Two officers wounded in Visalia shootout

FRESNO, Calif.

The Tulare County Sheriff's Office is taking over the officer-involved shooting investigation.

Visalia Police and Tulare County Sheriff's detectives worked late into the night gathering evidence at the home where the suspect, identified by police as 25-year-old Luis Avilez, shot the two officers.

"Both officers today acted with what I would call vigor, vigilance and courage," said Visalia Police Chief Colleen Mestas.

Mestas did not identify the officers, but said they are both with the gang unit. She said they were on patrol in a Visalia neighborhood, when they spotted two suspicious men, possibly car thieves. One of the men, Chief Mestas said, ran from the officers and this is where things got violent.

Visalia police chief Colleen Mestas tells Action News the gang unit was out on regular patrols. Somewhere in the neighborhood she says the officers spotted two suspicious men.

"I saw a couple police officers run north on Stover and duck into the house. About that time I heard guns shots and saw police back up and duck behind cars," said Frank Henderson, witness.

The officers, Mestas said, were able to stop one man and take him into custody without incident. She said the other man ran from the officers. They followed after him as he ran through several yards and homes along Stover Street just north of Douglas. The chief said as the officers got close, the suspect shot at them, striking two officers.

One witness Action News talked with asked not to be identified but talked about what he saw. "They were going house to house knocking on doors asking people if they could go in their backyard and look for the dude. There was about 4 of them in a line and they were going to the backyards. And it didn't look like a good situation. I heard the fence break and then somebody yell and then the gun shots," the witness said.

Detectives went going door to door talking with neighbors and possible witnesses.

The chief says both officers have been with the department between 5-8 years. The shooting is certainly a difficult incident for the department. Mestas says both officers are family men. "You can imaging going to school and being told your dad has been shot. It's been quite a process today."

Police say the officers were patrolling in an area where auto theft is one the rise. The chief said violence in the city, and against officers, is increasing.

The suspect, Luis Avilez, who police say shot the officers, is in the intensive care unit. The chief says he was injured in the shooting. Police say Aviles has been charged with three counts of attempted murder on an officer.

The man who was with Avilez, 18-year-old Phillip Marquez -- police say he complied with officers. He was also arrested on a warrant and is in the Tulare County Jail.


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