Deputy’s Alleged Killer Held

Deputy’s Alleged Killer Held
A 27-year-old parolee is found ‘cowering in a bathtub’ near the house where Jerry Ortiz had been shot in the head a few hours earlier.

By Richard Fausset
Times Staff Writer

June 26, 2005

Before he was fatally shot, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Jerry Ortiz was looking for a man considered to be a “career criminal” and was hoping to arrest him on suspicion of attempted murder, officials said Saturday.

That man, Jose Luis Orozco, is now the main suspect in the Friday afternoon slaying of Ortiz in Hawaiian Gardens.

Orozco was arrested around midnight Friday by a sheriff’s SWAT team, three houses from the scene of the fatal shooting. He was found “cowering in a bathtub,” Sheriff Lee Baca said.

Ortiz, a gang enforcement officer, was searching for Orozco because he was a suspect in a shooting that occurred in the neighborhood Monday, said Sheriff’s Capt. Ray Peavy, a homicide investigator. Orozco, 27, a known gang member, was also suspected of violating parole after serving time for a weapons violation, Peavy said.

Ortiz, 35, was on his own about 3 p.m. Friday when he went to a house in Hawaiian Gardens, a working-class city at the northeast border of Long Beach with long-standing gang problems.

Peavy said the specific reason for Ortiz’s visit was unknown but he provided a few details about the encounter: A woman answered the door and a man walked up behind her. Ortiz asked the man for some identification and was checking it when Orozco appeared from inside the house.

He shot Ortiz once in the head and fled, Peavy said.

Dozens of law enforcement officers worked the case through the afternoon and into the night, fanning out around the 12200 block of 223rd Street and questioning residents. Deputies believed they knew where Orozco was hiding and obtained a search warrant. A handgun was recovered during the arrest, Peavy said.

Orozco, who was booked on suspicion of violating his parole, is being held without bail. Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said he expected Orozco to be charged with first-degree murder of a peace officer, which means he could receive the death penalty if he is convicted.

Peavy could not say what Orozco was doing in the house, but said he had been living on the street and sleeping in different places.

Baca, who had been in Kentucky for a meeting of the National Sheriffs’ Assn., returned to Los Angeles for a news conference held Saturday with Cooley and Los Angeles Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa.

Baca praised the work of his investigators, but the arrest seemed to do little to quell his anger. He called Orozco “the scum of the earth” and an “idiot,” pointing to a photo of the suspect and the “devil horns” tattooed on his bald head.

Cooley unfurled a long trail of printer paper that Baca said contained Orozco’s criminal record, including drug and weapon violations, resisting arrest, burglary and assault with a deadly weapon.

The sheriff contrasted the suspect’s life with that of Ortiz, a 15-year department veteran.

Ortiz “not only exemplified the best of what we have, but took it upon himself to work in the toughest job that we also have — and that is trying to do something about this out-of-control gang problem in Los Angeles County,” Baca said.

Baca urged everyone in Southern California to pay more attention to the gang problem. He called for broader prevention initiatives, lamented the lack of resources in his department and urged parents to get involved in the lives of their children.

Cooley said the fact that Orozco hadn’t been in contact with his parole officer since January was a “failure” of the system, but he did not elaborate.

Undersheriff Larry Waldie said that Ortiz set out without a partner Friday because he had arrived early and was eager to get to work.

Peavy said Ortiz usually partnered with one of two deputies, but both had the day off. Instead, Ortiz had planned to partner with his sergeant. But he apparently decided to visit the house first.

Peavy noted that such solo work is not a violation of department policy.

Ortiz, of Diamond Bar, was an Army veteran and the father of two boys, ages 6 and 16. He was married for the second time about two weeks ago.

His family declined a request for an interview Saturday through a sheriff’s spokesman. But colleagues described him as someone who lived for police work and was a “fanatic” about boxing. He fought on the sheriff’s boxing team and trained recruits and deputies in hand-to-hand combat.

Lt. Bob Rifkin of Operation Safe Streets, the department’s gang unit, said Ortiz became interested in the gang problem while working as a patrol officer from 1996 to 2000. He joined the gang unit in 2001 after passing a background check and written exam that tested his knowledge of gang culture.

Ortiz won numerous commendations for his work. Last year, he was awarded the city of Lakewood’s Medal of Valor after he fatally shot a carjacker who drew a gun on him and his partner.

“Jerry was 35 years old and had more motivation than a 21-year-old just getting on the department,” Rifkin said. “He always wanted to go toward the action and that’s what Jerry was respected for.”

Baca noted that Ortiz’s family has had “tremendous tragedies when it comes to those members who’ve been in law enforcement.”

In January, Ortiz’s brother-in-law, Manuel A. Gonzalez, was stabbed to death while working as a corrections officer at a state prison in Chino.

The alleged killer, Jon Christopher Blaylock, was serving a life sentence for the attempted murder of a police officer.

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