By BILL HUTCHINSON, ALEX STONE and MATT GUTMAN, ABC News
(LOS ANGELES) — A suspect has been arrested in the brazen ambush shooting that left two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies severely wounded, authorities said.
Authorities identified the suspect as 36-year-old Deonte Murray.
Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced the arrest during a news conference on Wednesday, saying the Sept. 12 surprise attack showed “the worst of humanity — a cowardly act where a suspect ambushed and shot and attempted to kill two of our deputies.”
“This cowardly ambush was followed by bystanders celebrating and cheering that the deputies had been shot, and that followed at the hospital — the sanctity, the quiet sanctity of the hospital — with protesters cheering and chanting for the deputies to die,” Villanueva said. “These acts and that day, I will not forget it, and it represents the worst in humanity and it shocked the whole nation. And that evening, I said we will find this man. And I can report today, we have found our suspect.”
Murray had been in custody since Sept. 15, when he was arrested in connection with an alleged carjacking and a 10-hour standoff with police in the Lynwood section of Los Angeles, sheriff’s officials said. But when he was arrested, sheriff’s officials told reporters that Murray was not the suspect in the shooting of the deputies and that the search for that gunman, which prompted a reward that soared to $675,000 with private donations, was ongoing.
During Wednesday’s news conference, Villanueva faced numerous questions about why his agency initially ruled out Murray as the ambush suspect. Officials claimed that at the time of Murray’s arrest they didn’t know for sure he was the alleged gunman.
Murray was arraigned on Wednesday in the Compton branch of Los Angeles Superior Court on two counts of willful, deliberate and premeditated attempted murder of a peace officer and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon, according to a statement from Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. Murray pleaded not guilty to the charges, and a preliminary hearing has been set for Oct. 28.
Murray, who was ordered held in jail on $6.15 million, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted, Lacey added.
Murray’s lawyer, deputy public defender Jack Keenan, told ABC News on Thursday that he could not comment on the case because he’d yet to receive any investigative reports or evidence from prosecutors.
“The only thing I can tell you is I am concerned with Mr. Murray’s safety at the jail,” Keenan said. “The jails here are run by the sheriff. He [Murray] is accused of shooting two sheriff’s deputies. He’s informed me that while in jail he’s been threatened, harassed, denied food.”
Keenan said that when he went to visit Murray at the jail on Thursday morning, he watched deputies manhandle his client.
“I witnessed one of the deputies take his forearm and place it across the back of Mr. Murray’s neck, and then they brought him to the ground before I was told to get out,” said Keenan, adding that Murray was dressed in a suicide gown, or a padded blanket garment, despite not being suicidal.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had no immediate comment, telling ABC News he hadn’t heard of any reports of problems at the jail concerning Murray, but would look into the matter.
The ambush unfolded on Sept. 12 as the two deputies, whose names have not been released by the sheriff’s department, sat in a marked patrol vehicle near the Martin Luther King Jr. Transit Center in Compton, authorities said. Surveillance video released by the sheriff’s department showed an individual dressed in black shorts, a dark jacket and wielding a pistol walk up to the vehicle and shoot through the passenger-side window without warning.
The shooter ran to a black four-door sedan and sped away, authorities said. As the gunman fled, surveillance video showed the patrol vehicle’s passenger-side door open and one of the wounded deputies, described as a 31-year-old mother of a 6-year-old, stumble out.
Villanueva told ABC News earlier last month that despite being shot four or five times, including once in the jaw, the female deputy walked around the patrol vehicle to help her 24-year-old partner, who suffered gunshot wounds to his forehead, arms and one hand.
Both deputies initially were in critical condition and taken to St. Francis Medical Center, where they underwent surgery. They’ve since been released but are facing long rehabilitation periods, officials said.
Officials have not commented on Murray’s motive for the alleged ambush “beyond the fact that he hates policemen and wants them dead,” said Kent Wegener, captain of the LA Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau.
Keenan, also representing Murray in the carjacking case, told ABC News his client hasn’t expressed anti-police views.
“In the time I’ve been dealing with him, he’s not expressed any anger or feelings toward the deputies other than his treatment by them,” Keenan said. “Mr. Murray hasn’t expressed any dislike for the sheriffs in any way. I think, unfortunately, the sheriff wants to try this right now in front of the press without any evidence.”
At the time of Murray’s arrest, reports circulated online implying that the armed carjacking suspect caught in Lynwood could be the gunman wanted in the surprise attack on the two deputies. However, the sheriff’s department issued a statement describing the online reports as “ERRONEOUS information” and said “there are no named or wanted suspects at this time.”
MORE: Reward for wanted gunman who shot 2 Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies grows to $675,000
When Murray was arrested, reporters asked Villanueva why Murray was being held on $2 million bail and asked the sheriff directly if he was connected to the ambush, according to ABC Los Angeles station KABC.
“[He] was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and carjacking,” Villanueva said then. “And he actually shot the victim with an AR-15, and stole the vehicle. So that, itself, is going to necessitate the higher bail. And he is an extremely dangerous person, and thankfully he was arrested without incident — without, at least, anybody being injured.”
Lacey said the carjacking occurred Sept. 1 in Compton, where Murray allegedly shot the carjacking victim in the leg. Following Murray’s arrest Sept. 15, he was charged with one count each of carjacking, second-degree robbery and assault with a semi-automatic firearm.
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