the gun accidentally discharged inside the car or whether it was fired at someone. Only one gun was found in the car, meaning only one of the three people was armed, but it was still not clear whom.
"The woman, who was driving, got out of the car, but then police heard gunfire inside the vehicle and, believing they were being shot at, the officers returned fire," Amormino said. Catalan and Torres were pronounced dead at the scene, Amormino said.
Investigators found a .40-caliber handgun in the Lexus, Amormino said. The officers were unhurt. Investigators did not identify the officers, but Amormino said they had more than 20 years of law enforcement experience and have been placed on administrative leave, which is routine following an officer- involved shooting.
A 23-year-old man who was shot and killed by an off- duty Santa Ana police officer while he was apparently trying to steal the officer's car was identified by the L.A. Coroner's office as Jason Richard Bitz of Long Beach. The shooting occurred about 6:30 a.m. Monday in the 20700 block of Studebaker Road, four blocks south of Del Amo Boulevard, said sheriff's Deputy Lillian Peck.
The officer heard suspicious noises outside his home on Longworth Avenue, and when he looked out of his window he saw two white men breaking into a vehicle across the street, Peck said. The officer left his home to confront the suspects and identified himself as a police officer, according to Peck.
One of the men ran away and the other got into a white compact car, which was possibly a Honda, according to Peck. The officer got into his car to chase it and called 911 from his vehicle, Peck said. The officer found Bitz across the street from Rynerson Park and again told him he was a police officer, deputies said. The officer then got out of his car and told Bitz to stop running and raise his hands, according to Peck. Bitz got back to the officer's car and jumped into the driver's seat, deputies said. The officer again told Bitz to surrender and show his hands, but he reached for his waistband and the officer opened fire, Peck said.
Bitz was pronounced dead at the scene in the driver's seat of the officer's car. The officer, whose name has not been released, has been placed on administrative leave. The case is still under investigation, Peck said.
--City News Service contributed to this report.