UNITED STATES NEWS

Suspect in ambush killing of LA deputy pleads not guilty due to insanity

Sep 20, 2023, 10:01 AM | Updated: 6:18 pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The man charged with murder in the ambush killing of a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity on Wednesday.

Officials say Kevin Cataneo Salazar fatally shot 30-year-old Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer, who was sitting in a patrol car, on Saturday. The attack occurred in Palmdale, a city of more than 167,000 residents in the high desert of northern Los Angeles County.

Prosecutors charged Cataneo Salazar, 29, with one count of murder, plus special circumstance allegations of murder of a peace officer, murder committed by lying in wait, murder committed by firing from a car and personal use of a firearm.

His attorney, George Rosenstock, entered a plea of not guilty and a dual plea of not guilty by reason of insanity on his behalf during Wednesday’s arraignment.

Prosecutors haven’t laid out a motive in the case or said whether Clinkunbroomer and Cataneo Salazar previously knew each other.

Authorities said the deputy was “targeted” but would not say whether Cataneo Salazar was seeking to harm Clinkunbroomer specifically or any member of law enforcement generally.

Cataneo Salazar allegedly followed Clinkunbroomer just before 6 p.m. Saturday as he left the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Palmdale Station, the district attorney’s office said in a news release.

The deputy was “waiting for a red light to turn” when he was shot, Sheriff Robert Luna said. That was one block away from the station, officials said.

Cataneo Salazar was arrested Monday after an hourslong standoff with sheriff’s deputies. He had barricaded himself inside his family’s Palmdale home.

Cataneo Salazar remained held without bail and is scheduled to return to court in November. Rosenstock did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment, though his office said the legal team would not be discussing the case further.

At an afternoon news conference, District Attorney George Gascón said prosecutors owe it to the slain deputy’s family to secure a conviction and a sentence of life.

“We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure the defendant never gets out of prison,” Gascón said. He was flanked by Clinkunbroomer’s fiancée, parents, brother and sister. Dozens of sheriff’s deputies lined the walls wearing black mourning bands over their badges.

Brittany Lindsey, Clinkunbroomer’s fiancée, fought back tears as she recounted their plans to get married and raise a family.

“Ryan was the best guy I ever met,” Lindsey said during the news conference. “I couldn’t wait to start our lives together.”

Cataneo Salazar’s mother and other family members did not return phone and email messages seeking comment.

His mother, Marle Salazar, told the Los Angeles Times her son was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic about five years ago. He would say he was hearing voices in his head, she said, and sometimes claimed that cars or people were following him. He twice attempted suicide, she said.

“My son is mentally ill, and if he did something, he wasn’t in his full mental capacity,” she said in an interview with the paper.

Marle Salazar told the Times that she didn’t know her son owned a gun, but she was told by detectives that he had legally bought the weapon used in the attack. The gun was purchased in the weeks before the shooting, Deputy District Attorney Michael Blake said at Wednesday’s news conference. He would not say whether it had been legally bought.

Under California’s so-called “red flag law” — the first of such legislation to be enacted in the country — firearms can be seized from people who are considered a danger to themselves or others. Law enforcement and family and household members, as well as some co-workers, employers and teachers, can petition the court to remove the guns from the person’s possession or bar the person from purchasing them.

Despite Cataneo Salazar’s reported schizophrenia diagnosis, it was not clear whether he would have qualified under the state’s red flag law or other statutes designed to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illnesses.

There were no Los Angeles County court records indicating someone had petitioned to seize his weapons or prevent him from buying them.

Marle Salazar said that her son had been hospitalized in the past year, but it was not clear if he sought treatment himself or was involuntarily committed.

She said she called deputies at least twice in the past, asking for help when her son refused to take his medication and grew aggressive toward himself. She said he had never hurt anyone before, and his aggression was always self-directed.

“I have called the police several times,” she told the newspaper. “In the end, they would say, ‘He’s an adult, so if he doesn’t want to take (his medication), we can’t do anything.’”

Officials on Wednesday said investigators were looking into Cataneo Salazar’s reported history of mental illness and whether there were law enforcement calls to the home.

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Suspect in ambush killing of LA deputy pleads not guilty due to insanity