DELHI, California -- A gunfight ended Thursday night in Delhi with one man dead and a Merced County sheriff’s deputy hospitalized, Sheriff Vern Warnke reported.
The deputy underwent surgery at Doctors Medical Center in Modesto and was expected to “make a full recovery,” though he remained listed in “critical but stable condition,” Warnke told the Sun-Star.
The suspect who allegedly shot the deputy was identified as 38-year-old Jose Torres of Delhi. Torres was shot and killed by another deputy just before 6 p.m. outside a home in the 16200 block of Harmony Ranch Drive, Warnke said.
The deputies had been called to the area to investigate a domestic disturbance report. Torres came out of the home on Harmony Ranch Drive with “an assault-like rifle,” and opened fire, striking the deputy at least once.
“He opened fire, the deputies returned fire and killed him,” Warnke said.
Warnke declined to comment on the number of shots fired.
The sheriff said he was relieved by news of his deputy’s condition.
“He’s expected to pull through,” Warnke told the Sun-Star. “Keep positive thoughts, and keep my deputy in your thoughts and prayers.”
Warnke said he was going to visit the deputy in the hospital late Thursday.
The names of the recovering deputy and the deputy who shot and killed Torres were not released Thursday.
Warnke confirmed the deputy who fired his weapon would be placed on paid administrative leave pending a use-of-force review. Warnke confirmed both the review and the administrative leave were standard practices in all deputy-involved shootings.
Christi Jantz, 49, has lived in the Delhi area since she was 9 years old and said the neighborhood has deteriorated over the years with gang violence and shootings.
“It’s gotten scary,” she said. “It’s a lot different than it was back then. There have been a lot of shootings out here.”
Edgar Nieto lives in the area where the shooting occurred.
“I saw (the deputy) waving at someone when he was on the gurney. There were other officers, multiple officers around him and he (the injured deputy) was waving at someone,” Nieto said.
The 22-year-old Delhi man said he did not see or hear any shots fired, but heard numerous sirens from emergency vehicles. He said the shooting appeared to have happened near the intersection of Harmony Ranch Drive and Countryside Avenue.
Donald Canhoto, 17, was walking in the area and said he heard the gunfire. He estimated about two to three shots went off in the area.
“I figured it was getting out of hand,” Canhoto said. “I was walking down the street and then a bunch of cop cars passed me.”
Jantz said she wished law enforcement had a stronger presence in Delhi. The sheriff’s office in 2014 reopened a substation in Delhi after it was shuttered four years earlier, but Jantz said it’s not always clear whether deputies are patrolling in town.
In April, Warnke and Merced District Attorney Larry Morse II blasted the county’s Board of Supervisors during a joint presentation on local law enforcement funding. Warnke and Morse said the supervisors needed to invest more money into law enforcement to help hire and retain patrol deputies and prosecutors, calling the current state of law enforcement in Merced County a “public safety crisis.”
Warnke said while additional deputies would not have prevented Thursday’s violence, they would help in with “the aftermath of this situation.”
“I’m now down two more guys who are off the street for who knows how long,” Warnke said. “And we’re still down about 10 patrol positions and I have four more thinking to leave for UC Merced because of this (salary) situation.”
Warnke said the help of neighboring agencies was critical Thursday night. He said help was sent from the California Highway Patrol, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office, Turlock, Livingston, and Atwater police departments.
“I can’t thank them all enough because we are just out of bodies tonight,” Warnke said a telephone interview.
Thursday’s incident is the first officer-involved shooting reported in Merced County since December, when sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a 50-year-old woman in Santa Nella.
The last time a law enforcement officer in Merced County suffered a gunshot wound came in March 2015 when a Merced police officer was shot during a traffic stop on H Street in Merced. The officer survived his injuries.
The violence comes less than a week after a man shot two employees of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. Thong Vang, 37, has been charged with the attempted murder of two Fresno County correctional officers, according to the Fresno Bee.
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